Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP Savings Plan v. Little et al
ORDER granting 15 Motion for Summary Judgment and Motion for Default Judgment against defendant Christopher Jackson -- For the reasons set forth in the ATTACHED WRITTEN MEMORANDUM AND ORDER, plaintiff's motion for summary judgment and for def ault judgment against defendant Jackson is granted. Plaintiff shall deposit the remainder of Rosemarie Little's 401(k) account into an account with the Court for immediate distribution to defendant A.M. Little. Plaintiff is directed to serve a c opy of this Electronic Order and Attached Written Memorandum and Order to both defendants within five days of the date of this Order and immediately thereafter file proof of such service with the Court via ECF. The Clerk of the Court is directed to close this case. SO ORDERED by Judge Dora Lizette Irizarry on 3/6/2015. (Irizarry, Dora)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
EASTERN DISTRICT OF NEW YORK
------------------------------------------------------------------SKADDEN, ARPS, SLATE, MEAGHER &
FLOM LLP SAVINGS PLAN, an Employee
Retirement Trust, by its Trustees,
ABDUL MALIK LITTLE and CHRISTOPHER
DORA L. IRIZARRY, United States District Judge:
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
Plaintiff Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom Savings Plan (“Skadden” or the
“Savings Plan”) filed the instant interpleader action seeking a determination as to the appropriate
recipient of certain Savings Plan benefits. (See generally Complaint (“Compl.”), Dkt. Entry No.
1.) Defendants Abdul Malik Little (“A.M. Little”) and Christopher Jackson (“Jackson”) are
named beneficiaries of a particular account managed by the Savings Plan.
(Compl. ¶ 9.)
Skadden moves for summary judgment and default judgment against Jackson, contending that
Jackson is not entitled to receipt of any benefits under the Savings Plan under New York’s
“Slayer Rule.” (See Mem. of L. in Supp. of Pl.’s Mot. for J. (“Pl. Mem.”), Dkt. Entry No. 15-1.)
A.M. Little submitted a pro se letter in support of Skadden’s motion. (See Jul. 3, 3014 Letter by
A.M. Little (“A.M. Little Ltr.”), Dkt. Entry No. 16.) Jackson has failed to appear in this action.
For the reasons set forth below, Skadden’s motion for summary judgment and motion for default
judgment against Jackson is granted.
The facts underlying this action are not in dispute. Rosemarie Little (“Little”) was an
employee of the law firm of Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP. Little participated in
the Savings Plan through a 401(k) account. Little designated A.M Little, her son, and Jackson,
her grandson, as beneficiaries of her account in the case of her death. Little specified that, in the
case of her death, A.M. Little would receive 75% and Jackson would receive 25% of any of her
accumulated benefits. On July 18, 2013, Jackson pled guilty to manslaughter with the intent to
cause physical injury in connection with Little’s death. The Savings Plan has not distributed
Jackson’s share of the benefits.
The Savings Plan filed this action to seek a ruling from this Court permitting the Savings
Plan to distribute Jackson’s share of the benefits to A.M. Little. Skadden served copies of the
complaint and motion papers on Jackson at his place of incarceration. To date, Jackson has
failed to appear in this action.
“The dispositions of motions for entries of defaults and default judgments and relief from
the same under Rule 55(c) are left to the sound discretion of a district court,” Enron Oil Corp. v.
Diakuhara, 10 F.3d 90, 95 (2d Cir. 1993), and “district courts regularly exercise their discretion
to deny technically valid motions for default.” Sony Corp. v. Elm State Elecs., Inc., 800 F. 2d
317, 319 (2d Cir. 1986). The Second Circuit has also “expressed on numerous occasions its
preference that litigation disputes be resolved on the merits, not by default.” Dunkin’ Donuts
Franchised Restaurants LLC v. Got-A-Lot-A-Dough, Inc., 2008 WL 4861968, at *2 (E.D.N.Y.
Oct. 31, 2008) (quoting Azikiwe v. Nigeria Airways Ltd., 2006 WL 2224450 (E.D.N.Y. July 31,
With respect to motions for entries of default, district courts consider three factors: “(1)
whether the default was willful; (2) whether setting aside the default would prejudice the
adversary; and (3) whether a meritorious defense is presented.” Id. at *3 (quoting Diakuhara, 10
F. 3d at 96). Courts may also consider other equitable factors, including whether “the entry of
default would bring about a harsh or unfair result.” Id. (quotation omitted). “[D]efaults are
generally disfavored and are reserved for rare occasions [and] when doubt exists as to whether a
default should be granted or vacated, the doubt should be resolved in favor of the defaulting
party.” Id. (quotation omitted). Defaults “are particularly disfavored when substantial rights are
implicated or when substantial sums of money are demanded.” Id. (quotation omitted).
Summary judgment is appropriate when “the movant shows that there is no genuine
dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.
