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Prudential Insurance Co. of America v. Barker

United States District Court, N.D. Indiana, Hammond Division

January 9, 2020

THE PRUDENTIAL INSURANCE COMPANY OF AMERICA, Plaintiff,
v.
JULIE ANN BARKER, et al., Defendants.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          JAMES T. MOODY JUDGE

         This matter is before the court on plaintiff's motions for default judgment and interpleader relief. (DE ## 41, 42.) For the reasons that follow, the motions will be granted.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff, The Prudential Insurance Company of America (“Prudential”), filed an interpleader complaint (DE # 1) in this case to resolve the competing claims of defendants Julie Ann Barker (“Julie”), Bobby Jo Compton (“Bobby”), Patricia Estes (“Patricia”), and William T. Sammons (“William”), to the undisputed portion of a death benefit in the amount of $240, 800, due as a consequence of the death of Danny Jo Barker (“the Insured”), under a group life insurance policy issued by Prudential to a third party contract holder, Atkore International (“Atkore”), identified as Group Policy No. G-51027-IL (the “Group Policy”).

         Prudential issued the Group Policy to Atkore.[1] (DE # 1 at 3.) At all relevant times, the Insured was covered under the Group Policy for death benefits totaling $344, 000 (the “Death Benefit”). (Id.)

         On March 6, 2018, the Insured died in Indiana, and the Death Benefit became due. (Id.) The Group Policy provides that benefits are payable to the designated beneficiary. (Id.) Following the Insured's death, Atkore advised Prudential that the Insured initially designated the following beneficiaries of the Death Benefit: Amisty Barker (“Amisty”) for 10%; Danny Joe Barker, Jr. (“Danny”) for 10%; Julie for 60%; Bobby for 10%; and Robert Woodworth (“Robert”) for 10%. (Id. at 4.)

         Atkore further advised Prudential that it was provided with a handwritten beneficiary designation dated June 30, 2017, purporting to change the beneficiaries of the Death Benefit as follows: Amisty for 10%; Danny for 10%; Robert for 10%; Patricia for 10%; Julie for 10%; and Bobby for 50%. (Id.) However, Atkore advised Prudential that it generally does not accept handwritten beneficiary designations. (Id.)

         Finally, Atkore advised Prudential that it received a written request, dated February 28, 2018, submitted by Phillip J. Barker, as Power of Attorney for the Insured, seeking to change the beneficiaries of the Death Benefit as follows: Bobby for 70%; Danny for 10%; Amisty for 10%; and Robert for 10%. (Id.)

         On April 24, 2018, William sent Prudential a letter enclosing an assignment provided by Bobby to William for $10, 000 of the Death Benefit, in connection with legal services rendered by William on Bobby's behalf. (Id. at 5.) Prudential also received a letter dated August 20, 2018, from counsel for Julie, Danny, Amisty, and Robert, alleging that the February 28, 2018, designation is not valid because the Insured was not competent at the time the Power of Attorney was given to Phillip J. Barker. (Id.)

         Prudential does not dispute that the Death Benefit is owed. (Id. at 6.) The portion of the Death Benefit currently in dispute is $240, 800.[2] (Id. at 5.) Prudential brought the present interpleader action on the basis that it is unable to determine how much of the remaining Death Benefit Bobby, Julie, Patricia, and William are entitled to receive. (Id.) Specifically, Prudential is unable to determine which of the three beneficiary designations was in effect at the time of the Insured's death. (Id.)

         On February 12, 2019, Prudential deposited the portion of the Death Benefit at issue and accrued claim interest, an amount of $243, 041.53, into the Court's registry. (DE ## 31, 32.) Prudential now moves this court for entry of interpleader relief, discharging it from any liability related to the portion of the Death Benefit at issue, and dismissing it from this action with prejudice. (DE # 42.) No. party has filed an objection to Prudential's motion.

         Prudential also seeks entry of default judgment against Patricia. Patricia was served on November 8, 2018. (DE # 24.) Patricia was initially represented by counsel, who filed an appearance, but counsel subsequently moved to withdraw his representation and the Magistrate Judge granted the motion. (DE ## 5, 18, 27.) Patricia thereafter proceeded pro se. On February 6, 2019, Patricia appeared at a status conference with the Magistrate Judge. (DE # 28.) The Magistrate Judge granted Patricia an extension of time, until March 8, 2019, to file a response to the complaint. (Id.) To date, Patricia has not responded to the complaint. The Clerk entered default against Patricia on March 19, 2019. (DE # 37.) Prudential now seeks entry of default judgment.

         II. DEFAULT JUDGMENT

         A. ...


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