United States District Court, D. Delaware
SECURIAN LIFE INSURANCE COMPANY, a New York stock life insurance company Plaintiff,
DAVID DAWSON, an individual BETH P. ULLOM, an individual and as the Administratrix of the Estate of Lee Battis Deceased, IAN C. PAYNE, an individual, and WILLIAM PAYNE, an individual, Defendants.
R. FALLON, UNITED, STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
before the court in this interpleader action are two motions:
(1) defendant David Dawson's ("Mr. Dawson")
motion to strike defendants Beth Ullom ("Ms.
Ullom") and William Payne's ("Mr. Payne")
answerto the complaint; and (2) Ms. Ullom and Mr, Payne's
motion to vacate the entry of default in appearance. (D.I.
17; D.I. 30) For the reasons that follow, Mr. Dawson's
motion to strike is DENIED, and Ms. Ullom and Mr. Payne's
motion to vacate is GRANTED.
Securian Life Insurance Company ("SLIC") is a stock
life insurance company, and is the issuing carrier for a
group term life insurance policy issued to a non-party, E.I.
DuPont de Nemours and Co. ("DuPont"), Policy
#34343-G. (D.I. 1 at ¶¶ 1-2) The decedent, Lee
Payne Battis ("Ms. Battis"), was a disabled former
employee of DuPont who participated in DuPont's life
insurance program and received a life insurance policy,
provided by SLIC, which insured her in the amount of $48, 000
in Employee Term insurance, and $188, 000 in Voluntary
Employee life insurance, for a total of $236, 000.
(Id. at ¶¶ 3, 5) Ms. Battis died intestate
on March 24, 2017. (Id. at ¶¶3-4)
Dawson holds himself out as a "caretaker" of Ms.
Battis, and lived with her prior to her death. Mr. Dawson has
made a claim to SLIC for Ms. Battis' death benefits.
(Id. at ¶¶ 7-8) Ms. Ullom is Ms.
Battis' natural born sister, and has also made a claim to
SLIC for her death benefits. (Id. at ¶ 9-10)
Mr. Payne is Ms. Battis' natural born brother.
(Id. at ¶¶ 16-17) Defendant Ian Payne
("I. Payne") is Ms. Battis' natural born nephew
who, prior to a beneficiary change discussed infra,
was the contingent beneficiary to her benefits. (Id.
at ¶¶ 13-14) Therefore, Ms. Ullom, Mr. Payne, and
I. Payne are all heirs to Ms. Battis' estate.
(Id. at ¶¶ 18-19)
Ms. Battis' death, I. Payne was the contingent
beneficiary of the life insurance Policy. (Id. at
¶¶ 14-15) However, on September 1, 2014, Ms. Battis
changed the beneficiary to Mr. Dawson through an on-line
benefits portal maintained for use by participants of the
DuPont employee benefits plan. (Id. at¶ 14) At
the time, Mr. Dawson lived at Ms. Battis' residence as
her caretaker. (Id. at ¶¶ 7-8) Upon Ms.
Battis' death, Mr. Dawson and Ms. Ullom both made
competing claims to SLIC for death benefits payable by the
policy. (Id. at ¶¶ 7, 9) On April 7, 2017,
Ms. Ullom informed SLIC that she believed the beneficiary
change request in favor of Mr. Dawson was obtained by fraud
or duress, and that Ms. Battis intended for her nieces and
nephews to be the beneficiaries ofher life insurance policy.
(Id. at¶27) OnApril ll, 2Ol7, Mr. Dawson
executed a beneficiary statement seeking payment of Ms.
Battis' death benefits from SLIC. (Id. at¶
28) However, SLIC did not distribute the benefits to Mr.
