United States District Court, M.D. Alabama, Northern Division
REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION OF THE MAGISTRATE
F. MOORER UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1), this case was referred to the
undersigned United States Magistrate Judge for review and
submission of a report with recommended findings of fact and
conclusions of law (Doc. 20, entered 8/9/17). For the reasons
discussed below, the Magistrate Judge recommends that the
Defendant's claims to the insurance proceeds be dismissed
and any remaining motions be denied as moot.
Factual Background, Jurisdiction, and Procedural
April 17, 2017, Plaintiff Unum Life Insurance Company of
America (“Plaintiff” or “Unum”) filed
its Complaint in Interpleader on April 17, 2017 in federal
court in the Eastern District of Virginia. See Doc.
1. The interpleader action seeks to determine the proper
beneficiary of an employee benefit plan governed by the
Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974
(“ERISA” or “Act”), 29 U.S.C. §
1001, et seq. The interpleader complaint requested
the Court (a) require Defendants Kimberly Smith and Sonya
Moman to answer the complaint in interpleader and litigate
between themselves their respective claims to the life
insurance proceeds under the life insurance policy for Willie
Smith, (b) enjoin the Defendants from instituting or
prosecuting any proceeding against Unum relating to those
insurance proceeds, (c) require Defendants to settle between
themselves or the Court determine to whom the insurance
proceeds should be paid, (d) permit Unum to deposit the
amount of insurance proceeds into the Court, (e) dismiss Unum
from the suit and discharge it from further liability, (f)
award Unum attorneys' fees and costs, and (g) award Unum
any other and further relief the Court deemed appropriate.
According to the well-pleaded allegations in the Complaint,
Unum issued a life insurance policy to Willie Smith through
an employee benefit plan with MobileNow, Inc. - specifically
group policy number 294131 (“the Policy”). The
Insured, as a benefit of his employment with MobileNow,
received $50, 000 in basic life insurance coverage. The
Insured died on December 19, 2016. After his death, Unum
received two separate claims for the Policy proceeds from
Defendants. Defendants in this action are Kimberly Smith
(“Smith”) and Defendant Sonya Moman
(“Moman”). Smith is Willie Smith's daughter
while Moman was Smith's “significant other.”
Unum communicated with both Defendants and suggested they
attempt to resolve the matter. When that failed, Unum filed
this interpleader action.
matter jurisdiction proceeds pursuant to 29 U.S.C. §
1132(e)(1) and 28 U.S.C. § 1331. Smith filed a motion to
transfer venue to the Middle District of Alabama.
See Doc. 6. Unum took no position on the motion, but
requested it first be discharged and awarded its
attorneys' fees before the transfer. See Doc.
11. Ultimately, on July 20, 2017, the Court granted the
request to transfer venue, but declined to act on the motion
for discharge or other relief requested by Unum. See
Doc. 13. The parties do not contest personal jurisdiction or
venue in the Middle District of Alabama and there are
allegations sufficient to support both.
September 1, 2017, Unum moved for leave to deposit into the
registry of the court “the disputed proceeds payable
under an employment welfare benefit plan, identified as
proceeds from Unum group life insurance policy number 294131
. . . which covered the life of the late Willie Smith, and
which are the subject of the [c]omplaint for [i]nterpleader[,
]” in connection with this case. See Doc. 28.
On September 20, 2017, the Court granted Unum's motion
for leave to deposit funds into the registry of court.
See Doc. 31. On October 2, 2017, the Clerk of Court
received interpleader funds in the amount of $50, 074.66.
See Docs. 41-42.
thereafter, Unum filed its motion for discharge and motion
for attorneys' fees. See Docs. 44, 45. After the
motions were fully briefed, Moman's counsel filed a
motion to withdraw as counsel for the case. See Doc.
58. After holding an ex parte hearing on the matter,
the Court granted the motion to withdraw on December 7, 2017.
See Doc. 61. The Court also informed Plaintiff that
it would wait on reviewing this case until at least January
6, 2018 when either Plaintiff would have secured new counsel
or indicated she would proceed pro se. Id.
Specifically, the Court stated:
It is further ORDERED that on or before January 6, 2018,
defendant Moman shall either (a) secure counsel, who shall
file a notice of appearance not later than January 6, 2018,
or (b) file a statement advising the court that she wishes to
proceed with the case pro se. Defendant Moman is
advised that regardless of whether she is able to retain
counsel, this case will move forward, even if she must
proceed pro se.
This order does not preclude defendant Moman from obtaining
counsel after January 6, 2018. However, if defendant does not
have counsel by that date, she will be required to proceed
pro se until such time as she is able to secure
counsel. Defendant Moman is also reminded that regardless of
her status as an unrepresented defendant, she is still
obligated to comply with all court orders and with the
Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. This includes, but is not
limited to, orders and rules governing discovery.
See Doc. 61. January 6, 2018 came and went without
any filing by Plaintiff, thus the Court presumed that she
proceeded pro se and addressed the pending motion to
discharge Unum from this litigation. See Docs. 68,
Kimberly Smith filed a motion for summary judgment and Motion
to Compel Sonya Moman to Fully Respond to Discovery Requests
by Smith. See Docs. 64, 65, 66. While those motions
were held in abeyance pending the discharge motion, they were
set for subsequent briefing after Unum was released from the
litigation and the parties realigned as Plaintiff and
Defendant. The Court realigned the parties as Kimberly Smith
(Plaintiff) and Sonya Moman (Defendant), but it is important
to note that it could have just as easily been reversed with
Moman as Plaintiff and Smith as Defendant. In short, both
Smith and Moman laid claim to the insurance proceeds at
7, 2018, the Court issued an order directing Moman to respond
to the motion to compel on or before May 21, 2018.
See Doc. 70. In the order, the Court specifically
Sonya Moman is specifically cautioned that if she fails file
a response as required by this order, the court may grant the
motion to compel and/or treat her failure as an abandonment
of her claims against the insurance proceeds at issue.
Defendant Moman must remain an active participant in this
lawsuit should she continue to assert claims for the life
Id. No. response was filed. Therefore on May 25,
2018, the Court issued a second order which reiterated to
Moman that there were consequences to failing to respond to
court orders. See ...