Metropolitan Life Insurance Company v. Smith-Howell et al
ORDER AND DEFAULT JUDGMENT against Defts and Claimants in Interpleader Travis Flack, Stelletta Smith-Howell; granting Pltf's 19 MOTION for Award of Attorneys' Fees and Costs of $9,350.82 from deposited interpleader funds; and dismissing Pltf Metropolitan Life Insurance Company from this action with prejudice. (See Order for further details.) Signed by District Judge Martin Reidinger on 1/22/2019. (ejb)
THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE WESTERN DISTRICT OF NORTH CAROLINA
CIVIL CASE NO. 1:18-cv-00164-MR
METROPOLITAN LIFE INSURANCE
STELLETTA SMITH-HOWELL and
ORDER AND JUDGMENT
THIS MATTER is before the Court on the Plaintiff’s Motion for Default
Judgment [Doc. 17] and the Plaintiff’s Application for Award of Attorneys’
Fees and Costs [Doc. 19].
FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND
On June 12, 2018, the Plaintiff Metropolitan Life Insurance Company
(“MetLife”) filed a Complaint in Interpleader with respect to certain life
insurance benefits which became payable upon the death of Lester Flack,
Jr. (“Decedent”). [Doc. 1]. The Decedent was an employee of Daimler
Trucks North America, LLC (“Daimler”) and a participant in the Daimler
Group Life Insurance Program (“the Plan”), an ERISA-governed employee
welfare benefit plan sponsored by Daimler, and funded by a group life
insurance policy issued by MetLife. [Id.]. MetLife identified two potential
competing claimants to the Plan benefits: the Decedent’s fiancé, Stelletta
Smith-Howell (“Smith-Howell”), and the Decedent’s son, Travis J. Flack
(“Flack”). [Id.]. On June 12, 2018, MetLife filed a Motion for Receipt and
Deposit of Funds with respect to $165,000.00 in disputed funds. [Doc. 5].
This Court granted MetLife’s Motion on June 18, 2018. [Doc. 7]. On June
19, 2018, MetLife filed an Amended Complaint, reflecting therein that
$3,300.00 of the benefits at issue had been distributed, leaving a balance of
$161,700.00, plus interest, in disputed funds. [Doc. 8]. On July 9, 2018, this
Court granted MetLife’s Motion for Amended Order on Receipt and Deposit
of Interpleader Funds. [Doc. 10]. On the same date, MetLife deposited
$163,321.43 with the Clerk of this Court.
MetLife served the original pleadings by certified mail, which were
received by Defendant Smith-Howell on June 20, 2018. [Docs. 11, 11-1].
Thereafter, MetLife served the amended pleadings, which were received by
Defendant Smith-Howell on July 10, 2018. [Docs. 11, 11-2]. Defendant
Smith-Howell’s Answer or other responsive pleading was due on July 11,
2018. To date, she has not filed any responsive pleading.
MetLife served the original pleadings and amended pleadings on
Defendant Flack by certified mail, and such pleadings were received by
Defendant Flack on June 21 and 22, 2018, respectively. [Docs. 11, 11-3,
11-4]. Defendant Flack’s Answer or other responsive pleading was due on
July 13, 2018. To date, he has not filed any responsive pleading.
On July 10, 2018, MetLife’s counsel sent correspondence via U.S. mail
to Defendants Smith-Howell and Flack informing them that MetLife deposited
a check in the amount of $163,321.43 with this Court and that the funds
would remain on deposit with the Court subject to further orders. [Haynes
Aff., Doc. 19-1 at ¶ 13].
On August 10, 2018, MetLife’s counsel sent
correspondence via Certified Mail to Defendant Smith-Howell and via
Federal Express to Defendant Flack. In the correspondence, said counsel
confirmed Defendants’ receipt of the Complaint and Amended Complaint
and informed the Defendants that MetLife deposited funds with the Court
and requested a response regarding the status of the Defendants’ Answers.
[Id. at ¶ 14]. MetLife enclosed another courtesy copy of the Amended
Complaint. Neither Defendant, however, responded.
