United States District Court, D. New Jersey
REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION
Leda Dunn Wettre United States Magistrate Judge
MATTER comes before the Court upon a motion by
plaintiff Prudential Insurance Company of America
("Prudential") for Default Judgment against Diane
H. Polifronio and for Interpleader Relief to be discharged
from any liability by all claimants. ECF No. 32. No.
opposition has been filed. The Honorable Madeline Cox Arleo,
U.S.D.J., referred the motion to the undersigned for a Report
and Recommendation. For the reasons set forth below, the
Court recommends that plaintiffs motion be
filed this interpleader action on October 24, 2018 to
determine the rights of beneficiaries to a death benefit
policy (the "Death Benefit") issued by Prudential
to Doreen Kane (the "Insured"). ECF No. 1.
Throughout the time the Insured was covered under the plan,
she made several beneficiary designations. ECF No. 1113. Each
of the defendants was at one time named as a beneficiary. All
defendants except for defendant Polifronio filed an Answer to
the Complaint. ECF Nos. 13, 24. Upon Prudential's
request, the Court entered default as to Diane Polifronio on
January 10, 2019. Defendant Polifronio has not appeared
personally or by a representative in this action.
April 2019, the Court held a settlement conference, during
which the appearing defendants agreed in principle to a
settlement. The Court thereafter entered an Order
administratively terminating the action. ECF No. 29.
Prudential deposited the Death Benefit funds in the
Court's Registry on April 16, 2019. It now moves for
default judgment against Diane Polifronio and for
Interpleader Relief as to all defendants, essentially seeking
solely, equitable relief of being discharged from any and all
liability with regard to the insurance policy.
moves for default judgment against Diane Polifronio and for
Interpleader Relief. The Court first finds issuance of a
default judgment appropriate under the applicable factors.
Next, the Court assesses Prudential's motion for
Interpleader Relief as to all claimants and finds such relief
appropriate based on the standards for granting such relief.
entering default judgment the court must: (1) determine it
has jurisdiction both over the subject matter and parties;
(2) determine whether defendants have been properly served;
(3) analyze the Complaint to determine whether it
sufficiently pleads a cause of action; and (4) determine
whether the plaintiff has proved damages. See Chanel,
Inc. v. Gordashevsky, 558 F.Supp.2d 532, 535-36 (D.N.J.
2008). In addition, prior to granting default judgment, the
Court must make factual findings as to: (1) whether the party
subject to the default has a meritorious defense; (2) the
prejudice suffered by the party seeking default judgment; and
(3) the culpability of the party subject to default. Doug
Brady, Inc. v. N.J. Bldg. Laborers Statewide Funds, 250
F.R.D. 171, 177 (D.N. J. 2008).
the first set of legal factors which focus on the procedural
prerequisites to entering a default judgment, the Court finds
each factor has been met. First, the Court has subject matter
jurisdiction over this action pursuant to the federal
interpleader statute, 28 U.S.C. § 1335, as there is
minimal diversity between the claimants and the amount in
controversy is more than $500. Second, personal jurisdiction
appears to exist over defendant Polifronio, as she is
allegedly domiciled in Garfield, New Jersey. See ECF
No. 5. Third, plaintiff has provided the Court with proof
that defendant Polifronio was personally served on November
14, 2018. Id. Finally, the Complaint sufficiently
pleads a cause of action, as it alleges that defendant
Polifronio may have had an interest in the funds at issue, as
she was named as a beneficiary on the Death Benefit at
various times between 1994 and 2018, and that Prudential
would be subject to conflicting claims if it were not able to
interplead the disputed funds. See Phoenix Ins. Co. v.
Small, 307 F.R.D. 426, 434 (E.D. Pa. 2015).
the next set of factors which focus on the factual bases for
entering default judgment, the Court finds each is met. The
Court concludes that by not filing a responsive pleading,
defendant Polifronio chose not to assert a claim to the funds
at issue. Further, plaintiff Prudential is prejudiced in its
ability to interplead the funds and be absolved from
liability if any potential claimant to the fund, such as
Polifronio, remains able to make a claim despite her
non-participation. The Court also finds defendant Polifronio
culpable, in the sense that it is satisfied that she has
personally been served and has chosen not to appear in this
case. The Court further notes that Polifronio is a retired
attorney who would know how to participate in this action if
she desired to do so. Accordingly, the Court recommends
plaintiffs motion for default judgment against defendant
Polifronio be granted.
Court next addresses Prudential's motion for Interpleader
Relief to be discharged of all liability by any claimant with
respect to the Death Benefit. Interpleader is an equitable
remedy through which a stakeholder can "join in a single
suit two or more persons asserting claims to that
property." Metropolitan Life Ins. Co. v. Price,
501 F.3d 271, 275 (3d Cir. 2007) (quoting NYLife
Distrib., Inc. v. Adherence Grp., Inc., 12VM31l, 372 n.l
(3dCir. 1985)). To avoid the possibility of multiple
liability, interpleader permits a stakeholder "to file
suit, deposit the property with the court, and withdraw from
the proceedings." Prudential Ins. Co. of Am. v.
Hovis, 553 F.3d 258, 262 (3d Cir. 2009) (quoting
Price, 501 F.3d at 275). As a result,
u[t]he competing claimants are left to litigate
between themselves" and the stakeholder is discharged
from any further liability. Id. (quoting
Price, 501 F.3d at 275).
brings this claim pursuant to the interpleader statute, 28
U.S.C. § 1335. Here, the Death Benefit is $305, 002.92,
satisfying the minimum requirement of $500 or more, the
claimants are minimally diverse, and Prudential has deposited
the Death Benefit into the ...