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Johnson v. Smith

United States District Court, N.D. Georgia, Atlanta Division

April 14, 2015

DERRICK JOHNSON, Cross-Claimant,
v.
ORLANDO SMITH, Defendant.

OPINION AND ORDER

WILLIAM S. DUFFEY, Jr., District Judge.

This matter is before the Court on Cross-Claimant Derrick Johnson's ("Johnson") Motion to Appoint Counsel [38], Motions to Lift the Stay and Contest Claims of Insurance Proceeds [39, 45], Motion for Service of Motion [40], and Motion to Withdraw Attorney [42].

I. BACKGROUND

In April 2010, State Farm Casualty and Insurance Company ("State Farm") issued a life insurance policy (the "Policy") to Demetra Smith. Defendant Orlando Smith, Demetra Smith's spouse, was listed on the application as the primary beneficiary, and Johnson, Demetra Smith's son, was listed as the successor beneficiary. On May 25, 2010, Orlando Smith allegedly killed Demetra Smith. Although the Policy had not been issued at the time of Ms. Smith's death, State Farm determined that benefits, in the amount of $250, 000, were payable under the terms of the Policy.

On June 9, 2010, Johnson filed a claim for the proceeds payable under the Policy as a result of Demetra Smith's death. On June 14, 2010, State Farm sent a letter to Orlando Smith to ask whether he wished to disclaim his rights to the benefits under the Policy based on Georgia's slayer statute.[1] Orlando Smith refused to disclaim his rights to the life insurance proceeds, and filed his claim for benefits under the Policy.

On August 20, 2010, Orlando Smith was indicted in the Superior Court of Fulton County for the murder of Demetra Smith. In October 2011, Orlando Smith was convicted of the felony murder of Demetra Smith. He was acquitted of first degree murder. Orlando Smith is challenging his convictions, including by moving for a new trial. In late 2010 and early 2011, State Farm informed Orlando Smith and Johnson that it could not determine to whom to pay the life insurance benefits until Orlando Smith's criminal case is finally resolved.

On June 21, 2011, State Farm filed an interpleader complaint against Orlando Smith and Johnson pursuant to Rule 22 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure and 28 U.S.C. ยง 1332. On September 28, 2012, Johnson answered the Complaint, filed a counterclaim against State Farm, and a cross-claim against Orlando Smith, seeking benefits as the successor beneficiary of the Policy. On October 22, 2012, State Farm filed its Answer to Johnson's counterclaim, and stated that it cannot determine the beneficiary of the life insurance proceeds until Orlando Smith's criminal case is finally resolved. On October 25, 2012, Orlando Smith informed the Court that his motion for a new trial is pending in state court.

On November 6, 2012, State Farm moved to deposit $263, 763.40 into the registry of the Court. This amount consisted of the face value of the Policy, in the amount of $250, 000, and interest, in the amount of $13, 763.40, payable under the Policy. On November 27, 2012, the Court ordered the Clerk of the Court to accept State Farm's check in the amount of $263, 763.40. On February 4, 2013, Orlando Smith informed the Court that his Motion for a New Trial is still pending.

On May 10, 2013, State Farm moved, with Johnson's consent, to discharge itself from any further liability under the insurance policy. State Farm sought to be dismissed with prejudice from this action, and requested the Court to permanently enjoin Orlando Smith and Johnson from filing any claims against State Farm in any state or federal court regarding the life insurance proceeds. On January 7, 2014, the Court dismissed and discharged State Farm from this action, and enjoined Orlando Smith and Johnson from instituting any action against State Farm regarding the life insurance proceeds.

On May 29, 2014, after nearly five months of inactivity in this case, the Court ordered Johnson to show cause why this case should not be dismissed for want of prosecution. On June 13, 2014, Johnson responded to the Court's show cause order, contending that this case cannot proceed until Orlando Smith's appeal of the conviction for felony murder is resolved by the appellate courts in Georgia. On June 23, 2014, Orlando Smith responded to the Court's show cause order, and stated that the Court should "have everything set aside until defendant smith is able to have a fair (appeal) on defendant[s] behalf." Smith's Resp. at 2. The Court construed the parties' response to its May 29, 2014, Order, as a joint request to stay this case until Orlando Smith's direct appeal rights are exhausted.

On September 29, 2014, the Court stayed this matter until Orlando Smith exhausted his right to a direct appeal in the state courts. The Court found that a stay was warranted because the parties agreed that this matter cannot proceed until Orlando Smith exhausted his right to a direct appeal of his criminal conviction. The Court, however, noted that Georgia's slayer statute authorizes it to determine whether Orlando Smith or Johnson is entitled to the life insurance proceeds regardless of the outcome of Orlando Smith's state court appeal, and the parties could move to lift the stay if they reasonably believe that Smith's case in the state courts is not progressing in a timely manner.

On November 17, 2014, Johnson filed a pro se motion to lift the stay on the ground that Orlando Smith's case in the state courts is not progressing in a timely manner. On December 31, 2014, Orlando Smith filed a Notice of Filing, attaching a letter from his attorney indicating that his Amended Motion for New Trial remains pending in the Fulton County Superior Court. On January 23, 2015, Aaron M. Clark filed a Notice of Appearance as counsel on behalf of Johnson. On February 13, 2015, Johnson filed a renewed Motion to Lift the Stay. Johnson argues that Orlando Smith's case in the state courts is not progressing sufficiently noting that the Motion for New Trial has been pending for over three (3) years. Johnson requests the Court to lift the stay, and states that he is ready to proceed to trial.

II. ...


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