New York Life Insurance Company v. Aleandre, No. 1:2013cv02384 - Document 27 (S.D.N.Y. 2014)

Court Description: OPINION re: 11 FIRST MOTION to Deposit Funds, filed by New York Life Insurance Company, 14 MOTION to Add. FIRST MOTION for Default Judgment as to Kimberly Lionel, FIRST MOTION for Summary Judgment for Life Insurance Proceeds, filed by Johanne Lionel Aleandre. For the reasons set forth above, Plaintiff's motion is granted in part and denied in part: Plaintiff is (1) allowed to commence an interpleader action; (2) permitted to deposit the insurance policies' $50,00 0 death benefit proceeds with the court as relating to Aleandre; (3) discharged from any further liability under the policies to Defendants; and (4) Defendants are enjoined from commencing any further litigation against NY Life relating to the polici es in this court or elsewhere. Plaintiff's motion for an award of attorneys' fees and costs is denied. Defendant Aleandre's motion for default and summary judgment is denied, and Aleandre is compelled to submit further support for her right to the death benefits to this Court. It is so ordered. (Signed by Judge Robert W. Sweet on 12/16/2013) (ja)
Download PDF
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF NEW YORK ---------x NEW YORK LIFE INSURANCE COMPANY, Plaintiff, 13 Civ. 2384 -against- OPINION JOHANNE LIONEL ALEANDRE and KIMBERLY LIONEL, Defendants. ---------- -----x A P PEA RAN C E S: Defendant Johanne Lionel Aleandre LAW OFFICES OF ERIC DINNOCENZO 641 Lexington Avenue New York, NY 10022 By: Eric Dinnocenzo, Esq. Attorney for Plaintiff WHITE AND WILLIAMS LLP One Penn Plaza, 41st Floor, Suite 4110 New York, NY 10119 By: Andrew Hamelsky, Esq. r.-----:::::::=:::---==::: ==='=:: I USDC snr·.,fY DOCUMfNT : :: 'r I ELECTRONICALLY FILED I I DOC t I~TE FIL~: r-2-J?± Ii J/: 1 Sweet, D.J. Insurance Company ("NY Life") iff New York P seeks inte r pursuant to Rule 22, to deposit the funds of the life policies of Defendant Johanne onel Aleandre ("Aleandre") with the Court's registry pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. attorneys' P. 67, and cross moves es and costs. Defendant Aleandre r default judgment against De Lionel ("Kimberly"), and Kimberly NY Life to be red to pay amounts due and owing directly to Defendant eandre. Upon the facts and conclusions set Plaintiff's motion is g rth below, i in part and in part, and is denied. Defendant Aleandre's mot Facts & Procedural History Marie D. 1 (the "Insured") was issued a Insurance Policy on November 26, 2001 (" 1.) The Insured was also issued a se which became effect (Compl. Ex. 2.) icy 1"). Life Insurance Policy on September 23, 2008 policies have a $50,000.00, and the benefit amount 1 (Compl. Ex. ("Policy 2") . ce amount value of le upon the Insured's death r each policy was $50,000.00. the benefi aries to both policies as and her sister, Aleandre, with each rece Insured i ified r daughter, Kimberly, fifty (Compl. Exs. 3-4.) Policy 1 contains the following pertinent sion under § 2.4: Beneficiary beneficiary r any life insurance proceeds is person or entity named in the application, or in a notice you sign that the information we need. If more than one ary is named, they can be classifi as first, second, and so on. If two or more are in a class, t ir share in the proceeds is equal, unless you state otherwise. The stated shares will be id to any first benefici es who survive Insured. If no first benefi s survive, payment will be to any benefi surviving in second class, and so on. (Compl. Ex. 1.) Policy 2 contains the following pertinent provision: Naming of Beneficiary stated ne ciaries who proceeds will be paid to any first survive Insured. If no first ficiaries survive, payment will made to any ficiary surviving in the second class, and so on. ve in the same class have an Bene ries who s equal re in the proceeds, unless shares are stated otherwise. (Compi. Ex. 2.) 