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Texas Life Insurance Co. v. Robinson

United States District Court, E.D. Kentucky, Central Division, Lexington

May 28, 2019

TEXAS LIFE INSURANCE COMPANY, Plaintiff,
v.
BARBARA JEAN ROBINSON, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          JOSEPH M. HOOD SENIOR U.S. DISTRICT JUDGE

         This matter comes before the Court on Defendant Barbara Jean Robinson's Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings [DE 19], Plaintiff Texas Life Insurance Company's (“Texas Life”) Motion for Default Judgment [DE 20], and Texas Life's Motion to Deposit Funds into the Court's Registry and for Dismissal [DE 21]. Having considered the matter fully, and being otherwise sufficiently advised, the undersigned will grant Defendant Robinson's Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings [DE 19], Texas Life's Motion for Default Judgment [DE 20], and Texas Life's Motion to Deposit Funds into the Court's Registry and for Dismissal [DE 21].

         FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         In February 2001, Texas Life issued Delmar Keen Robinson (“Decedent”) a life insurance policy, policy number 000953186 (“the Policy”), with a death benefit in the amount of $75, 000.00. [DE 1, at 3]. In the Policy application, Decedent initially designated his son, Jeffery Dale Robinson, as the sole primary Policy beneficiary. Id. However, on April 12, 2003, Decedent submitted a change of beneficiary request designating Defendant Robinson, his then wife, as the sole primary Policy beneficiary. Id. Texas Life did not receive any further beneficiary designations. Id. On June 7, 2016, Decedent and Defendant Robinson divorced. Id. On August 6, 2018, Decedent passed away. Id.

         On August 8, 2016, Defendant Cherri Crockett, Decedent's niece, called Texas Life to inform it of Decedent's death and claim the Policy proceeds on behalf of Decedent's Estate. Id. That same day, Defendant Crockett faxed a Decree of Dissolution showing Decedent and Defendant Robinson had, indeed, divorced on June 7, 2016. Id. However, the Decree of Dissolution did not contain a property settlement section indicating how the divorce would affect the Policy. Id. Additionally, on August 28, 2018, Texas Life received a copy of Decedent and Defendant Robinson's Separation Agreement, which also made no reference to the Policy. Id. at 4. On August 31, 2018, Defendant Robinson's daughter, Janice James, and Elsa Conner, Defendant Robinson's attorneys-in-fact, submitted a Claimants Statement to Texas Life asserting Defendant Robinson is entitled to the Policy proceeds. Id.

         On September 11, 2018, Defendant Crockett contacted Texas Life to advise that she contested any potential payment of the Policy proceeds to Defendant Robinson and requested that the Policy proceeds be paid to Decedent's Estate because the language found in either the Decree of Dissolution or the Separation Agreement allegedly disqualifies Defendant Robinson from receiving the Policy proceeds. Id. After Texas Life asked Defendant Crockett to submit her claim in writing multiple times, and Defendant Crockett failed to do so, on November 8, 2018, Texas Life sent written letters to both Defendants Crockett and Robinson advising them of the status and nature of their competing claims to the Policy proceed and giving them until November 16, 2018 to attempt to settle their competing claims without Texas Life resorting to an interpleader action. Id. at 4-5. On November 14, 2018, Janice James, acting on Defendant Robinson's behalf, faxed Texas Life a letter declining any and all offers to release her claim to the Policy proceeds and advising that she was prepared to go to Court on behalf of Defendant Robinson. Id. at 5.

         In addition to Defendants Crockett and Robinson's competing claims, on August 13, 2018, Texas Life received an Assignment and Release in which Jeffery Dale Robinson assigned to Blackburn & Ward Funeral Home, Inc. (“Blackburn & Ward”) the right to claim $7, 988.00 from the Policy proceeds to pay for Decedent's funeral expenses. Id. While the Assignment and Release refers to Jeffery Dale Robinson as the “beneficiary” of the Policy, Texas Life asserts he was not the designated beneficiary of the Policy at the time of Decedent's death. Id.

         Pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 22, on December 5, 2018, Texas Life brought the present action seeking to interplead the life insurance proceeds of the Policy to determine who is lawfully entitled to the Policy funds. Id. at 1. The Complaint [DE 1] alleges Defendants Barbara Jean Robinson, Cherri Crockett, as Executor of the Estate of Delmar Keen Robinson, and Blackburn & Ward either have asserted or may assert competing claims to the Policy funds. Id. at 1-2. Pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 55(a), the Clerk of Court entered default against Defendants Blackburn & Ward and Crockett because they failed to answer or otherwise respond to Texas Life's Complaint [DE 1]. [DE 15; DE 18].

         On March 29, 2019, Defendant Robinson filed the present Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings [DE 19] requesting the Court find that due to Defendants Blackburn & Ward and Crockett's failure to defend, Defendant Robinson is entitled to the Policy proceeds. On April 1, 2019, Texas Life moved for a default judgment against Defendants Blackburn & Ward and Crockett requesting “entry of an order granting default judgment against defendants Blackburn Ward and Ms. Crockett, declaring that they are not entitled to any of the Policy benefits.” [DE 20, at 3]. Also on April 1, 2019, Texas Life filed the present Motion to Deposit Funds into the Court's Registry and for Dismissal [DE 21] requesting Texas Life be granted “permission to deposit into the registry of this Court the death benefit of $75, 000.00, plus any applicable interest, payable by reason of the death of Delmar Keen Robinson . . . under the terms of [the Policy].” [DE 21, at 1]. Defendant Robinson does not oppose Texas Life's Motion for Default Judgment [DE 20] or Texas Life's Motion to Deposit [DE 21]. [DE 20, at 3; DE 21, at 4]. Furthermore, Texas Life's Motion to Deposit [DE 21] requests that upon deposit of the Policy proceeds, Texas Life be dismissed from this action with prejudice, “be discharged from further liability with respect to the Policy or the Policy proceeds[, ]” and “that all Defendants be permanently enjoined from pursuing any further legal action or proceedings against Texas Life with respect to the Policy or the Policy proceeds.” Id.

         Texas Life is incorporated in Texas, and its principal place business is in Waco, Texas, Defendant Blackburn & Ward is a Kentucky corporation with a principal place of business in Versailles, Kentucky. [DE 19, at 5]. Both Defendants Robinson and Crockett reside in and are citizens of Kentucky. Id. The Policy is governed by North Dakota law. Id. (citing [DE 1-1, at 19]).

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) provides that a complaint may be attacked for failure “to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.” To survive a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, a complaint must “contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to ‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (citing Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). “A motion to dismiss is properly granted if it is beyond doubt that no set of facts would entitle the petitioner to relief on his claims.” Computer Leasco, Inc. v. NTP, Inc., 194 Fed.Appx. 328, 333 (6th Cir. 2006). When considering a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, the court will presume that all the factual allegations in the complaint are true and draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the nonmoving party. Total Benefits Planning Agency v. Anthem Blue Cross & Blue Shield, 552 F.3d 430, 434 (6th Cir. 2008) (citing Great Lakes Steel v. Deggendorf, 716 F.2d 1101, 1105 (6th Cir. 1983)). “The court need not, however, accept unwarranted factual inferences.” Total Benefits Planning Agency, 552 F.3d at 434 (citing Morgan v. Church's Fried Chicken, 829 F.2d 10, 12 (6th Cir. 1987)).

         “The standard of review for a judgment on the pleadings [pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(c)] is the same as that for a motion to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6).” Roger Miller Music, ...


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