UNUM Life Insurance Company of America v. J. W. et al
ORDER granting in part 26 Motion for Default Judgment. Signed by Senior Judge W. Earl Britt on 4/9/2014. (Marsh, K)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
EASTERN DISTRICT OF NORTH CAROLINA
UNUM LIFE INSURANCE COMPANY OF
JACOB WHITFIELD, and
L. W., a minor, through his Guardian Ad Litem,
This matter is before the court on plaintiff Unum Life Insurance Company of America’s
motion for default judgment against defendant Jacob Whitfield and for dismissal and an award of
fees and costs. (DE # 26.) Neither Whitfield nor the other defendant, L.W., a minor who is
represented by his guardian ad litem, have filed a response to the motion, although both were
served with copies thereof.
By way of background, in November 2012, plaintiff filed an amended complaint in
interpleader against Whitfield and L.W., regarding the entitlement to insurance benefits resulting
from the death of their father, Brian Whitfield. (DE # 11.) According to plaintiff’s allegations,
Whitfield killed his father (as well as his step-mother) and murder charges are pending against
him, and pursuant to North Carolina statutes and common law, Whitfield is precluded from
recovering any benefits on account of his father’s death. (Id. ¶¶ 7, 9, 11.) One half of the
insurance benefits have already been paid for the benefit of L.W. (Id. ¶ 11; Mem., DE # 27, at
1.) The other half of the benefits (with interest), $111,716.34, which is the subject of the instant
dispute, have been deposited by plaintiff in the court’s registry. (Order, DE # 12; Mem., DE #
26, at 1.)
On plaintiff’s motion, the Clerk entered default against Whitfield. (DE # 19.) L.W.
subsequently answered the amended complaint and alleges a cross-claim against Whitfield,
claiming he (L.W.) is entitled to the interpleader funds based on North Carolina’s “slayer”
statute, N.C. Gen. Stat. § 31A-3, et seq. (DE # 21.) To date, Whitfield has not filed an answer
or other response to the cross-claim, despite being served with the same. (See DE # 25.) All
discovery proceedings have been stayed pending resolution of the criminal charges against
Whitfield. (DE # 24.) With the instant motion, plaintiff requests that judgment be entered
against Whitfield and that it be dismissed from this action and awarded fees and costs from the
“[T]he failure of a named interpleader defendant to answer
the interpleader complaint and assert a claim to the res can be
viewed as forfeiting any claim of entitlement that might have been
asserted.” Amoco Production Co. v. Aspen Group, 59 F. Supp. 2d
1112, 1116 (D. Colo. 1999) (quoting Gulf Coast Galvanizing, Inc.
v. Steel Sales Co., 826 F. Supp. 197, 203 (S.D. Miss. 1993)[)].
Further, in an interpleader action in which all but one named
interpleader defendant has defaulted, the remaining defendant is
entitled to the res. Id. See also Nationwide Mut. Fire Ins. Co. v.
Eason, 736 F.2d 130, 133 n.4 (4th Cir. 1984) (“if all but one
named interpleader defendant defaulted, the remaining defendant
would be entitled to the fund.”); New York Life Ins. Co. v.
Connecticut Development Authority, 700 F.2d 91, 95 n.6 (2d Cir.
1983) (default of interpleader defendants expedited conclusion of
interpleader action by obviating need for judicial determination of
answering defendant's entitlement to stake); General Accident
Group v. Gagliardi, 593 F. Supp. 1080, 1089 (D. Conn. 1984); Sun
Life Assur. Co. of Canada v. Conroy, 431 F. Supp. 2d 220, 226
Life Ins. Co. of N. Am. v. Hale, No. 08-cv-02551-RPM-KMT, 2009 WL 2843270, at *3 (D.
Colo. Aug. 31, 2009).
Given that default has been entered against Whitfield, he has not responded to L.W.’s
cross-claim, and L.W. is the only other interpleader defendant, the court concludes that it is
appropriate to dispose of the action at this time. The court exercises its discretion to not award
fees and costs to plaintiff. See Trustees of Plumbers and Pipefitters Nat’l Pension Fund v.
Sprague, 251 F. App’x 155, 156 (4th Cir. 2007) (per curiam) (recognizing that courts have held it
proper to reimburse an interpleader plaintiff its fees and costs pursuant to the court’s
Plaintiff’s motion is ALLOWED IN PART. It is hereby ORDERED that:
The Clerk disburse the sum of $111,716.34 to Ralph G. Willey, III as guardian ad litem
for L.W., P.O. Box 7846, Rocky Mount, NC 27804-7846;
Within 10 days hereof, the guardian ad litem file with the court a motion for approval of
reasonable fees and costs (with appropriate supporting documentation) he seeks to have
deducted from the proceeds payable to L.W.;
If the guardian ad litem does not file a motion for approval within 10 days, he shall
disburse the entire $111,716.34 for the benefit of L.W.;
Plaintiff shall not recover any fees and costs from the interpleader funds;
Plaintiff is discharged from any further liability under its insurance policies by reason of
the death of Brian Whitfield and is DISMISSED WITH PREJUDICE; and,
The Clerk enter judgment in favor of L.W. and against Whitfield and close this case.
This 9 April 2014.
W. Earl Britt
Senior U.S. District Judge
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