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Anderson v. Hilburn

United States District Court, D. New Mexico

April 23, 2019

JEANI ANDERSON, Plaintiff,
v.
PATRICIA ANN HILBURN, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          GREGORY B. WORMUTH, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         THIS MATTER is before the Court on Defendant's Motion for Partial Summary Judgment (doc. 15) and Plaintiff's Motion for Continuance of Defendant's Motion for Partial Summary Judgment (doc. 18). For the reasons that follow, the Court GRANTS Defendant's Motion for Partial Summary Judgment (doc. 15). Because additional discovery would have no effect on this ruling, the Court DENIES Plaintiff's Motion for Continuance (doc. 18).

         I. Background

         Plaintiff filed her Complaint on January 4, 2019, alleging fraudulent transfers under New Mexico's Uniform Voidable Transfer Act. Doc. 1. This action is one of a series of lawsuits, [1] some of which are still ongoing, and the history of which is only marginally relevant for the purpose of the present motions. Defendant Hilburn was not a party to these prior actions. Instead, they arose from dealings between Plaintiff and two individuals named Dean and Frances Horton. Plaintiff alleges that she is a present creditor of the Hortons pursuant to a prior settlement agreement, and that they “have been hiding, encumbering, and/or disposing of assets in an attempt to hinder, evade, delay, and/or defraud creditors, including Plaintiff.” Id. at 3.

         Specifically, in Count One of her Complaint, [2] Plaintiff alleges that the Hortons fraudulently transferred life insurance policies to Defendant Hilburn in an effort to evade their creditors, including Plaintiff. Id. at 3-5. According to the facts recited in the Complaint, both Mr. and Mrs. Horton purchased universal life insurance policies with a “substantial cash value” for which they were “both the owners and the insured.” Id. at 3-4. However, at some point following completion of the settlement agreement between Plaintiff and the Hortons, the Hortons transferred ownership of their life insurance policies to Defendant Hilburn, who is Mrs. Horton's sister. Id. at 4. Plaintiff claims that this transfer violated the New Mexico Uniform Voidable Transactions Act (“UVTA”), NMSA 1978 §§ 56-10-18 and 56-10-19. Id. at 4-5.

         On March 19, 2019, Defendant filed her Motion for Partial Summary Judgment asking the Court to dismiss Count One of the Complaint. Doc. 15. Defendant presents two arguments in support of her entitlement to summary judgment. First, she asserts that the life insurance policies in question are term, not universal, policies. Id. at 3-6. Because term life insurance policies have no cash value, the transfer of a term life insurance policy cannot violate the UVTA.[3] Id. Second, Defendant argues that Plaintiff cannot attach the Hortons' life insurance policies at all because life insurance policies are exempt under New Mexico law. Doc. 15 at 6-8.

         In response, Plaintiff filed a Motion for Continuance of Defendant's Motion for Partial Summary Judgment, requesting relief under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(d). Doc. 18. Plaintiff concedes that term life insurance policies have no cash value, but argues that the current status of the Hortons' policies (as opposed to their status at the time of issuance) has not been proven. Id. at 2. Plaintiff additionally cites the possible existence of other, unknown life insurance policies. Id. at 4. She therefore requests an opportunity to engage in discovery with respect to the current status of the Hortons' life insurance policies and whether they are term or universal. Id. at 4-5. In the meantime, Plaintiff asks the Court either to deny Defendant's Motion, or to defer ruling on it until the requested discovery is complete. Id. at 5. Plaintiff argues that “[t]he current status of the subject life insurance policies is essential to Plaintiff's opposition to the Motion. In fact, Defendant's Motion rises and falls on this undiscovered fact.” Id. at 4. However, Plaintiff does not address Defendant's exemption argument, nor does she explain how the requested discovery would be essential to her opposition on that point. See generally id.

         Defendant filed a Reply in Support of Her Motion for Partial Summary Judgment and Response to Plaintiff's Motion for Continuance on April 9, 2019. Doc. 21. She argues that the available evidence proves the Hortons' policies are term policies, and that, even if the policies were universal, universal life insurance policies are exempt under New Mexico law and cannot be attached. Both motions are now before the Court.

         II. Legal Standard

         A. Summary Judgment

         Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(a), a court must “grant summary judgment if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). The movant bears the initial burden of “show[ing] ‘that there is an absence of evidence to support the nonmoving party's case.'” Bacchus Indus., Inc. v. Arvin Indus., Inc., 939 F.2d 887, 891 (10th Cir. 1991) (quoting Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 325 (1986)). Once the movant meets this burden, the non-moving party is required to designate specific facts showing that “there are…genuine factual issues that properly can be resolved only by a finder of fact because they may reasonably be resolved in favor of either party.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 250 (1986); see also Celotex, 477 U.S. at 324.

         B. Rule 56(d)

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(d) states in full:

If a nonmovant shows by affidavit or declaration that, for specified reasons, it cannot present facts essential to justify ...

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