R. Civ. P. 56(a). “In ruling on a summary judgment motion, the district court must resolve all
ambiguities, and credit all factual inferences that could rationally be drawn, in favor of the party
opposing summary judgment and determine whether there is a genuine dispute as to a material
fact, raising an issue for trial.” McCarthy v. Dun & Bradstreet Corp., 482 F. 3d 184, 202 (2d
Cir. 2007) (internal quotations omitted). A fact is “material” within the meaning of Rule 56
when its resolution “might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law.” Anderson v.
Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). An issue is “genuine” when “the evidence is such
that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.” Id. To determine
whether an issue is genuine, “[t]he inferences to be drawn from the underlying affidavits,
exhibits, interrogatory answers, and depositions must be viewed in the light most favorable to the
party opposing the motion.” Cronin v. Aetna Life Ins. Co., 46 F. 3d 196, 202 (2d Cir. 1995)
(citing United States v. Diebold, Inc., 369 U.S. 654, 655 (1962) (per curiam) and Ramseur v.
Chase Manhattan Bank, 865 F. 2d 460, 465 (2d Cir. 1989)). “[T]he evidence of the non-movant
is to be believed, and all justifiable inferences are to be drawn in his favor.” Anderson, 477 U.S.
at 255. However, “[w]hen opposing parties tell two different stories, one of which is blatantly
contradicted by the record, so that no reasonable jury could believe it, a court should not adopt
that version of the facts for purposes of ruling on a motion for summary judgment.” Scott v.
Harris, 550 U.S. 372, 380 (2007).
The moving party bears the burden of “informing the district court of the basis for its
motion, and identifying those portions of [the record] . . . which it believes demonstrates the
absence of a genuine issue of fact.” Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986) (internal
quotations omitted). Once the moving party has met its burden, “the nonmoving party must
come forward with ‘specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.’” Matsushita
Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986) (emphasis omitted). The
nonmoving party must offer “concrete evidence from which a reasonable juror could return a
verdict in [its] favor.” Anderson, 477 U.S. at 256. The nonmoving party may not “rely simply
on conclusory statements or on contentions that the affidavits supporting the motion are not
credible, or upon the mere allegations or denials of the nonmoving party’s pleading.” Ying Jing
Gan v. City of New York, 996 F. 2d 522, 532-33 (2d Cir. 1993) (citations and internal quotations
omitted). “Summary judgment is appropriate only ‘[w]here the record taken as a whole could
not lead a rational trier of fact to find for the non-moving party.’” Donnelly v. Greenburgh Cent.
Sch. Dist. No. 7, 691 F. 3d 134, 141 (2d Cir. 2012) (quoting Matsushita, 475 U.S. at 587).
As a preliminary matter, the Clerk of the Court entered a notation of default against
Jackson for his failure to appear. (See May 22, 2014 Order, Dkt. Entry No. 14.) It appears that
the default was willful as Jackson declined to respond to the complaint and the instant motion.
Moreover, as set forth below, Jackson has no meritorious defense. Under these circumstances,
the Court grants default judgment in Skadden’s favor.
In a related case, another judge from this District explained that, under New York’s
“Slayer Rule,” an individual who causes the death of the insured cannot recover under the
insured’s insurance policy. See Metropolitan Life Ins. Co. v. Little, 2013 WL 4495684, at *2
(E.D.N.Y. Aug. 17, 2013). Similarly, “federal law recognizes the equitable principle that ‘no
person should be permitted to profit from his own wrong.’” Id. at 3 (quoting Prudential Ins. Co.
v. Tull, 690 F. 2d 848, 849 (4th Cir. 1982)). Turning to this case, Jackson pled guilty to first
degree manslaughter in connection with Little’s death. A conviction for manslaughter triggers
the “Slayer Rule.” See Mendez-Bellido v. Bd. of Trusttes of Div. 1181, 709 F. Supp. 329, 330-34
(E.D.N.Y. 1989) (applying New York’s Slayer Rule to disqualify an individual who was
convicted of manslaughter from receipt of pension). Thus, Jackson is disqualified from receipt
of his designated share of Little’s 401(k) benefits with the Savings Plan.
The only outstanding issue is the remedy. A.M. Little is the only other designated
beneficiary to Little’s 401(k) account. Little submitted a letter to this Court in support of
Skadden’s motion and requesting that he be designated the recipient of Jackson’s share of
Little’s 401(k) account. The Court sees no reason to deny this request, particularly in light of the
resolution of Little, which involved claims of the same defendants to the proceeds of Little’s life
insurance policy. See Little, 2013 WL 4495684, at *2-4 (ordering Little’s life insurance provider
to deposit Jackson’s share of Little’s life insurance proceeds into an account with the Court for
immediate release to A.M. Little, the sole other designated beneficiary under Little’s life
For the reasons set forth above, Skadden’s motion for summary judgment and for default
judgment against Jackson is granted. Skadden shall deposit the remainder of Little’s 401(k)
account into an account with the Court for immediate distribution to A.M. Little.
Dated: Brooklyn, New York
March 6, 2015
DORA L. IRIZARRY
United States District Judge
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