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Prudential Insurance Co. of America v. Podnebennyy

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

March 16, 2017

THE PRUDENTIAL INSURANCE COMPANY OF AMERICA, Plaintiff,
v.
VLADIMIR PODNEBENNYY, OLGA IGOLNIKOV, and YLENA KIM, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          Matthew W. Brann United States District Judge.

         Before the Court is an interpleader action initiated by Plaintiff/stakeholder The Prudential Insurance Company of America against Defendants/claimants Vladimir Podnebennyy, Olga Igolnikov, and Ylena Kim. Plaintiff/stakeholder now moves for an order granting interpleader relief, and otherwise discharging it from all liability concerning the property at issue. This relief will be granted.

         I. INTRODUCTION and PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         Plaintiff The Prudential Insurance Company of America (“Prudential”), an insurance company organized and existing under the laws of the State of New Jersey with its primary place of business located in Newark, New Jersey, provided a group contract to The Pennsylvania State University bearing Group Contract No. G-35200 with basic coverage in the amount of $5, 000 and optional coverage in the amount of $210, 000 (collectively, “Death Benefits”).[1] Natalya Podnebennaya (“Insured”) was insured under these death benefits policy.[2] On October 26, 2015, Natalya Podnebennaya died. This death was later deemed a homicide.[3]

         Vladimir Podnebennyy, insured's husband and a Defendant/claimant in this action, was arrested and charged with first-degree murder and third-degree murder in connection with Insured's death.[4] On September 26, 2016, Defendant/claimant Vladimir Podnebennyy was convicted of first-degree murder. He has since appealed that conviction. The appeal remains pending.[5]

         On September 21, 2016, Prudential filed a Complaint for interpleader relief pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1335.[6] Defendant/claimant Olga Igolnikov answered it on November 3, 2016.[7] The Court held an initial case management conference on January 31, 2017 in which Prudential was granted thirty (30) days to file a formal motion seeking interpleader relief.[8]

         At issue or stake in the action are the proceeds from the aforementioned death benefits. Because Insured did not name a beneficiary for her insurance coverage, these benefits would pass to the highest class of eligible beneficiary in accordance with terms of the Group Contract.[9] These death benefits would therefore pass to Insured's husband, Vladimir Podnebennyy. However, under Pennsylvania's Slayer Statute, Defendant/claimant would be barred from receiving this inheritance by virtue of his criminal conviction for the death of his spouse.[10]In the event Defendant/claimant's conviction is not overturned, the Group Contract designates the Insured's children, Olga Igolnikov and Ylena Kim, as alternate beneficiaries.[11]

         On February 16, 2017, Prudential duly filed a Motion for Deposit of Funds and for Interpleader Relief, [12] requesting that the Court issue an Order (1) restraining Defendants/claimants from initiating any proceedings against it relating to the Remaining Death Benefit and/or the Group Policy, (2) allowing Prudential to deposit the Death Benefit into the Court's registry, (3) directing Defendants/claimants to interplead their rights to the sum at stake, (4) discharging Prudential from further liability, and (5) dismissing Prudential with prejudice from this lawsuit.[13] Accompanying this Motion is a Certificate of Concurrence which notes that Defendants/claimants Olga Igolnikov and Ylena Kim do not oppose the issuance of interpleader relief to Prudential.[14] The time for Defendant/claimant Vladimir Podnebennyy to file a brief in opposition has passed. The motion is therefore ripe for disposition.

         II. DISCUSSION

         Interpleader is an equitable remedy through which a person holding property, or a stakeholder, may “join in a single suit two or more persons asserting claims to that property.”[15] Specifically, when a stakeholder admits it is liable to one of the claimants but seeks to avoid the prospect of multiple liability, interpleader allows it “to file suit, deposit the property with the court, and withdraw from the proceedings.”[16] There are two vehicles for a party seeking interpleader relief: (1) the federal interpleader statute, and (2) Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 22.[17] Prudential brought this action under the federal interpleader statute, codified at 28 U.S.C. § 1335. My analysis therefore is limited to that dispositional vehicle.

         The federal interpleader statute provides that district courts have subject matter jurisdiction over an action “if there is 'minimal diversity' between two or more adverse claimants, and if the amount in controversy is $500 or more.”[18] An action brought under this statute proceeds in two steps:

[F]irst, the district court determines whether the requirements of the statute have been met and whether the stakeholder may be relieved from liability; during the second, it actually adjudicates the defendants' adverse claims to the interpleaded fund.[19]

         However, even when the jurisdictional requirements have been met, interpleader, as an equitable proceeding, “is subject to dismissal based on equitable doctrines such as laches.”[20] Prudential's instant motion is limited to the first step of the above delineated interpleader analysis.

         Having examined the undisputed facts of this case, I find that the requirements of the interpleader statute have been met, and no equitable doctrine compels dismissal. First, Prudential has met its burden of showing that it has a “bona fide fear of adverse claims” by two or more claimants who are, among themselves, minimally diverse.[21] Specifically, it is undisputed that Defendant/claimant Vladimir Podnebennyy is a citizen of Pennsylvania, and Defendants/claimants Olga Igolnikov and Ylena Kim are citizens of Florida and Kazakhstan, respectively.[22] Claims between these Defendants/claimants are adverse because the ultimate disposition of death benefits in favor of Ylena Kim and Olga Igolnikov would necessarily prevent Vladimir Podnebennyy's receipt of same. Second, the amount in controversy requirement of statutory interpleader is met because the death benefits at issue, or stake, ($215, 000.00) far exceed the statutory minimum of $500.[23] Third and finally, no equitable doctrine has been raised which would compel the dismissal of this action for interpleader.

         Because the jurisdictional requirements for interpleader have been satisfied, Prudential may be dismissed from the instant proceeding.[24] “Upon satisfying the jurisdictional prerequisites of interpleader, ‘the law normally regards the plaintiff as having discharged [its] full responsibility” in the proceeding.' ”[25] A stakeholder's dismissal from the action following deposit of the disputed funds is, however, barred “where a claimant brings an independent counterclaim against the stakeholder.”[26] Here, Defendants/claimants Olga Igolnikov and Ylena Kim have answered Prudential's complaint, but asserted no counterclaim.[27] Rather, both have consented to Prudential's dismissal from the instant action ...


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