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Hartford Life and Accident Insurance Co. v. Jones-Atchison

United States District Court, W.D. Oklahoma

August 28, 2019

HARTFORD LIFE AND ACCIDENT INSURANCE COMPANY, Plaintiff/Counterclaim Defendant
v.
KEISHA JONES-ATCHISON, Defendant DAVID ATCHISON, SR., and FANNIE ATCHISON, Defendants/Cross-Claim Defendants and ANITRA HAAG, as Parent, Legal Guardian, and Next Friend of L.M.H., a Minor; AMBER SMITH, as Parent, Legal Guardian, and Next Friend of I.E.S., a Minor; and KRISTIE HALL, as Parent, Legal Guardian, and Next Friend of J.H., a Minor, Defendant-Intervenors/Cross-Complainants/Counter-Complainants.

          ORDER

          TIMOTHY D. DeGIUSTI CHIEF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Before the Court is Defendant Keisha Jones' (“Jones”) Motion to Enter Scheduling Order and Consolidation of Discovery [Doc. No. 76], seeking consolidation with the related case of Farmers New World Life Company v. Keshia Jones, et. al., No. CIV-17-1254-D. Jones filed a motion seeking the same relief in Farmers. Motion to Enter Scheduling Order and Consolidation of Discovery [Doc. No. 58], Farmers, No. CIV-17-1254-D. This Order will address the Motions filed in both actions. Defendants and Cross-Claim Defendants David Atchison, Sr. and Fannie Atchison (“the Atchisons”) have responded [Doc. No. 77]. Plaintiff and Counterclaim Defendant Hartford Life and Accident Insurance Company (“Hartford”) has responded [Doc. No. 78]. The matter is fully briefed and at issue.

         BACKGROUND

         Hartford is the carrier of a group policy (the “Policy”) with basic life insurance benefits (and other coverages not relevant to this action) for its policy holder-Siemans Corporation (“Siemens”). David Lamare Atchison II (“Mr. Atchison”) was employed by Siemens and was a participant in the Policy. Mr. Atchison died after being shot by an unknown assailant on January 8, 2017. His wife, Keisha Jones-Atchison (“Jones”), submitted a claim for benefits payable on Mr. Atchison's death. However, Mr. Atchison's father, David Lamare Atchison, Sr., submitted a Preference Beneficiary Affidavit (“PBA”). In the PBA, Mr. Atchison, Sr., claimed entitlement to some or all of the Policy's benefits, by way of the Policy's succession provision.

         To date, there have been no arrests in connection with the death of Mr. Atchison. However, court filings in this case state that Jones has not been ruled out as a suspect, and the circumstances surrounding Mr. Atchison's death remain unclear. Citing the existence of competing claims to the Policy proceeds, Hartford filed this interpleader action on June 13, 2017. Complaint [Doc. No. 1]. The Court eventually granted Hartford permission to deposit the proceeds into the Clerk's registry and be discharged from these proceedings. Order [Doc. No. 22]. On January 30, 2018, Jones filed a Motion for Summary Judgment [Doc. No. 32] seeking an award of the Policy benefits.

         Subsequent to Hartford's discharge, Anita Haag, Amber Smith, and Kristie Hall, as parents and next friends of minor children L.M.H., I.E.S., and J.H. (“the Children”), respectively, were granted leave to intervene in the case, and Defendant Keisha Jones' Motion for Summary Judgment was stricken without prejudice to refiling. Order [Doc. No. 46]. On June 7, 2018, the Children filed their Answer and Counterclaim [Doc. No. 47] stating a claim against Hartford and cross-claim against the Atchisons. The Children filed an Amended Answer, Counterclaim, and Cross Claim [Doc. No. 68] on December 17, 2018.

         The Children allege: (1) Hartford improperly distributed $225, 000 in supplemental life benefits the Atchisons; (2) the Atchisons acquired the life insurance benefits by making fraudulent misrepresentations by affidavit; (3) as a matter of law and equity, they are entitled to recover from the life insurance benefits from the Atchisons; and, (4) the Atchisons tortiously interfered with their contractual relationship with Hartford. Hartford thereafter filed a Motion to Dismiss [Doc. No. 72] the Children's counterclaim. The Court granted Hartford's Motion to Dismiss on August 23, 2019 and dismissed all claims against Hartford. Order [Doc. No. 79].

         On November 21, 2017, Farmers New World Life Insurance Company (“Farmers”) filed a separate interpleader case, CV-17-1254-D, relating to two life insurance policies issued to Jones. Farmers alleged that Jones is, according to the Oklahoma City Police Department, the primary suspect in Mr. Atchison's murder, and that it appears that Okla. Stat. tit. 84, § 231 (commonly known as the “slayer statute”) may prevent Jones from taking the proceeds of the Policies. Due to “the potential applicability of the slayer statue and potential conflicting claims of the Defendants, ” Farmers alleged it was unable to distribute the insurance benefits. Complaint [Doc. No. 1], Farmers, No. CV-17-01254-D, at 4. Farmers named the Atchisons as defendants in the case. Farmers alleged that if the slayer statute is found to apply to prevent Jones from taking the proceeds, the Atchisons would be entitled to the proceeds.

         Farmers later amended their Complaint to add the Children as Defendants. In the Amended Complaint, Farmers again stated that it had not been able to distribute the insurance proceeds due to “the potential applicability of the slayer statue and potential conflicting claims of the Defendants.” Amended Complaint [Doc. No. 16], Farmers, No. CV-17-01254-D, at 4.

         Jones and the Children filed answers to Farmers' Amended Complaint separately claiming they are entitled to the proceeds of the Farmers policies. On April 17, 2018, the Court granted Farmers leave to deposit the proceeds into the Clerk's registry and discharged Farmers from the case. Order [Doc. No. 31], No. CV-17-1254-D. The Atchisons have not answered or otherwise entered appearances in case number CV-17-1254-D.

         DISCUSSION

         Jones moves the Court to set a date for a Joint Status and Scheduling Conference and to consolidate this case with Farmers New World Life Company v. Keshia Jones, et. al., No. CIV-17-1254-D, for discovery purposes. Motion at 1. Jones has filed a motion mirroring this request in Farmers. Jones asserts consolidation is appropriate because: (1) “issues of the case and discovery are interrelated and the claims in both cases, defenses and cross-claims arise out of the same operative set of facts”; and, (2) consolidation for discovery purposes would prevent unnecessary delay and duplication. Motion at 1, 2.

         The Atchisons respond that: (1) Jones fails to identify any specific questions of fact or law that are common to the cases or what benefits consolidation of discovery would serve; and, (2) consolidation would cause undue prejudice. Hartford also responded but was dismissed from this case prior to the Court issuing the instant order. Order [Doc. No. 79]. Therefore, the Court finds Hartford's objections to consolidation are moot.

         “If actions before the court involve a common question of law or fact, ” it is within the sound discretion of the Court to consolidate those actions for the purposes of discovery. Fed.R.Civ.P. 42(a); Shump v. Balka, 574 F.2d 1341, 1344 (10th Cir. 1978); see also Dorrough v. GEO Grp., Inc., CIV-14-1389-D, 2017 WL 31412, at *1 (W.D. Okla. Jan. 3, 2017). “The objective of Rule 42(a) is ‘to give the court broad discretion to decide how cases on its docket are to be tried so that the business of the court may be dispatched with expedition and economy while providing justice to the ...


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