2 The Insured di on August 17, 2011. the Insured had suf siting Florida. NY arned a gunshot wound to her torso while (CompI. Ex. 5.) ,s Following the I death, Aleandre submitt a claim for the death benefits under the life insurance polic s. (CompI. Ex. 6.) had received information t Because NY Insured's death was the result of a homic investigated the , NY As part of this 1 i on, John Murray ("Murray"), a Senior Representative in the CIa Unit of the Se benef Insured. See Affidavit of John Murray ("Murray Murray attests that he contact s cou the Insured. cts in the homicide of be ruled out as See id. At first, Murray was Orange County Sheriff's Department t out as s Murray lea but to authorities on behalf in November 2011 to ascertain whether the i i Administration ce Department of NY Life, investigated the homicide of of NY Life fe further ath of the Insured prior to disability benefits. Aff."). the cts. See id. Therea was considered to r considered a suspect, involved and was refusing sti 3 no one had been ru1 er, on October 25, 2013, that Kimberly was no 10 e with the criminal rmed by the ion. See id. Murray remained open criminal investigation d that t was also repeatedly in active. In addition, Ken Smith, also a Senior in the Claims Administration NY Li of the Se , attested to the fact that sentative ce Department of contacted County Sheriff's Department numerous t Orange to ascerta ficiaries had any involvement in t death of the See Affidavit of Ken Smith ("Smith Aff.U). Insured. whether On February 27, 2013, Smith contacted Detective Pelton of the Orange County Sheriff's Department and was had not the Orange County She re is an r 10, 2013, ion into fe that homicide of the s are currently bei ngs Letter ("Demings Let.U). Jerry L. Jerry L. Demings of ff's Department advised NY ing investi Insured, and that su developed. As a res See of this ion, taken together, NY Life informed Aleandre that it was currently unable to pay her t investigat payment. was ongo death fits while the Aleandre continued to demand Thereafter, NY Life commenced the instant action pursuant to the Federal Interpl P. 22. eandre ruled out as a suspect. By letter dated Oct in sed that Ai r Act, 28 U.S.C. Fed. R. Civ. interposed an Answer to the First Amended 4 Complaint with Conterclaim and Cross-Claim, alleging that NY Li acted wrongfully and unreasonably by refusing to pay her the th bene ts. See onel Answer. To date, Defendant Kimberly has not interposed an Answer in this matter. hearing on t Kimberly was present at the Court instant motion on December 11, 2013 1 ¢ NY fe has agreed to pay Kimberly her share of the death benefits in the amount of $50,000.00. NY Li maintains that they are currently in the process of issuing benefit checks to Kimberly. On November 12, 2013, motion seeking an order: Plaintiff filed the instant (1) declaring and adjudicating that NY fe's payment of $50,000.00 to the Court's Registry will be in total satisfaction of both Ii discharge and absolve NY the parties hereto; insurance poli s and will from any further liability to each (2) releasing and discharging NY Life from and against any and all liability relating to t policies; Insured's (3) permanently restraining and enjoining the parties hereto from instituting and/or prosecuting any other suit or elsewhere; and (4) awarding NY Life attorneys' fees, costs of suit and such other and further relief as the Court deems proper. In turn, on November 26, 2013, Defendant Aleandre 1 As a result of Kimberly's appearance, Defendant Aleandre's request for default t Kimberly is no longer e. 5 cross a default judgment Court to t Kimberly and for the r NY Life to directly pay benefits of the death Insured. Applicable Standard 1. Rule 22 Under 22, interpleader is r if party requesting it "is or may be exposed to double or mult liability. II . R. Civ. P. 22(1). Rooted in equity, interpleader is a tool to protect a stakehol multiple liability to the same fund. 406-08 Kane, 500-03 le r from the vexation of defending mult See le claims erally Texas v. Florida, 306 U.S. 398, (1939); 7 Charles A. Wright, Arthur R. Miller & Ma Federal Prac Procedure ce 1702, 1704, at 493 97, r Wright & Miller]. (2d ed. 1986) what triggers inte §§ r is "a real and reasonable double liability or vexatious, conflicting claims . . Indianapolis Colts v. Mayor Cir. 1984) K. Baltimore, 741 F.2d 954, (collecting citations), 105 S.Ct. 1753, 84 L.Ed.2d 817 of r 1/ 957 (7th cert. denied, 470 U.S. 1052, (1985). 