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Jackson National Life Insurance Co. v. Lunt

United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania

March 21, 2017



          ROBERT C. MITCHELL United States Magistrate Judge.

         Presently pending before the Court is a Motion for Permanent Injunction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2361 filed on behalf of Plaintiff Jackson National Life Insurance Company (“Jackson National”). For the reasons stated herein, the motion will be granted.

         Because we write solely for the parties we will keep our background summary as succinct as possible. For a more detailed summary, see Mem. P. and Order dated Feb. 23, 2016 [ECF No. 63] (staying and administratively closing this case).

         Jackson National initiated this action by filing a Complaint in Interpleader as the action arises out of conflicting multiple claims to the proceeds of three life insurance annuity policies (“the Policies”) issued by Jackson National to Flora Yurkanin. who died testate on January 17, 2015. [ECF No. 1]. Defendants herein are claimants Lonnie Brice, Lisa Donovan, Brian Laurich, Alexander Polkowski, and Richard Polkowski (hereinafter “Beneficiaries”), as well as adverse claimant, represented by separate counsel, Linda Lunt.

         On April 13, 2015, Jackson National filed the instant action in the United States District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania at Case Number 3:15-cv-00717 (Conaboy, J). On July 17, 2015, Jackson National filed its Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings and supporting Brief. [ECF Nos. 25, 26]. On June 19, 2015 Judge Conaboy ordered the parties to file briefs setting forth all relevant factual and legal issues supporting their competing claims to the proceeds of three annuities within thirty days.

         However, apparently dissatisfied with Jackson National's choice of forum, certain Defendants filed a subsequent Action for Declaratory Judgment and Other Relief in the Westmoreland County Orphan's Court on July 10, 2015 (“Westmoreland County Action”). [ECF No. 29-1].

         Certain defendants then filed a motion for extension of time to file briefs in the instant action, which was granted. Briefs supporting competing claims were due August 10, 2015. [ECF No. 27]. On July 31, 2015, certain Defendants herein filed a motion to stay [ECF No. 28], which Jackson National and claimant Lunt opposed [ECF Nos. 31, 34].

         Judge Conaboy granted Jackson National's Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings by Order dated November 23, 2015, stating that Jackson National “is released from any further liability in this matter.” [ECF No. 36]. The Motion was uncontested and “Defendants have explicitly concurred in Plaintiff's Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings.” [ECF No. 37-3] The Court ordered Jackson National to pay the entire accrued sums on its annuity policies into that Court's registry and released Jackson National from further liability. [ECF No. 36]. Judge Conaboy ruled that Jackson National has no interest in who receives the proceeds of the subject death benefits, and that Jackson National filed suit to protect itself from financial liability that could have arisen if Jackson National paid the proceeds to the wrong party. [ECF No. 37]. “The Plaintiff's only interest here is to make the policy proceeds available to whichever party or parties is ultimately judicially determined to be the appropriate recipient.” [ECF No. 37 at 3].

         On December 10, 2015, those sums were so received by the Court. On December 11, 2015, Judge Conaboy summarily denied the Motion to Stay Proceedings in federal court and sua sponte directed transfer of the case to this Court pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a). [ECF No. 38 at 6.]

         On December 21, 2015, this Court entered an Order that the Clerk of Court for this district deposit to the registry of this court the proceeds of the three annuity policies whose beneficiary designation is at issue. Those sums were so deposited and totaled $141, 003.40.

         On February 23, 2016, this Court stayed this case “pending resolution of the litigation in the Court of Common Pleas of Westmoreland County at No. 65-15-0133” and administratively closed the case but stated that “[s]hould further proceedings therein become necessary or desirable, either party may initiate them in the same manner as if the Order had not been entered.” [ECF No. 63]. The resolution of the conflicting claims to the death benefits has been left in the hands of the state court, and the funds remain held pending that outcome.

         Jackson National is a named defendant in a declaratory judgment action in the Westmoreland County Action [ECF No. 66-1]. Plaintiffs therein at Count I request entry of a declaratory judgment that they are the proper beneficiaries of the annuity policies and that Jackson National must pay the interpled death benefits to plaintiffs therein (and not claimant Linda Lunt). Count II alleges breach of contract, averring Jackson National owed the beneficiaries a contractual duty to properly pay the policy benefits, breached the duty by failing to pay the benefits, and lacked justification or good faith basis to withhold the benefits and to commence its suit in the Middle District of Pennsylvania, and finally, that Jackson National is obligated to pay plaintiffs therein under the term of the policies at issue.

         At the time we entered our order staying this case, the Westmoreland County Action was also stayed pending disposition of this federal interpleader action. The Court presumed that in accord with the Judgment on the Pleadings granted in favor of Jackson National it would similarly be relieved of liability in the state court action. That has not happened.[1]

         On February 10, 2017 Jackson National filed the present motion for a permanent injunction. The matter has been fully ...

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