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Estate of Penelope Reyes-Wilson, Deceased, By and Through Her v. Metropolitan Life Insurance Company

December 17, 2010

ESTATE OF PENELOPE REYES-WILSON, DECEASED, BY AND THROUGH HER
FUTURE APPOINTED PERSONAL REPRESENTATIVE CLINT WILSON AND AS SURVIVING SPOUSE, AND CLINT WILSON, AN INDIVIDUAL, PLAINTIFFS,
v.
METROPOLITAN LIFE INSURANCE COMPANY, A NEW YORK COMPANY AUTHORIZED BY THE STATE OF IDAHO, DEPARTMENT OF INSURANCE, TO TRANSACT BUSINESS IN THE STATE OF IDAHO, DEFENDANT,
COUNTERCLAIMANT AND THIRD PARTY PLAINTIFF,
v.
J.H., A MINOR CHILD, G.H., THIRD PARTY DEFENDANTS,



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Honorable B. Lynn Winmill Chief U. S. District Judge

MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER

INTRODUCTION

Before the Court is Third Party Plaintiff Metropolitan Life Insurance Company's Motion to Deposit Funds into the Registry of the Court, for Discharge and Dismissal, and for Award of Attorneys' Fees and Costs (Dkt. 11). For the reasons set forth below, the Court will grant Metlife's Motion.

BACKGROUND

Penelope Reyes-Wilson was employed by Citgroup, Inc. Her employee benefit plan included a life insurance policy, Group Master Policy No. 00919099, issued and administered by Metropolitan Life Insurance Company. The life insurance policy carries death benefits valued at $36,000.00. These benefits became payable to Ms. Reyes-Wilson at the time of her death.

Ms. Reyes-Wilson died of a gunshot wound to the abdomen on November 2008. She left a suicide note. On March 9, 2010, Clint Wilson, Ms. Reyes-Wilson's husband, submitted a claim for death benefits.

Before distributing the death benefits to Mr. Wilson, Metlife received a letter dated March 11, 2010 from the Idaho State Department Insurance asking Metlife to refrain from distributing the death benefits to Mr. Wilson because the State had evidence suggesting that Ms. Reyes-Wilson did not commit suicide and Mr. Wilson may have been involved in her death. To date, the questions surrounding Ms. Reyes-Wilson's alleged suicide have not been answered, and Mr. Wilson remains a suspect in her death.

No charges, however, have been filed against Mr. Wilson in connection with the death of Ms. Reyes-Wilson. But if it is determined that Mr. Wilson contributed to Ms. Reyes-Wilson's death, he will be prohibited under Idaho Code § 15-2-803 from collecting the death benefits payable by Metlife, and such proceeds will instead be awarded to Ms. Reyes-Wilson's minor children.

Metlife remains ready, willing and able to pay the death benefits in accordance with the terms of the employee benefit plan, but it cannot determine the proper beneficiary or beneficiaries of the life insurance benefits at issue without risking exposure of itself to multiple liability. As a disinterested stakeholder claiming no beneficial interest in the death benefits and seeking merely to discharge its duty, Metlife filed an interpleader action pursuant to Rule 22 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.

Metlife now seeks an order allowing it to deposit the death benefits, plus any applicable, in the Registry of the Court. In addition, Metlife moves the Court to: (1) dismiss it as a party to this action; (2) enjoin Plaintiffs from prosecuting future claims on the same policy; and (3) award Metlife attorneys' fees and costs for bringing the interpleader action.

LEGAL STANDARD

A plaintiff may bring an interpleader action before a federal court in one of two ways. The party may employ either the federal interpleader statute, 28 U.S.C. § 1335, or Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 22(1). Interpleader actions brought under Rule 22(1) do not confer subject matter jurisdiction on a federal court. Gelfgren v. Republic National Life Insurance Co., 680 F.2d 79, 81 (9th Cir.1982). Therefore, a party bringing an interpleader action under Rule 22 must establish subject matterjurisdiction under 28 U..S.C. § 1331 (federal question) or § 1332 (diversity of citizenship). Gelfgren, 680 F.2d at 81.

The federal courts do not distinguish statutory from rule-based interpleader when addressing many issues, such as the award of attorneys' fees and costs. See 7 Charles Alan Wright, Arthur R. Miller & Mary Kay Kane, Federal Practice and Procedure §§ 1703 & 1717 (3d ed.2001). However, in this case, it is important to note that the two types of interpleader action are treated differently when the court considers providing injunctive relief. General Railway Signal Co. v. Corcoran, 921 F.2d 700, 706-707 (7th Cir. 1991); Wright et al., supra, § 1717.

Metlife properly brought this interpleader action as a federal question, pursuant to Rule 22 and the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 ("ERISA"). Neither party has argued that subject matter jurisdiction exists based on diversity of citizenship. See Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals, Inc. v. Thompson, 478 U.S. 804, 809 n. 6, 106 S.Ct. 3229, 92 L.Ed.2d 650 (1983) (Jurisdiction may not be sustained on a theory that a party has not advanced.). For these reasons, and as ...


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