Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

Prudential Insurance Co. of America v. Wells

United States District Court, D. Arizona

February 19, 2016

Prudential Insurance Company of America, Plaintiff,
v.
Jerry Lee Wells, et al., Defendants.

ORDER

DAVID G. CAMPBELL, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

Plaintiff Prudential Insurance Company of America (“Prudential”) filed a motion for default judgment against Defendant Jerry Lee Wells (“Jerry”) or, in the alternative, for appointment of a guardian ad litem to represent Jerry. Doc. 26. Jerry has not responded. The three remaining Defendants - Constance S. Brenton, Lei Ann Stickney, and James Robert Wells - are siblings of Jerry (“Siblings”). The Siblings filed a notice taking no position on Prudential’s motion. Doc. 28. For the following reasons, the Court will deny in part and grant in part Prudential’s motion.

I. Background.

Anita Wells was the mother of Jerry and the Siblings. She was insured by a Prudential group life insurance policy issued to NEA Members Insurance Trust. Doc. 26-2 at 1, ¶ 3. She will be referred to in this order as “the Insured.”

The Insured died on January 23, 2015, as a result of blunt force trauma to the head. Id. at 2, ¶ 5, 72. Her death was ruled a homicide. Id. at 72. The Insured is survived by four children - Jerry and the three Siblings - but no surviving spouse. Id. at 3, ¶ 11, 72. Jerry has been charged with the Insured’s murder, and is currently confined in the Yavapai County Detention Center awaiting prosecution. Docs. 26-1 at 2, ¶ 10; 26-2 at 3, ¶ 9.

The Insured’s life insurance policy included various term life insurance and accidental death and dismemberment (“AD&D”) benefits. Doc. 26-2 at 2, ¶ 4. The Insured’s policy included the following benefits which are at issue in this case: (1) NEA New Optional Life Insurance Benefits in the amount of $5, 000; (2) AD&D Upgraded Benefits in the amount of $99, 000 ($90, 000 plus a ten percent additional benefit); and (3) Guaranteed Issue Life Coverage in the amount of $6, 000. Id. These benefits became payable on the Insured’s death. Id. at 2, ¶ 6.

Jerry is the designated beneficiary of at least a portion of each of these benefits. The Insured designated all four of her children as beneficiaries, in equal shares, of the NEA New Optional Life Insurance Benefits. Id. at 2, ¶ 7, 74. Prudential has paid each of the three Siblings their $1, 250 share of the NEA New Optional Life Insurance Benefits, but has not paid Jerry his $1, 250 share. Id. at 3-4, ¶¶ 13-14. The Insured designated Jerry as the sole beneficiary of the $99, 000 of AD&D Upgraded Benefits and the $6, 000 of Guaranteed Issue Life Coverage benefits. Id. at 2-3, ¶ 8, 77, 81. Prudential has not paid Jerry either of these benefits. Id. at 3-4, ¶ 14. In total, Prudential has withheld the $106, 250 of benefits that, but for the pending murder charges, would be owed to Jerry (“Death Benefits”). Id. Prudential claims no title or interest in the Death Benefits. Id. at 4, ¶ 15. Should Jerry be disqualified from receiving the Death Benefits, the $106, 250 in Death Benefits would pass to the Siblings in equal shares. Id. at 3, ¶¶ 10, 12; see also Id. at 18, 49, 69.

II. Analysis.

Prudential argues that it is entitled to a default judgment against Jerry because he has failed to file an answer. Alternatively, Prudential argues that the Court should appoint a guardian ad litem to represent Jerry in this action. Prudential also seeks an order directing it to deposit the $106, 250 in Death Benefits with the Court and discharging it from further liability.

A. Default Judgment.

“A defendant must serve an answer within 21 days after being served with the summons and complaint.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(a)(1)(A)(i). If the defendant fails to answer, the plaintiff may request that the clerk of the court enter the defendant’s default. Fed.R.Civ.P. 55(a). A party pursuing a default judgment must first seek the entry of default under Rule 55(a). See Brooks v. United States, 29 F.Supp.2d 613, 618 (N.D. Cal. 1998); see also 10A Charles Alan Wright & Arthur Miller, Federal Practice and Procedure § 2682 (3d ed. 2015). “The power to grant or deny relief upon an application for default judgment is within this Court’s discretion.” Discovery Commc’ns, Inc. v. Animal Planet, Inc., 172 F.Supp.2d 1282, 1287 (C.D. Cal. 2001).

Prudential filed its interpleader complaint on September 9, 2015 (Doc. 1), and served it on Jerry on September 18, 2015 (Doc. 9). Prudential submitted its Rule 55(a) application for entry of Jerry’s default on November 24, 2015, well beyond the 21-day period in which Jerry could respond to the complaint. Doc. 13. The Clerk of the Court entered Jerry’s default on November 24, 2015. Doc. 14. Because Prudential is not seeking from Jerry a sum certain or a sum that can be made certain by computation, it must apply for the entry of default judgment from this Court. Fed.R.Civ.P. 55(b). Prudential has done so. See Doc. 26 at 6-8.

Prudential is not entitled to a default judgment against Jerry at this time. Under Rule 55(b)(2), a default judgment may be entered against an “incompetent person only if represented by a general guardian, conservator, or other like fiduciary who has appeared.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 55(b)(2) (emphasis added). There is unrefuted evidence in the record that the Yavapai County Superior Court found Jerry incompetent prior to September 9, 2015, the date on which Prudential initiated this lawsuit. Doc. 26-1 at 5 (finding Jerry incompetent as of July 13, 2015); see also Id. at 2, ¶ 11. Although the Superior Court found that Jerry could likely be restored to competency by October 2016 (id. at 5), there is no evidence that Jerry has, in fact, been restored. The only evidence available to the Court at this time indicates that Jerry is currently incompetent, and that he has been so for the duration of this lawsuit. In such a case, default judgment can be entered against Jerry only if: (1) he has been represented by a general guardian, conservator, or like fiduciary (2) who has appeared on his behalf. Fed.R.Civ.P. 55(b)(2). Neither has occurred here.

It is of no import, as Prudential suggests, that Jerry has not been adjudicated permanently incompetent. See Doc. 26 at 7. The only evidence before the Court indicates that Jerry is likely incompetent. The Court therefore exercises its discretion to deny Prudential’s Rule 55(b)(2) ...


Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.