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Integrity Life Insurance Co. v. Komara

United States District Court, W.D. North Carolina, Asheville Division

March 17, 2015

KRISTY KOMARA, et al., Defendants.


DENNIS L. HOWELL, Magistrate Judge.

Pending before the Court is the Motion to Dismiss [# 4] filed by Defendants Kristy Komara, Sherry Rauschenplat, and Debra Huff (the "Moving Defendants"). Plaintiff brought this interpleader action to determine the proper beneficiary of an annuity contract. The Moving Defendants move to dismiss this action for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. The Court RECOMMENDS that the District Court GRANT the motion [# 4].

I. Background

Plaintiff issued a single premium deferred fixed annuity contract to Shirley M. Alexander in 2008. (Pl.'s Compl. ¶ 8.) Ms. Alexander passed away on August 6, 2013. (Id. ¶ 14.) The current death benefit of the annuity is $60, 553.83, exclusive of interest. (Id. ¶ 8.) Each of the four Defendants has made a claim to the annuity proceeds. (Id. ¶ 15.) Subsequently, Plaintiff brought this action in interpleader for the Court to determine who is the proper beneficiary of the annuity proceeds. The Moving Defendants then moved to dismiss this case pursuant to Rule 12(b)(1) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. The District Court referred the motion to this Court. The Motion to Dismiss is now properly before this Court for a Memorandum and Recommendation to the District Court.

II. Legal Standard

Pursuant to Rule 12(b)(1), a court may dismiss an action where the court lacks subject matter jurisdiction. Plaintiff bears the burden of demonstrating that subject matter jurisdiction is proper in the Court. Evans v. B.F. Perkins Co., 166 F.3d 642, 647 (4th Cir. 1999). When a defendant challenges subject matter jurisdiction by bringing a Rule 12(b)(1) motion to dismiss, the Court may regard the pleadings as mere evidence and may also consider evidence outside the pleadings. In re IBR, Inc. v. Burn Pit. Litig., 744 F.3d 326, 333 (4th Cir. 2014). But, where a defendant only makes a facial challenge to the existence of subject matter jurisdiction, "the plaintiff is afforded the same procedural protections as he would be accorded when faced with a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Namely, all alleged facts are taken as true and the motion will be denied if the complaint alleges facts that, if proven, would be sufficient to sustain jurisdiction." Lutfi v. U.S., 527 F.Appx. 236, 241 (4th Cir. 2013) (unpublished).

III. Analysis

The interpleader statute provides a procedural device for a disinterested stakeholder such as an insurance company to bring a single action in federal court joining two or more individuals who claim an adverse interest in the proceeds of a single policy. Sec. Ins. Co. of Harford v. Arcade Textiles, Inc., 40 F.Appx. 767, 769 (4th Cir. 2002) (unpublished). A district court has original jurisdiction over a statutory interpleader action where the action involves an insurance policy in excess of $500.00, two or more adverse claimants of diverse citizenship, as defined in Section 1332, claim an interest in the proceeds of the policy, and the plaintiff has deposited the proceeds into the registry of the court or has given bond payable to the clerk. 28 U.S.C. §1335. Section 1335, however, only requires minimal diversity. State Farm Fire & Cas. Co. v. Tashire, 386 U.S. 523, 530 (1967). Thus, a plaintiff need only demonstrate that two or more of the claimants are diverse, irrespective of whether the remaining claimants may be citizens of the same state. Id . The citizenship of the Plaintiff, and whether the Plaintiff is diverse from the claimants, is irrelevant for determining Section 1335 diversity. Selective Ins. Co. of Am. v. Norris, 209 F.Supp.2d 580, 582 (E.D.N.C 2002); 28 U.S.C. §1335.

State citizenship for purposes of diversity, depends not on residence but on national citizenship and domicile. Axel Johnson, Inc. v. Carroll Carolina Oil Co., Inc., 145 F.3d 660, 663 (4th Cir. 1988). Mere allegations of residency in a state are insufficient, standing alone, to establish citizenship. Johnson v. Advance Am., 549 F.3d 932, 937 n.2 (4th Cir. 2008) ("For purposes of diversity jurisdiction, residence is not sufficient to establish citizenship."); Axel Johnson, 145 F.3d at 663 ("the existence of such citizenship cannot be inferred from allegations of mere residence, standing alone."). "Domicile requires physical presence, coupled with an intent to make the State a home." Advance Am., 549 F.3d 937 n.2. As a leading treatise has explained:

It very often has been said by federal judges in a tremendous number of judicial opinions that the domicile of a party to a diversity of citizenship case is the place where that individual has a true, fixed home and principal establishment, and to which, whenever that person is absent from the jurisdiction, he or she has the intention of returning....

13E Charles Alan Wright, Arthur R. Miller, and Edward H. Cooper, Federal Practice and Procedure §3612 (1st ed. 2009). An individual may acquire a new domicile by changing his or her physical presence to the new location, combined with the intention to remain in the new location indefinitely or with the absence of any intention to go elsewhere. Id . § 3613.

It is undisputed that the Moving Defendants are all citizens of North Carolina for purposes of determining diversity. (See Pl.'s Compl. ¶¶ 2-4.) Plaintiff, however, alleges in the Complaint that Defendant Ira Rubin is a citizen of Fort Pierce, Florida. (Pl.'s Compl. ¶ 5.) The Moving Defendants contend that Defendant Rubin is a citizen of North Carolina. Thus, the issue for the Court is whether Plaintiff has met its burden of demonstrating that Defendant Rubin is a citizen of Florida, and, thus, minimum diversity between the adverse claimants exists in this case. Upon a thorough review of the evidence in the record, the Court finds that Plaintiff has failed to satisfy its burden of demonstrating that minimal diversity exists between two or more of the claimants in this action.

Defendant Rubin and Ms. Alexander began living together at 1 Redwing Drive in Hendersonville, North Carolina in approximately 2004, and were subsequently married sometime after that date. (Ex. A to the Moving Defs.' Mot. Dismiss ("Ex. A to Mot. Dismiss") at ¶ 10, 17; Ex. B to the Moving Defs.' Mot. Dismiss ("Ex. B to Mot. Dismiss") at ¶ 10, 17; Ex. C to the Moving Defs.' Mot. Dismiss ("Ex. C to Mot. Dismiss") at ¶¶ 3, 5-7; Ex. A to Pl.'s Resp. in Opposition to Mot. Dismiss ("Ex. A to Pl.'s Resp.") at p. 3.) Defendant Rubin has maintained a North Carolina driver's license since 2007 with the license address listed as 1 Redwing Drive. (Ex. A to Pl.'s Resp. at pp.7-8.) In fact, the last driver's license issued to Defendant Rubin was a North Carolina license. (Id. at p. 7.) During the timeframe when Defendant Rubin and Ms. Alexander began living together, Defendant Rubin had a vehicle registered in North Carolina. (Id. at pp. 10-12.) Defendant Rubin has an active voter registration in North Carolina, where he voted in 2002, 2004, 2006, 2008, 2010 and 2012. (Id. at pp. 19-20.)

While residing with Ms. Alexander in North Carolina, Defendant Rubin also maintained a P.O. Box in De Leon, Florida starting in 2008. (Id. at p. 4.) In addition to the P.O. Box, Defendant Rubin maintained a Florida driver's license registered to the same P.O. Box beginning is 2008. (Id. at p. 7.) Finally, Defendant Rubin has an active Florida voter registration. (Id. at p. 20.) Defendant Rubin's Florida voter registration is registered to an address where Defendant Rubin lived from approximately 1987 until 2002. (Id. at pp. 5, 20.) ...

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