Jackson National Life Insurance Company v. Pittman et al
ORDER GRANTING 37 Alisa Pittman's Motion to Dismiss. The cross-claim by Patricia Pittman is dismissed in its entirety. The clerk shall close this matter. Signed by US District Judge Terrence W. Boyle on 4/14/2014. (Fisher, M.)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE EASTERN DISTRICT OF NORTH CAROLINA
PATRICIA PITTMAN, individually and
as Executrix of the Estate of Hilton C.
Pittman, Jr., MARTHA A. PITTMAN, and )
ALISA J. PITTMAN,
JACKSON NATIONAL LIFE
This cause comes before the Court on a motion by defendant Alisa Pittman to dismiss the
cross-claim of defendant Patricia Pittman, individually and as Executrix of the Estate of Hilton
C. Pittman, Jr. A hearing was held on the matter before the undersigned on April 11, 2014, at
Raleigh, North Carolina. For the reasons discussed below, the motion to dismiss is granted and
the cross-claim of Patricia Pittman is dismissed.
Jackson National Life Insurance Co. filed a complaint in interpleader pursuant to 28
U.S.C. § 1335 requesting that defendants interplead their respective claims to the policy proceeds
of a life insurance policy on Hilton Pittman, that the Court accept its payment of$375,000 with
interest in full payment of the remaining amount due under the policy on account of Mr.
Pittman's death, and that it be discharged from all further liability under the policy. [DE 1]. All
defendants were served, and only Patricia Pittman appeared and answered the complaint stating
her claim to the life insurance proceeds. Default was entered against the remaining defendants
pursuant to Rule 55(a) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, and on October 4, 2013, the
Court entered a consent judgment dismissing Jackson National Life Insurance Co., entering
default judgment against Ali sa and Martha Pittman, and directing the clerk to pay agreed upon
fees and costs to Jackson National and the balance of the funds on deposit to Patricia Pittman.
Prior to the entry of the default and consent judgment, Patricia Pittman had filed a crossclaim against Alisa Pittman; the Court reserved its jurisdiction over such cross-claim in the
default and consent judgment. In her cross-claim, Patricia Pittman claims that a dispute exists
between Patricia Pittman, as Executrix of the Estate of Hilton Pittman, and Alisa Pittman over a
promissory note allegedly executed by the decedent regarding which Alisa Pittman has alleged
she is entitled to recover a sum in excess of$180,000 from the Estate of Hilton Pittman. [DE
36]. Patricia Pittman seeks a declaratory judgment that the Estate is not liable to Alisa Pittman
under the promissory note and that the costs of the action, including attorney's fees, be taxed
against Alisa Pittman. Patricia Pittman in her original answer to the complaint also raised as a
"second defense" that the costs and fees of the interpleader action should be taxed against
Martha and Alisa Pittman, whose failure to cooperate and refusal to execute the waiver has made
this litigation necessary. [DE 19].
CROSS-CLAIM FOR ATTORNEY'S FEES
The Court addresses first Patricia Pittman's "second defense" seeking to tax expenses,
costs, and/or attorneys' fees against Alisa and Martha Pittman for failure to cooperate. Patricia
Pittman has pled no statutory or other basis for her claim that she would be entitled to attorney's
fees or costs from Martha or Alisa Pittman for any alleged failure to cooperate and thus this
claim, insofar as it can be construed one, must be dismissed for failure to state a claim upon
which relief can be granted. Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6); see also Papasan v. Attain, 478 U.S. 265,
283 (1986) (Rule 12(b)(6) motion tests the legal sufficiency ofthe complaint).
CROSS-CLAIM FOR DECLARATORY JUDGMENT
The Court next considers its jurisdiction over Patricia Pittman's declaratory judgment
cross-claim against Alisa Pittman. Alisa Pittman contends that this Court lacks subject matter
jurisdiction over the claim and personal jurisdiction over Ali sa Pittman, and the Court agrees.
As Patricia Pittman has raised her declaratory judgment claim as a cross-claim, the Court
must determine whether it "arises out of the transaction or occurrence that is the subject matter of
the original action or of a counterclaim, or if the claim relates to any property that is the subject
matter of the original action." Fed. R. Civ. P. 13(g). The subject matter of the original action
was a life insurance policy; the subject matter of the cross-claim is a promissory note relating to
a settlement of an action filed in Mississippi. While Patricia Pittman contends that the crossclaim arises, like the original claim, out of an instrument issued to facilitate certain alleged
interests in and rights to the Pittman Family Business and assets, the Court does not find that as
alleged the cross-claim is sufficiently related to the life insurance proceeds nor does it arise out
of a transaction or occurrence that was the subject ofthe original action. This original action was
in interpleader for the sole purpose of determining the proper beneficiary to the proceeds of a life
insurance policy. The questions of law and fact raised in the complaint are not substantially
similar, nor would the same evidence support or refute the complaint as well as the cross-claim.
