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Metropolitan Life Insurance Co. v. Johnson

United States District Court, D. Colorado

April 29, 2015

METROPOLITAN LIFE INSURANCE COMPANY, Plaintiff,
v.
GEORGE H. JOHNSON, JAMIE JOHNSON, and JENNIFER JOHNSON, Defendants.

ORDER

KRISTEN L. MIX, Magistrate Judge.

This matter is before the Court on Defendant George J. Johnson's ("Movant") Motion for Default Judgment Pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 55(b) Against Co-Defendants Jamie Johnson and Jennifer Johnson [#34][1] and the Brief in Support of Motion for Default Judgment Pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 55(b) Against Co-Defendants Jamie Johnson and Jennifer Johnson [#34-1] (collectively, the "Motion"). No response has been filed and the deadline to do so has elapsed. The Court has reviewed the Motion, the entire case file, and the applicable law and is sufficiently advised in the premises.[2] For the reasons set forth below, the Motion [##34, 34-1] is GRANTED.

I. Background

Plaintiff commenced this action on March 19, 2014 by filing a Complaint In Interpleader [#1] ("Complaint"). Plaintiff invokes this Court's jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1331 "because this action arises under the law of the United States, specifically the Federal Employees' Group Life Insurance Act, 5 U[.] S[.] C[.] §§ 8701, et seq." Compl . [#1] ¶ 5. Plaintiff alleges that it insured Bruce R. Johnson (the "Decedent") through the Federal Employees' Group Life Insurance Policy (the "Policy"). Id . ¶ 7. Plaintiff avers that following the Decedent's death, $342, 000 in benefits became payable under the Policy. Id . ¶ 12. Plaintiff further states that it "cannot determine to whom the [] benefits should be paid based on the allegation that the [D]ecedent was not competent at the time he signed" a beneficiary designation on September 24, 2013. Id . ¶¶ 15, 17. Accordingly, Plaintiff sought to deposit the benefits into the Court's Registry for disbursement by the Court once the competing beneficiaries' dispute is resolved. See generally Metropolitan Life Insurance Company's Motion to Deposit Life Insurance Proceeds Into Registry of Court and for Discharge and Dismissal With Prejudice [#11] (the "MetLife Motion"). In the MetLife Motion, Plaintiff also sought injunctive relief against the competing beneficiaries "[r]estraining and enjoining the Defendants by Order and Injunction of this Court from instituting any action or proceeding in any state or United States court against [Plaintiff] for the recovery of [the] Benefits, plus any applicable interest payable as a consequence of the death of the Decedent...." Id . at 5. Plaintiff also sought "costs and attorney's fees, to be paid from the [] Benefits prior to deposit into the Registry of the Court" and sought to be discharged from this action with prejudice. Id . at 6. On September 2, 2014, the Court granted the MetLife Motion in part. Order [#24] at 3-4. The Court ordered Plaintiff to deposit the life insurance benefits into the Court's Registry and held that "[u]pon deposit, Plaintiff shall be relived of any and all further liability relating to the payment of the Benefits resulting from the death of Bruce R. Johnson." Id . at 3.

Plaintiff named three Defendants: Movant, the Decedent's brother, and Jamie and Jennifer Johnson, the Decedent's daughters. Movant filed an Answer in which he agreed that the amount of Benefits due under the Policy is $342, 000. Answer [#10] ¶ 12. Jamie and Jennifer Johnson were represented by counsel in this matter initially and consented to the jurisdiction of the Court, but have not responded to the Complaint. See Consent Form [#14] at 2; Minute Order [#17] at 1 (extending Jamie and Jennifer Johnson's deadline to respond to the Complaint to June 16, 2014); see generally Motion for Extension of Time [#16]; Motion to Withdraw [#18]; Minute Order [#19]. On September 16, 2014, the Court held a Status Conference in this matter. See generally Courtroom Minutes/Minute Order [#31]. Movant's counsel attended the Status Conference, as did Jennifer Johnson. Id . at 1. Ms. Johnson was "advised that she [had the opportunity to] file a Motion for Leave to File an Answer Out of Time and a proposed Answer no later than September 23, 2014." Id . (emphasis in original). Neither Jennifer Johnson nor Jamie Johnson filed a motion requesting leave to file an answer out of time or an answer.

On September 19, 2014, Plaintiff deposited $343, 653.78 into the Court's Registry. See generally Receipt [#32].

On October 1, 2014, the Clerk of the Court entered default against Defendants Jamie and Jennifer Johnson. See generally Clerk's Entry of Default [#33].

II. Analysis

Pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 55, default may enter against parties who fail to appear or otherwise defend a lawsuit. Here, Entry of Default [#33] was proper because Defendants Jennifer and Jamie Johnson failed to respond to Plaintiff's Complaint [#1]. Before proceeding with a default judgment, however, the Court normally must consider whether it has jurisdiction, whether the facts establish a legitimate basis for the entry of judgment, and whether the amount of damages can be ascertained. See Grady v. Swisher, No. 11-cv-02880-WYD-KLM, 2014 WL 3562794, at *5 (D. Colo. July 18, 2014). In this case there is no dispute about the amount of benefits available under the Policy, so the Court's analysis addresses jurisdiction and whether there is a basis for entry of judgment.

A. Jurisdiction

In determining whether a default judgment is warranted, the Court must first consider whether it has jurisdiction over the subject matter and the parties against whom default judgment is sought. Dennis Garberg & Assocs., Inc., v. Pack-Tech Int'l Corp., 115 F.3d 767, 772 (10th Cir. 1997); Williams v. Life Sav. & Loan, 802 F.2d 1200, 1202-03 (10th Cir. 1986). The Court must do so in consideration of the well-established rule that "a judgment is void if the court that enters it lacks jurisdiction over either the subject matter of the action or the parties to the action." United States v. 51 Pieces of Real Prop., 17 F.3d 1306, 1309 (10th Cir. 1994).

1. Subject Matter Jurisdiction

Federal question jurisdiction is governed by 28 U.S.C. § 1331, which provides in pertinent part that "[t]he district courts shall have original jurisdiction of all civil actions arising under the Constitution, laws, or treaties of the United States." In the Complaint, Plaintiff alleges that "this action arises under the... Federal Employees' Group Life Insurance Act...." Compl . [#1] ¶ 5. The Federal Employees' Group Life Insurance Act, 5 U.S.C. §§ 8701, et seq ., ("FEGLI") is a federal statute. As alleged in the Complaint, the Decedent's Policy was issued pursuant to FEGLI and the proceeds became payable ...


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