Dawson because DuPont's third-party benefits
administrator notified SLIC that the request was under
investigation for fraud. (Id. at ¶ 29) Between
June 18, 2017 and August 15, 2017, Mr. Dawson repeatedly
submitted correspondence to SLIC seeking payment of the life
insurance policy. (Id. at ¶¶ 31, 34) On
August 21, 2017, Ms. Ullom asserted a claim for the payment
of Ms. Battis' benefits on the basis that the beneficiary
change to Mr. Dawson was ineffective due to fraud or duress.
September 1, 2017, SLIC initiated this interpleader action
concerning Ms. Battis' life insurance policy. (D.I. 1) On
December 5, 2017, Mr. Dawson filed his answer to the
complaint. (D.I. 5) On December 29, 2017, SLIC filed
affidavits of service stating that Mr. Payne was served on or
around October 13, 2017, and that Ms. Ullom was served on or
around October 14, 2017. (D.L6;D.I. 7) On January 11, 2018,
SLIC filed a request for an entry of default in appearance
against Ms. Ullom and Mr. Payne. (D.I. 8) On January 12,
2018, the court entered an order for SLIC to show cause as to
why I. Payne should not be dismissed due to SLIC's
failure to serve process within 90 days of filing the
complaint, pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 4(m).
(D.I. 9) On January 16, 2018, the Clerk of Court entered
defaults in appearance against Ms. Ullom and Mr. Payne for
their failure to answer or otherwise respond to the complaint
after proper service was effectuated. (D.I. 10) On January
23, 2018, SLIC filed a motion for extension of time for
service of the complaint on I. Payne. (D.I. 11) The extension
was granted by an oral order entered on January 25, 2018. On
January 24, 2018, Ms. Ullom and Mr. Payne filed an answer to
the complaint. (D.I. 16) On February 1, 2018, Mr. Dawson
filed the pending motion to strike Ms. Ullom and Mr.
Payne's answer to the complaint. (D.I. 17) On February 9,
2018, 1. Payne filed an answer to the complaint. (D.I. 19) On
March 6, 2018, the court held a Rule 16 scheduling conference
and entered a case scheduling order. (D.L 25) On March 30,
2018, Ms. Ullom and Mr. Payne filed the pending motion to
vacate the Clerk's entry of default. (D.L 30)
Time for Filing an Answer
Rule of Civil Procedure l2(a)(1)(A)(i) states that "the
time for serving a responsive pleading is within 21 days
after being served with the summons and complaint." A
party who fails to timely answer the original complaint risks
entry of default and judgment of default. Yellow Book
Sales & Distribution Co. v. White, 2011 WL 830520,
at *1 (E.D. Pa. Mar. 10, 2011). Federal Rule of Civil
Procedure 6(b) provides the method by which a party may seek
an extension of time for filing an answer, and provides that:
"[w]hen an act may or must be done within a specified
time, the court may, for good cause, extend the time if a
request is made before the original time expires or on motion
made after the time has expired if the party failed to act
because of excusable neglect." Fed.R.Civ.P. 6(b).
Mr. Payne was properly served on October 13, 2017 (D.L 6),
and Ms. Ullom was properly served on October 14, 2017 (D.L
7), they did not file an answer until January 24, 2018 (D.I.
16). This was eight days after the Clerk of Court entered a
default in appearance. (D.L 10) Prior to filing the untimely
answer, Ms. Ullom and Mr. Payne at no time availed themselves
of the protections provided for in Rule 6(b) by seeking an
extension of time,  nor does the answer itself offer an
acknowledgment or explanation for the late submission.
Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 55(a) instructs the clerk to
enter a default when a party against whom a judgment for
affirmative relief is sought has failed to plead or otherwise
defend, and that failure is shown by affidavit or otherwise.
Fed.R.Civ.P. 55(a). Therefore, Ms. Ullom and Mr. Payne's
failure to timely plead or otherwise defend constituted a
proper basis for an entry of default under Rule 55(a). When a
default is entered against a party who has failed to plead or
otherwise defend, filing an answer does not vacate the
default in appearance. Rather, a party must move to vacate
the entry pursuant to Rule 55(c) "for good cause."
Motion to Strike