See Kirkcaldy v. Richmond Co. Bd. ofEduc., 212 F.R.D. 289,295 (M.D.N.C. 2002). Finally, the
Court finds there to be no logical relationship between the original action and the cross-claim.
/d.; see also Ionian Corp. v. Country Mut. Ins. Co., 836 F. Supp. 2d 1173, 1182 (D. Or. 2011)
("claim for unpaid rent does not relate to the insurance proceeds which is the 'property that is the
subject matter of the original action"'). Thus, as Rule 13(g) has not been satisfied, the Court
lacks subject matter jurisdiction to consider Patricia Pittman's declaratory judgment cross-claim.
Even if the Court were to find that Rule 13(g) had been satisfied, "[f]or cross-claims to be
proper, they must either carry an independent basis for subject matter jurisdiction or must fall
under the Court's supplementaljurisdiction." Banner Life Ins. Co. v. Bonney, 2:11CV198, 2011
WL 5027498 (E.D. Va. Oct. 21, 2011).
The Court lacks a basis for independent jurisdiction over the cross-claim. · The
Declaratory Judgment Act provides that in a case of actual controversy within its jurisdiction, a
court may declare the rights and other legal relations of any interested party seeking such
declaration. 28 U.S.C. § 2201(a). The Declaratory Judgment Act does not, however, create an
independent basis for subject matter jurisdiction. Gibraltar, P.R., Inc. v. Otoki Grp., Inc. 104
F.3d 616,619 (4th Cir. 1997). In support ofthis Court's jurisdiction, the cross-claim alleges that
the Court has diversity jurisdiction over the cross-claim, as the parties are diverse and the amount
in controversy is greater than $75,000. 28 U.S.C. § 1332. However, "the probate exception [to
diversity jurisdiction] reserves to state probate courts the probate or annulment of a will and the
administration of a decedent's estate; it also precludes federal courts from endeavoring to dispose
of property that is in the custody of a state probate court." Marshall v. Marshall, 547 U.S. 293,
Alisa Pittman contends that the cross-claim concerns her probate of a claim in the matter
of the deceased, Hilton Pittman, in Alcorn County, Mississippi. Hilton Pittman Jr. died on May
26, 2011, and his estate is being administered in the Chancery Court of Alcorn County,
Mississippi. On February 19, 2013, Alisa Pittman made her probate claim in the Mississippi
court on the promissory note; Patricia Pittman on August 12, 2013, asked this Court to declare
that the Estate is not liable to Alisa Pittman under the promissory note. [DE 38-A]. Based on
the foregoing it is clear that this Court should not exercise its jurisdiction over any claim the
subject of which is currently being probated in Mississippi.
The Court further lacks supplemental jurisdiction over Patricia Pittman's cross-claim.
Supplemental jurisdiction may be exercised over state law claims which are so related to the
claims in the original action that they form part of the same case or controversy. 28 U.S.C. §
1367(a). As discussed above, the rights of parties to a promissory note are not sufficiently
related to the original interpleader action seeking to establish the proper beneficiary of a life
insurance policy to form a part ofthe same case or controversy. Moreover, even if supplemental
jurisdiction were appropriate, the Court would decline to exercise its jurisdiction as it has
dismissed the interpleader action over which it had original jurisdiction and there is an ongoing
matter pending in Mississippi concerning the substantive issue raised by Patricia Pittman's
declaratory judgment claim. 28 U.S.C. § 1367(c)(3),(4).
Because, for all of the reasons discussed above, the Court lacks subject matter
jurisdiction over the cross-claim, the claim must be dismissed. 1
The Court would note that even if subject matter jurisdiction were proper, it lacks personal
jurisdiction over Alisa Pittman as she has no ties to North Carolina, has not availed herself of any
benefits or protections in North Carolina, and she has failed to appear in the underlying
interpleader action and thus has not waived her right to contest this Court's personal jurisdiction.
Any nationwide service of process rules related to the interpleader action would not form an
adequate basis for personal jurisdiction over Alisa Pittman because, as discussed above, the
cross-claim is not closely related to the claim at issue in the interpleader action. See Rubinbaum
LLP v. Related Corp. Partners V, L.P., 154 F. Supp.2d 481, 489 (S.D.N.Y. 2001).
Accordingly, Alisa Pittman's motion to dismiss [DE 37] is GRANTED and the crossclaim by Patricia Pittman is DISMISSED in its entirety. As there are no further issues for the
Court's consideration, the clerk is directed to close the file.
SO ORDERED, this l!i.day of April, 2014.
UNITED STATES DISTRICT
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