On August 28, 2018, MetLife sought to be discharged and dismissed
from this action. [Doc. 12]. On September 6, 2018, this Court denied
MetLife’s Motion for Discharge and Dismissal because “neither of the
Defendants/potential Claimants in Interpleader has answered or otherwise
responded to the Plaintiff’s Complaint.” [Doc. 13].
On October 16, 2018, MetLife filed a Request for Entry of Default
against Defendants Smith-Howell and Flack. [Doc. 14]. The Clerk of Court
entered default against both Defendants on October 17, 2018. [Doc. 15].
On December 7, 2018, MetLife filed the present motions, seeking the
entry of a default judgment under Rule 55(b)(1) of the Federal Rules of Civil
Procedure and the award of attorneys’ fees and costs. [Docs. 17, 19].
STANDARD OF REVIEW
Rule 55 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure provides for the entry
of a default when “a party against whom a judgment for affirmative relief is
sought has failed to plead or otherwise defend.” Fed. R. Civ. P. 55(a). Once
a defendant has been defaulted, the plaintiff may then seek a default
judgment. If the plaintiff’s claim is for a sum certain or can be made certain
by computation, the Clerk of Court may enter the default judgment. Fed. R.
Civ. P. 55(b)(1). In all other cases, the plaintiff must apply to the Court for a
default judgment. Fed. R. Civ. P. 55(b)(2).
The Defendants and Claimants in Interpleader have not appeared in
this case despite being properly served process, and an entry of default has
been made against them. As the Defendants and Claimants in Interpleader
have failed to appear or otherwise defend this action, and neither appears to
be a minor or incompetent [see Doc. 21], the Court concludes that the entry
of a default judgment is appropriate.
MetLife is a disinterested stakeholder which claims no interest in the
Plan benefits under the Policy which are the subject of this action.
Nevertheless, MetLife has been forced to incur attorneys’ fees in connection
with filing this action, effectuating service on the Defendants, and in
requesting entry of default and default judgment. In an interpleader action,
the stakeholder’s recovery may include “the preparation of the petition for
interpleader, the deposit of the contested funds with the court, and the
preparation of the order discharging the stake holder.”
Benefits for ExxonMobil Sav. Plan & for Family Adjustment Plan v. Lenoir,
No. 3:11-CV-437-RJC-DCK, 2012 WL 5930147, at *5 (W.D.N.C. Oct. 30,
2012) (citation omitted), report and recommendation adopted, No. 3:11-CV437-RJC-DCK, 2012 WL 5930259 (W.D.N.C. Nov. 27, 2012). MetLife has
incurred more attorneys’ fees than would have been necessary had the
Defendants/Claimants in Interpleader timely responded to MetLife’s
Complaint. Accordingly, the Court concludes that an award of attorneys’ fees
and costs to MetLife would be appropriate.
Upon review of MetLife’s
application and supporting documentation, the Court finds that MetLife’s
requested award of $9,350.82 is reasonable.
Accordingly, IT IS, THEREFORE, ORDERED, ADJUDGED, AND
DECREED as follows:
The Plaintiff’s Motion for Default Judgment [Doc. 17] is
GRANTED, and a default judgment is hereby entered as against
the Defendants and Claimants in Interpleader Stelletta SmithHowell and Travis Flack;
The Plaintiff’s Application for Award of Attorneys’ Fees and Costs
[Doc. 19] is GRANTED, and the Plaintiff is hereby awarded
$9,350.82 in attorneys’ fees and costs from the deposited
The Plaintiff is dismissed from this action with prejudice;
The Plaintiff, Daimler Trucks North America, LLC, and the
Daimler Group Life Insurance Plan are hereby fully discharged
from any further liability for the deposited interpleader funds; and
The Defendants/Claimants in Interpleader are hereby restrained
and enjoined from instituting any action or proceeding in any
state or United States court against the Plaintiff, Daimler Trucks
North America, LLC, or the Daimler Group Life Insurance Plan
for the recovery of Plan Benefits (plus any applicable interest) by
reason of the death of the Decedent.
The Clerk’s Office is respectfully directed to provide a copy of this
Order to the Plaintiff and the Defendants and thereafter to close this civil
IT IS SO ORDERED.
Signed: January 22, 2019
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