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Prudential Insurance Co. v. Brimberry

United States District Court, Third Circuit

September 23, 2013

THE PRUDENTIAL INSURANCE COMPANY OF AMERICA, Plaintiff,
v.
P. KELLIE BRIMBERRY; FIDUCIARY TRUST COMPANY INTERNATIONAL; FIDUCIARY TRUST COMPANY INTERNATIONAL OF CALIFORNIA; and FRANKLIN TEMPLETON COMPANIES, LLC, Defendants.

OPINION

JOSEPH A. DICKSON, Magistrate Judge.

This matter comes before the Court upon Defendants Fiduciary Trust Company International, Fiduciary Trust Company International of Florida and Franklin Templeton Companies, LLC's (collectively, the "Entity Defendants") Motion to Transfer Venue Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a). (ECF No. 13). Pursuant to Rule 78 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, no oral argument was heard. Upon consideration of the parties' submissions, and for the reasons stated below, the Entity Defendants' Motion is GRANTED and this matter will be transferred to the United States District Court for the Central District of California.[1]

I. BACKGROUND AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

Kurt Brimberry, now deceased, was formerly an employee of Defendant Franklin Templeton Companies, LLC. ("Franklin Templeton") (Am. Compl., ECF No. 29, ¶¶ 7-8). By virtue of his employment with Franklin Templeton, Mr. Brimberry was, at all times relevant in this matter, eligible for coverage under a group life insurance policy, number G-50408-CA (the "Policy"), issued by Plaintiff Prudential Insurance Company of America ("Prudential"). (Id ¶ 7). The Policy provided Basic Term Life Coverage in the amount of $375, 000 and Optional Term Life Coverage in the amount of $625, 000. (Id. ¶ 12). The Policy also afforded Mr. Brimberry Basic Accidental Death Coverage, the amount of which is in dispute. (Compare ECF No. 32-1 at 9 (claiming that the Policy provided $375, 000 in such coverage) with ECF No. 34 at 3 (contending that the accidental death benefit is actually $1, 000, 000)).

Mr. Brimberry died on August 29, 2012. (Am. Compl. ¶ 8). On September 25, 2012, Mr. Brimberry's widow, Defendant P. Kellie Brimberry ("Mrs. Brimberry"), submitted a claim form to Prudential, along with a copy of Mr. Brimberry's death certificate. (Id. ¶ 17). While Prudential was investigating the cause and manner of Mr. Brimberry's death and, in turn, the extent of coverage under the Policy, counsel for Fiduciary Trust Company notified Prudential that Fiduciary Trust Company was asserting a competing claim to any insurance benefits. (Id. ¶¶ 20-23). Specifically, Fiduciary Trust Company asserted that it was entitled to a constructive trust over any Policy benefits because Mr. Brimberry allegedly misappropriated certain funds while employed by Franklin Templeton. (Id. ¶ 23).

On November 20, 2012, after review of the materials submitted by Mrs. Brimberry and Fiduciary Trust Company, Prudential notified Mrs. Brimberry of its intention to file an interpleader action regarding any benefits payable under the Policy. (Id. ¶ 26-27). On December 7, 2012, Mrs. Brimberry filed an action against Prudential in the Superior Court of the State of California, which Prudential later removed to the United States District Court for the Central District of California (the "California Action"). (Pl. Br., ECF No. 22, at 4). On January 2, 2013, Prudential commenced this interpleader action, seeking to deposit the Basic Term Life and Optional Term Life benefits under the Policy (a total of $1, 000, 000) in the Court, but remaining silent with regard to the Policy's Basic Accidental Death Coverage. (ECF No. 1). On March 1, 2013, Prudential filed an Amended Interpleader Complaint seeking, among other things, to include the Policy's Basic Accidental Death Coverage (which Prudential claims totals $375, 000) in its deposit to the Court. (ECF No. 29). Prudential also filed motions seeking interpleader relief in connection with each of its pleadings in this matter. (ECF Nos. 11 and 32). Those motions are currently pending.

On February 8, 2013, Fiduciary Trust Company filed the instant motion to transfer. (ECF No. 13). The parties have advised that, after this motion was fully briefed, the United States District Court for the Central District of California dismissed the California Action, pursuant to the comity doctrine, in favor of this case. (ECF Nos. 37, 39).

II. LEGAL ANALYSIS

The Entity Defendants ask the Court to transfer this action to the United States District Court for the Central District of California pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a). The decision of whether to transfer a case is committed to the trial court's sound discretion. Cadapult Graphic Sys. v. Tektronix, Inc. , 98 F.Supp.2d 560, 564 (D.N.J. 2000); Days Inns Worldwide, Inc. v. RAM Lodging, LLC, No. 09-2275 , 2010 WL 1540926, at *2 (D.N.J. April 14, 2010). Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a), the Court may transfer a case to any venue where it may have been brought "[f]or the convenience of parties and witnesses, in the interest of justice." 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a). "The purpose of § 1404(a) is to avoid the waste of time, energy and money and, in addition, to safeguard litigants, witnesses, and the public against avoidable inconvenience and expense." Rappoport v. Steven Spielberg, Inc. , 16 F.Supp.2d 481, 497 (D.N.J. 1998).

In determining whether to transfer a matter pursuant to § 1404(a), a court must consider: (1) the convenience of the parties, (2) the convenience of the witnesses, and (3) the interests of justice. Id . The United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit also requires that courts examine various private and public interests:

The private interests have included: plaintiff's forum preference as manifested in the original choice; the defendant's preference; whether the claim arose elsewhere; the convenience of the parties as indicated by their relative physical and financial condition; the convenience of the witnesses-but only to the extent that the witnesses may actually be unavailable for trial in one of the fora; and the location of books and records (similarly limited to the extent that the files could not be produced in the alternative forum).
The public interests have included: the enforceability of the judgment; practical considerations that could make the trial easy, expeditious, or inexpensive; the relative administrative difficulty in the two fora resulting from court congestion; the local interest in deciding local controversies at home; the public policies of the fora; and the familiarity of the trial judge with the applicable state law in diversity cases.

Johnson v. RiteAid, No. 10-2012 , 2011 WL 2580375, at *2-3 (D.N.J. June 28, 2011) (citing Jumara v. State Farm Ins. Co. , 55 F.3d 873, 879-80 (3d Cir. 1995)).

The Court must, therefore, engage in a two part analysis to determine whether any motion to transfer venue should be granted. As a threshold matter, the Court must decide whether the transferee district has proper jurisdiction and venue, such that the case could have been brought in the transferee district in the first instance. Lawrence v. Xerox Corp. , 56 F.Supp.2d 442, 450 (D.N.J. 1999). The Court must then conduct an "individualized, case-by-case consideration of convenience and fairness" regarding which forum is most appropriate to consider the case. Id . "There is no rigid rule governing a court's determination; each case turns on its facts.'" Id . (citing Lacey v. Cessna Aircraft Co. , 862 F.2d 38, 43 (3d Cir. 1988) (internal citations omitted). The Court is also mindful of the Third Circuit's admonition against any court considering the merits of a case during the pendency of a transfer application. McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Polin , 429 F.2d 30 (3d Cir. 1970) ("Judicial economy requires that another district court should not burden itself with the merits of the action until it is ...


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