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Metropolitan Life Insurance Co. v. Brooks

United States District Court, S.D. Ohio, Western Division

January 10, 2017

METROPOLITAN LIFE INSURANCE COMPANY, Plaintiff,
v.
DONALD BROOKS, et at., Defendants.

          DECISION AND ENTRY SUSTAINING DEFENDANT DONALD BROOKS' MOTION FOR DEFAULT JUDGMENT AGAINST DEFENDANTS CYNTHIA AND EBONY JACKSON (DOC. #23); COUNSEL FOR DONALD BROOKS TO SUBMIT ITEMIZED ATTORNEY FEES AND COSTS, AND ADDRESSES OF BENEFICIARIES WITHIN SEVEN DAYS

          WALTER H. RICE UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         This matter is currently before the Court on Defendant Donald Brooks' Motion for Default Judgment Against Defendants Cynthia M. Jackson and Ebony M. Jackson. Doc. #23. The Court held an evidentiary hearing on November 28, 2016, at which neither Cynthia nor Ebony Jackson appeared. Defendant Donald Brooks then filed a post-hearing brief. Doc. #35. For the reasons set forth below, the Court sustains the motion for default judgment.

         I. Background and Procedural History

         Charles D. Jackson died on February 19, 2015. He had a Federal Employees' Group Life Insurance policy ("FEGLI"), worth $17, 000, issued by Plaintiff Metropolitan Life Insurance Company ("MetLife"). A beneficiary designation, dated October 8, 1996, assigned 100% of the life insurance proceeds to Charles D. Jackson's wife, Rosemary. Doc. #1-2, PageID#9. Rosemary, however, died in 2002. Another beneficiary designation, dated January 4, 2008, assigned 50% of the life insurance proceeds to his daughter, Cynthia Jackson, and 50% to his granddaughter, Ebony Jackson. Doc.#1-1, PageID#8.

         After Charles died, MetLife received claim forms from Cynthia and Ebony. Doc. #1-5, PageID##19-23. It also received a claim form from Defendant Donald Brooks, who claimed to be Charles D. Jackson's son. Id. at PageID##16-17. To cover funeral expenses, Cynthia, Ebony and Donald assigned $6, 610.68 of their interest in the life insurance proceeds to Newcomer Funeral Home, which then reassigned its interest to Defendant Forethought Capital Funding, Inc. Doc.#1-4, PageID##11-14.[1]

         MetLife then filed this interpleader action. According to the Complaint, MetLife received several letters from an attorney representing Donald Brooks. Brooks alleged that the January 4, 2008, beneficiary designation form was void, because, on that date, Charles D. Jackson lacked the mental capacity to designate a beneficiary. Brooks further alleged that, at that time, Charles D. Jackson was being exploited by Cynthia and Ebony. Doc. #1-6, PageID##24-27.

         MetLife noted that, if the January 4, 2008, beneficiary form is valid, Cynthia and Ebony would each receive 50% of the remaining proceeds of the life insurance policy. However, if it is void, payment would be determined according to statute, with proceeds distributed "to the child or children of the employee and descendants of deceased children by representation." 5 U.S.C. § 8705(a).

         Proceeding pro se, Cynthia and Ebony filed an Answer to the Complaint. Doc. #11. They denied exploiting Charles, and claimed that he was mentally competent on January 4, 2008, when he signed the beneficiary designation form. They also alleged that Donald Brooks had no documented proof that he was Charles D. Jackson's biological son.

         Thereafter, Donald Brooks filed his Answer, along with a Cross-Claim. Doc. #16. Therein, he stated that "Defendants Cynthia and Ebony Jackson procured the beneficiary designation . . . through the use of undue influence and/or coercion when the signer, Charles D. Jackson, was incompetent, was of unsound mind, and/or lacked the mental and/or legal capacity to make that designation." He therefore claimed that the beneficiary designation form was null and void. He stated that he was Charles D. Jackson's son, and suggested that the life insurance proceeds be distributed equally among Cynthia, Ebony and himself. In light of "Cynthia and Ebony Jackson's attempt to use unlawful means to get more than their proper share of the proceeds, " Brooks suggested that his attorney fees should be deducted from their share of the proceeds. Doc. #16, PageID##66-67. When Cynthia and Ebony failed to file an Answer to Brooks' Cross-Claim, the Clerk of Court entered default against them. Doc. #22. Brooks then filed his Motion for Default Judgment. Doc. #23.

         II. Discussion

         The Court determined that an evidentiary hearing was needed to resolve questions concerning Donald Brooks' biological relationship to Charles D. Jackson, and questions concerning the validity of the January 4, 2008, beneficiary designation form. Given that Cynthia and Ebony are in default, the Court must accept all well-pleaded factual allegations in the Cross-Claim, except those relating to damages, as true. See Ford Motor Co. v. Cross, 441 F.Supp.2d 837, 848 (E.D. Mich. 2006). The same cannot be said, however, about conclusions of law. Whether the January 4, 2008, beneficiary designation was void because of undue influence or coercion is a mixed question of law and fact.

         An evidentiary hearing was held on November 28, 2016. Donald Brooks appeared with counsel. Although Cynthia and Ebony Jackson received notice of the hearing, they did not appear. Witnesses included Montgomery County Adult Protective Services ("APS") employees Linda HazeNSandridge and Dean Robert, attorney David Schmidt, and Donald Brooks.

         Based on the testimony presented at the hearing, the Court has concluded that Donald Brooks is Charles D. Jackson's biological son. Although sometimes mistakenly referred to as "Donald Jackson, " Brooks was listed as "next of kin" on probate filings made in 2010 and 2011, when wards were appointed for Charles D. Jackson, Exs. B-1, B-2, B-5, B-6, and listed as Charles D. Jackson's "adult son" on estate filings made in 2015, Ex. B-10. Moreover, Donald testified that Charles was involved in his life from the time he was a small child, and that they referred to each other as "dad" and "son." This testimony was corroborated by Ms. Hazel-Sandridge and Mr. Schmidt, who testified that Charles acknowledged that Donald was his son. Donald also testified that, if Charles were not his father, he would not have quit his job in Idaho to become Charles' primary caregiver the last several years of his life.

         Charles D. Jackson was found to be incompetent, and was appointed a guardian in June of 2010. Ex. B-4. Nevertheless, based on the testimony presented at the hearing, the Court has concluded that Charles was still mentally competent on January 4, 2008, when he signed the beneficiary designation form ...


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