6 ly, 2. Rule 67 "If any part of the relief sought is a money judgment or the dispos thing, a ion of a sum of money or some other delive e rty-on notice to every other party and by leave of court-may deposit with the court all or ng, whe or not that party cIa rt of the money or any of it. The depositing party must deliver to the clerk a copy of the order permitting a deposit." Fed. R. Civ. P. 67. Onder this rule, payments into the court are aut ized notwithstanding claims to fact that there are adverse proceeds of the judgment. See U.S. Overseas Airlines, Inc. v. Compania Aerea Viajes Expresos De Venezuela, S.A., 161 F. Supp. 513 (S.D.N.Y. 1958). action, payment of insurance poli appropriate to ect a sta In an interpleader funds to t Court may be lder from multiple liability and the vexation of defending multiple claims to the same fund . Washington ec. Co . , Inc. v. Paterson, Walke & Pratt, 986 F.2d 677, 679 (2d Cir. 1993). the merits of competing claims. This is true John v. 50th F.R.D. 29 (S.D.N.Y. 1992). 7 P.C., ess of 's, Inc., 141 I. Interpleader is Appropriate and Plaintiff's Motion to Deposit The Death Benefits is Granted Plaintiff seeks leader and to depos benefits of the Insured's poli relating to the eandre the Court's Registry. An interple action is appropriate when a stakeholder "'legitimately fears mult aga a single fund,'" rega competing ims. Ie [liability] direct ess of the merits of shna v. Col te Palmolive Co., No. 90 Civ. 4116, 1991 WL 125186 (S.D.N.Y. June 27, 1991) 1 Practice & Procedure Wright, et al., 1986)). Here, PIa iff faces timately fears, doub the Insured's homic murderer. (quoting 7 Charles § 1704, at 501 (2d prospect of, and liability if the investigation into ultimately reveals eandre as the Under New York's "Slayer Statute," the rule is that "one cannot take property by inheritance or will from an ancestor or benefactor whom he 115 N.Y. 506 (1889). s murdered." Riggs v. Palmer, According to the Orange County She ff's Department, Defendant Aleandre is still being investigated in the murder of the Insured. Statute, Al of Pursuant to New York's Sla r would not be legally entitled to the proceeds life insurance policies if she were convicted of the murder of t Insured. See In re Gleason, 36 Misc.3d 486, 491 8 (Sup. Ct. Su lk Cty. 2012). Even in cases where the poli beneficiary is merely a su insured's mu r, courts have appropriate in lty. or person of interest in the See, e.g., rmined that interpleader was case that beneficiary is later found State Farm , 2013 WL 3992754 and Assur. Co., Inc. v. (W.D.N.Y. 2013) Co. v. Marini, 1998 WL 704267 i Metropolitan Life Ins. (S.D.N.Y. 1998). A beneficia's nd upon criminal conviction. disqualification thus does not See Doe v. American General li Ins. Co. of New York, 139 Misc.2d 80 (Sup. Ct. Bronx Cty. 1998). The same holds true where, as here, NY Li subject to multiple Ale if it gives t rse cIa and she is later convict since the homicide Co., s not entitle Defendant to t funds, has not been ruled out investigation is ongoing. 1998 WL 704267, at *1 (no bad company since "only two homi benefits to Further, a two year delay where NY Life has been told that and t could be Ins. See Metropolitan ith or undue 1 by ars" had passed since the ). Plaintiff also seeks permission to deposit t with the Court's Regist under Rule 67. 9 funds Unlike statutory interpleader, 28 U.S.C. § 1335, which requires a stakeholder to deposit the asset with the court, deposit of the asset is not a jurisdictional prerequisite for rule interpleader. See National Union Fire Ins. Co. v. Ambassador Group, Inc., 691 F.Supp. 618, 621 (E.D.N.Y.1988); Nationwide Mutual Ins. Co. v. Eckman, 555 F.Supp. 775, 778 (D. Del. 1983); 3A James W. Moore, et al., Moore's Federal Practice ~ 22.10 (2d ed. 1989). The Court, though, has discretion to permit such a deposit under Rule 67. See Gulf States Util. Co. v. Alabama Power Co., 824 F.2d 1465, 1475 (5th Cir.), modi on other grounds, 831 F.2d 557 ed (5th Cir. 1987); Bauer v. Uniroyal Tire Co., 630 F.2d 1287, 1290 n. 4 (8th Cir. 1980). "The purpose of Rule 67 is 'to relieve the depositor of responsibility for a fund in dispute,' such as in an interpleader action." Gulf States, 824 F.2d at 1474 (quoting *34 12 Charles Wright & Arthur Miller, Federal Practice & Procedure § 2991 (1973)); see Prudential Ins. Co. Am. v. BMC Indus., 630 F. Supp. 1298, 1300 (S.D.N.Y. 1986). The rule appl s only where a dispute exists concerning the funds or object. See Baxter v. United Forest 1969), Co., 406 F.2d 1120, 1126 (8th Cir. cert. denied, 394 U.S. 1018 (1969); Manufacturers Hanover Overseas Capital Corp. v. Southwire Co., 589 F.Supp. 214, 221 (S.D.N.Y.1984). 