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Tricia Story v. AT&T Corp.

United States District Court, E.D. Louisiana

May 8, 2019

TRICIA STORY
v.
AT&T CORP., ET AL.

         SECTION A (5)

          ORDER AND REASONS

          JAY C. ZAINEY JUDGE UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Before the Court is a Motion to Dismiss and Motion to Strike (Rec. Doc. 20) filed by Plaintiff Tricia Story. Defendant/Plaintiff in Interpleader Metropolitan Life Insurance Company (“MetLife”) opposes the motion. (Rec. Doc. 24). The motion, set for submission on April 17, 2019, is before the Court on the briefs. Having considered the motion and memoranda of counsel, the record, and the applicable law, the Court finds that Plaintiff's motion should be DENIED for the reasons set forth below.

         I. Background

         While employed by AT&T, Inc. (“AT&T”), Plaintiff's husband Michael Zauner participated in an employee welfare benefit plan governed by the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974, 29 U.S.C. § 1001, et seq. (“ERISA”). (Rec. Doc. 1 Complaint, ¶ 9) (Rec. Doc. 24, p. 5). On September 17, 2018, Zauner passed away. (Rec. Doc. 1, ¶ 13). Plaintiff filed the instant case alleging that AT&T, MetLife, and Fidelity Workplace Services, LLC (“Fidelity') have unlawfully denied her the funds that she is entitled to as beneficiary under the terms to the ERISA plan. (Id. at 31).

         On March 26, 2019, Defendant MetLife filed an Ex Parte Motion for Interpleader (Rec. Doc. 17). As the motion was filed ex parte and Plaintiff did not consent to the motion, counsel for Plaintiff called chambers to indicate that the ex parte motion was in fact opposed.[1] Affording Plaintiff the opportunity to state objections on a motion before the Court, the Court noticed the interpleader motion for submission on April 17, 2019. (Rec. Doc. 22). In opposition to MetLife's interpleader, Plaintiff requests the Court to dismiss and strike the interpleader motion pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1), based on lack of subject matter jurisdiction.

         II. Legal Standard

         Federal courts are courts of limited jurisdiction and may only hear those cases authorized by the United States Constitution and federal statutes. Coury v. Prot, 85 F.3d 244, 248 (5th Cir.1996). Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) provides that a party may assert that a court lacks subject matter jurisdiction. Upon the determination that the court lacks subject-matter jurisdiction, the court must dismiss the action. Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(h)(3).

         “A case is properly dismissed for lack of subject matter jurisdiction when the court lacks the statutory or constitutional power to adjudicate the case.” Home Builders Ass'n of Miss., Inc. v. City of Madison, Miss., 143 F.3d 1006, 1010 (5th Cir.1998). “Courts may dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction on any one of three different bases: (1) the complaint alone; (2) the complaint supplemented by undisputed facts in the record; or (3) the complaint supplemented by undisputed facts plus the court's resolution of disputed facts.” Clark v. Tarrant Cnty., 798 F.2d 736, 741 (5th Cir.1986). The burden of proof on a 12(b)(1) motion is on the party asserting jurisdiction over the claim. Ramming v. United States, 281 F.3d 158 (5th Cir.2001).

         III. Discussion

         Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1335, this Court “shall have original jurisdiction of any civil action of interpleader or in the nature of interpleader.” In order for a party to establish Section 1335 subject matter jurisdiction, there must be two or more adverse claimants to the money or property in the interpleader's possession. 28 U.S.C. § 1335(a)(1). The issue before the Court is whether there exist two or more adverse claimants to the funds in MetLife's possession.

         Plaintiff argues that the alleged “adverse claimants” consented to MetLife's tender of the life insurance policy proceeds in whole to Plaintiff. (Rec. Doc. 20-1, p. 1). MetLife counters that under 28 U.S.C. § 1335, there need only be claimants who may claim entitlement to the fund. (Rec. Doc. 24, p. 2). MetLife asserts that in December of 2018, AT&T informed MetLife that Fidelity was referring a claim for Zauner's death benefits, and that Fidelity had received a “rival claim.” (Id. at 3). As of January 31, 2019, MetLife states that Fidelity identified Jennifer Scheurich, Zauner's child, as the rival claimant. (Id.). MetLife concedes counsel for Zauner's children, including Jennifer Scheurich, confirmed in an email that the children do not object to payment of the benefits to Plaintiff. Nevertheless, MetLife argues that this does not clarify that the children never had a claim to the funds nor does it state that the children release MetLife from further liability. (Id. at 4). In furtherance, MetLife argues that the agreement between Plaintiff and Zauner's children is a result of a Texas state court probate action. (Id. at 9). As MetLife was not a party to that action and is not privy to any of the details regarding the settlement agreement, MetLife asserts that it does not have a written agreement from any of the children agreeing to the disposition of the funds at issue. (Id.).

         On January 8, 2019, MetLife sent the following in a letter to James Bowen, counsel for the Zauner children, including Jennifer Scheurich:

It is our understanding that you represent Jennifer Scheurich, Andrew Zauner, and Chiristina Zauner, the ...

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