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The Prudential Insurance Company of America v. Bacon

United States District Court, S.D. Georgia, Statesboro Division

April 18, 2019

THE PRUDENTIAL INSURANCE COMPANY OF AMERICA, Plaintiff,
v.
NICHOLAS S. BACON and ERIC C. SMITH, Defendants.

          ORDER

          J. RANDAL HALL, CHIEF JUDGE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT.

         Before the Court is Defendant Eric C. Smith's Motion for Entry of Judgment. (Doc. 17.) Because the lone remaining party, Defendant Nicholas S. Bacon, is in default, the Court will construe this filing as a motion for default judgment. For the reasons set forth below, Defendant Smith's motion is GRANTED.

         I. BACKGROUND

         On October 18, 2017, Plaintiff The Prudential Insurance Company of America ("Prudential") filed this interpleader action concerning a group life insurance policy (the "Policy") covering Montez Bacon (the "Insured") in the amount of $100, 000.00. (Compl., Doc. 1, ¶¶ 7-11.) Defendant Nicholas S. Bacon, the Insured's son, was the sole primary beneficiary under the policy. (Id. ¶ 9, Ex. B.) After the Insured's death, Defendant Eric C. Smith, the Insured's other son, filed a Preferential Beneficiary Statement with Prudential to claim the Policy's benefits. (Id. ¶ 16, Ex. D.) These two competing claims are the basis for this interpleader action.

         On March 3, 2017, Montez Bacon was murdered by a gunshot wound to the back. (Id. ¶ 10, Ex. C.) Nicholas S. Bacon was subsequently arrested and charged with aggravated assault and murder in connection with the death of his mother. (Id. ¶ 12.) Under O.C.G.A. § 53-1-5 and the terms of the Policy, if Bacon "feloniously and intentionally" killed the Insured he forfeits his right to the benefits and is treated as if he predeceased the Insured. (Id. ¶¶ 13-15.) Georgia law further provides that any person who commits murder or voluntary manslaughter shall not receive benefits from any insurance policy on the life of the deceased, even if that person is the named beneficiary. O.C.G.A. § 33-25-12. Thus, if Bacon committed the murder of the Insured, the Policy's benefits would be payable to the Insured's heirs at law, Eric C. Smith. (Id. ¶ 15.)

         Shortly after Prudential filed its complaint, Smith filed his answer. (Doc. 7.) Bacon, however, has yet to file an answer or any other responsive pleading, even though he was served with process on October 31, 2017. (Doc. 5.)

         On May 25, 2018, upon joint motion from Prudential and Smith, the Court ordered Prudential to deposit the $100, 000.00 benefit plus applicable interest into the Registry of the Court, [1] dismissed Prudential from the case, and enjoined Smith and Bacon from prosecuting any action against Prudential related to the Policy's benefits. (Order of May 25, 2018, Doc. 10, at 4-6.) The Court also instructed the Clerk to enter default against Bacon for failing to plead or otherwise defend. (Id. at 8.) Finally, the Court ordered Bacon and Smith to enter pleadings establishing their adversity to one another and their claim to the Policy's benefits within twenty-one days. (Id. at 5.)

         Five days later, Smith entered a cross-claim complaint against Bacon establishing his own claim to the Policy's benefits.[2](See Cross-cl. Compl., Doc. 13.) Bacon never entered a pleading as instructed by the Court's May 25th Order. He did, however, file a motion for appointment of counsel within the twenty-one-day period. (Doc. 15.) The United States Magistrate Judge subsequently denied Bacon's motion concluding that this case did not present an "exceptional circumstance" requiring the appointment of counsel. (Order of July 9, 2018, Doc. 16, at 3- 4.) Since then, Bacon remains in default and has not filed a motion to set aside the entry of default or a pleading as instructed by the Court's May 25th Order.

         On January 4, 2019, Smith filed a "Motion for Entry of Judgment" requesting judgment be entered in his favor and that he be awarded the full amount of benefits currently in the Registry of the Court. (Doc. 17.) Smith's motion notes that Bacon remains in default, has not asserted any claim to the Policy's benefits, and has not complied with the Court's May 25th Order. Accordingly, the Court will construe Smith's motion as a motion for default judgment.

         II. DISCUSSION

         A. Legal Standard

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 55(b) governs the Court's ability to grant a default judgment and vests the Court with discretion to determine whether judgment should be entered. Pitts ex rel. Pitts v. Seneca Sports, Inc., 321 F.Supp.2d 1353, 1356 (S.D. Ga. 2004). `` [A] defendant's default does not in itself warrant the court in entering a default judgment. There must be a sufficient basis in the pleadings for the judgment entered . . . The defendant is not held to admit facts that are not well-pleaded or to admit conclusions of law." Nishimatsu Constr. Co. v. Houston Nat'l Bank, 515 F.2d 1200, 1206 (5th Cir. 1975).[3] A defendant, by his default, is only deemed to have admitted the ``plaintiff's well-pleaded allegations of fact." Id. Three distinct matters are essential for the entry of default judgment: (1) jurisdiction, (2) liability, and (3) damages. Pitts, 321 F.Supp.2d at 1356. With respect to the jurisdictional element, ``[t]he Court must have personal and subject-matter jurisdiction over the defendant." Id. Furthermore, ``[t]he presence of the Court's jurisdiction must appear on the face of the complaint." Id.

         B. Jurisdiction

         The Court has subject matter jurisdiction over this case under multiple statutes. First, the parties are diverse; Prudential is a citizen of New Jersey and both Bacon and Smith are citizens of Georgia. (Compl., ¶ 5.) The Policy's benefits at issue in this action exceed $75, 000. ...


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