10 Because there are potential competing claims to the funds at issue, exposing Plaintiff to liabil Plaintiff, as an innocent s y should keholder, pay the claim of Defendant Aleandre and then later find out she is not ent to such payment, depos led is appropriate. With respect to fees, a federal district court scretion to awa dis reasonable attorneys' rested stakeholder fees and costs to a an action brought under interpleader statute." Guardian Life Ins. Co. Ange, 2012 WL 463894, at * 2 (S.D.N.Y. Septembertide Publi nature of the 1 attorneys' Co. v. Isra ng, B.V. v. St r. 1989). 675, 683 (2d In America v. St. 8, 2012) (citing n and Day, Inc., 884 F.2d instant case, given the limited igation and the circumstances of all parties, fees are not awarded. See, e.g., Tra ,354 F.2d 488, 490 impressed with s (2d eir. 1965) ers Indemni ty ("We are not notion that whenever a minor problem arises in the payment of insurance policies, insurers may, as a matter of course, transfer a part of their ordinary costs of doing bus ss of their insured by bringing an action for interpl r.") i Feehan v. Feehan, 2011 WL 497852, at *7-8 (S.D.N.Y. Jan. 10, 2011) costs where interple (declining to award attorneys' fees and r action was not complex, involved no unique problems, and insurer seeking interpleader provided no 11 unique se ces and iled to explain how any court submissions exceeded the ordinary cost of doing business), adopted by 2011 WL 497776 (S.D.N.Y. Feb. 10, 2011). II. Defendant Aleandre's Motion for Summary Judgment is Denied and Defendant Aleandre is Compelled to Submit Further Information as to her Right to the Policy to this Court Defendant bases her motion for summary judgment on t ct that re are no adverse aimants r death benefits as Kimberly has failed to respond or appear, and cause t only evidence supporting that Aleandre is a suspect in the Insured's murder contains inadmissible say and is inaccurate. Because Kimberly has since appeared, Defendant's first argument is moot. With re ct to Defendant's second assertion, Aleandre cites a letter from the S fice sent on November 1, riff's 2013 to her attorney stating: "[W]e have not indicated that your client is a suspect or person of interest in this ongoing investigation. Our practice is to neither confirm, nor deny, whether a person is a suspect in an open homicide invest ion. N Defendant acknowledges that the Sheriff's its office is Office released an October 10, 2013 letter "engaged in an ongoing invest ion in 12 homi of Mar Lionel. Suspects are currently being developed." Declarat (Hamelsky , Ex. 2.) While these two letters alone do not, as Aleandre contends, justi interpl affidavits that t NY Li mot Plaintiff has presented sworn Orange County Sheriff's Office confirmed that Aleandre had not Kimberly had. r, n ruled out as a suspect, but that This warrants interpleader action, as it exposes to potential multiple competing claims, and Aleandre's for summary judgment is therefore denied. However, the rties seem to disagree as to the current status of the investigation into the Insured's Mu and the stance of should Defendant She ff's fice as to Aleandre. eandre still wish to retain r, As such, proceeds of the Insured's policy, she is compelled to submit further briefing and support for Farm r claim to this Court. See State fe and Assur. Co., Inc. v. Epps, 2013 WL 3992754 (W.D.N.Y. 2013) (defendant compelled to liti proceeds in the court following deposit of insurance company subject to Rules 22 and 67). 13 e her right to funds by the Conclusion For the reasons set forth above, Plaintiff's motion is granted in part and denied in part: Plaintiff is commence an interpleader action; insurance policies' (1) allowed to (2) permitted to deposit the $50,000 death benefit proceeds with the court as relating to Aleandre; (3) discharged from any further liability under the policies to Defendants; and (4) Defendants are enjoined from commencing any further litigation against NY Life relating to the policies in this court or elsewhere. Plaintiff's motion for an award of attorneys' denied. fees and costs is Defendant Aleandre's motion for default and summary judgment is denied, and Aleandre is compelled to submit further support for her right to the death benefits to this Court. It is so ordered. New York, NY December /6, 2013 U.S.D.J. 14