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Royal Neighbors of America v. Kids Kampus Creative Learning Center LLC

United States District Court, N.D. Texas, Dallas Division

August 21, 2019

ROYAL NEIGHBORS OF AMERICA, Plaintiff,
v.
KIDS KAMPUS CREATIVE LEARNING CENTER LLC, DIANN WOOD ROBERTSON, CHAD ROBERTSON, INDIVIDUALLY AND AS THE INDEPENDENT EXECUTOR OF THE ESTATE OF DALE EVANS ROBERTSON, DECEASED, LORI ROBERTSON, JARED ROBERTSON, and MATTHEW ROBERTSON, Defendants.

          FINDINGS, CONCLUSIONS, AND RECOMMENDATION OF THE UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

          REBECCA RUTHERFORD UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         Before the Court in this interpleader action are three motions filed by Plaintiff Royal Neighbors of America: (1) Motion for Discharge and Attorneys' Fees (ECF No. 29); (2) Motion to Dismiss First Amended Counterclaim (ECF No. 41); and (3) Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 57). Each motion represents a different procedural vehicle by which Plaintiff seeks dismissal from this lawsuit. For the reasons stated, the Court should grant Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment and dismiss with prejudice the Robertson Defendants' claims against Plaintiff. Because this would dispose of all claims against Plaintiff, the Court should further grant Plaintiff's Motion for Discharge and dismiss Plaintiff from this lawsuit. The Court should award Plaintiff costs and attorney's fees in the amount of $7, 000.00. Finally, the Court should deny Plaintiff's Motion to Dismiss First Amended Counterclaim as moot.

         Background

         Defendants Chad Robertson, Lori Robertson, Jared Robertson, and Matthew Robertson (the “Robertson Defendants”) are Dale Robertson's (“Dale”) surviving children. First Am. Counterclaim 3 (ECF No. 39). On January 23, 1998, Dale married Diann Robertson (“Diann”), who is not the Robertson Defendants' mother. Id. Dale and Diann, together with Diann's daughter and son-in-law, organized Kids Kampus Creative Learning Center, LLC (“KKCLC”) on November 15, 2000. Id. At about that same time, Dale contracted with Royal Neighbors for a $200, 000 life-insurance policy and named KKCLC as the primary beneficiary. Id.; see also Pl.'s App. 17 (ECF No. 29-4). KKCLC owned and operated child-care centers in Johnson and Tarrant County, Texas, until it sold them in 2016. First Am. Counterclaim 3. Dale's life-insurance policy provides “[t]he beneficiary is as stated in the application unless changed, ” and permits “[t]he Owner . . . [to] change the beneficiary without the consent of any such beneficiary.” Pl.'s App. 30 (ECF No. 29-4). The policy also states that a proper written request is required to change the beneficiary and that no change will take place unless recorded. Id.

         On September 24, 2004, Dale filled out “an official Royal Neighbors' ‘Request for Change Form.'” First Am. Counterclaim 4.; see also Pl.'s App. 56 (ECF No. 29-4). On the signed and witnessed form, Dale requested the beneficiary under his policy be changed to give 50% to First National Bank of Burleson, the lien-holder for KKCLC, and 50% to Diann Robertson, Dale's spouse. First Am. Counterclaim 4; see also Pl.'s App. 56 (ECF No. 29-4). It is undisputed that Royal Neighbors did not record the form. Plaintiff contends this was because it “did not believe that Dale's requested listing of the bank as a beneficiary was necessary to secure the bank's interest as lienholder.” First Am. Counterclaim 4. The Robertson Defendants allege that Dale was not aware that Royal Neighbors did not record the change of beneficiary and that, after Dale's submission of the 2004 change-of-beneficiary request, Diann represented that she was the policy's beneficiary. Id. Plaintiff, however, contends that it discussed Dale's 2004 change-of-beneficiary request with Diann and informed her that if it were recorded, First National Bank of Burleson would receive 50% of the remaining proceeds under the certificate in addition to the proceeds necessary to satisfy KKCLC's liabilities. Pl.'s Br. Support 8 (ECF No. 58). Royal Neighbors further contends that it sent two letters to Dale, one on October 29, 2004, and the other on December 6, 2004, explaining why his change-of-beneficiary request was not recorded and confirming that the beneficiary remained KKCLC. Id. 8-9.

         Dale and Diann divorced on May 19, 2017, and on April 28, 2018, Dale died of cancer. First Am. Counterclaim 4. Chad Robertson was appointed independent executor of Dale's estate. Id. The Robertson Defendants informed Royal Neighbors that “any designation of Diann as beneficiary under any policy with Royal Neighbors would be void as a matter of law in Texas.” Id. 5. Royal Neighbors confirmed that KKCLC was the beneficiary under Dale's policy. Id. The Robertson Defendants assert that Diann is KKCLC's registered agent and sole manager. Id.

         On August 1, 2018, Plaintiff filed its Interpleader Complaint seeking to deposit the policy proceeds into the Court's registry so that the Court could determine the proper beneficiary. Id. After the Court granted Plaintiff's motion to deposit the policy proceeds into the Court's registry, Plaintiff sought an agreed dismissal from the Robertson Defendants, Diann, and KKCLC. The parties tentatively agreed to the terms of a proposed stipulation and order of dismissal, but the Robertson Defendants requested to review a copy of Plaintiff's claim file before they executed the dismissal documents. In response, Plaintiff produced only certain “key documents, ” one of which referenced the 2004 Request for Change Form, leading the Robertson Defendants to believe Dale had requested the beneficiary be changed to Diann. See JSR. 2-3 (ECF No. 26). The Robertson Defendants explained the purported significance of the possible change in beneficiary:

If the September 2004 change of designation form did request a change in beneficiary designation to Diann Robertson, the Estate and the Robertson Family Defendants contend it should have been recorded and effective as of the date of the request. Pursuant to Texas Family Code Section 9.301, at the time of Dale Robertson's death, DiAnn Robertson would be eliminated as a beneficiary as an ex-spouse and the Estate, or alternatively, the Robertson Family Defendants would be entitled to all or part of the Certificate proceeds.

Id. 3. Although Plaintiff declined to produce its entire claim file, it took the position that “Royal Neighbors never received a request from the Insured to change the beneficiary from KKCLC.” Id. 1.

         At a status conference on October 24, 2018, counsel for the Robertson Defendants represented that their clients would likely agree to dismiss Plaintiff from this lawsuit if the claim file established that the insurance company never received a request to change the beneficiary from KKCLC. The parties, thus, agreed to continue their efforts to negotiate the terms of an agreed stipulation and order of dismissal and to file their proposed agreed order by November 19, 2018. The parties further agreed that Plaintiff would produce the entire claim file by November 19, 2018. The Court memorialized the parties' agreement in its Scheduling Order filed the same day as the status conference. Sched. Ord. 1 (ECF No. 28). Plaintiff produced the claim file on November 19, 2018. Upon review of the file, the Robertson Defendants discovered the 2004 change-of-beneficiary request form completed by Dale. The Robertson Defendants determined they may have claims against Royal Neighbors for its refusal to record the change of beneficiary form and declined to execute Plaintiff's proposed order of dismissal.

         Unable to obtain a dismissal by agreement, Plaintiff filed its Motion for Discharge on January 9, 2019, asserting it was entitled to dismissal, in part, because “none of the Defendants have asserted any affirmative claims against Royal Neighbors.” Discharge Mot. 2 (ECF No. 29). On January 30, 2019, the Robertson Defendants timely filed a response in opposition to the motion (ECF No. 34) and also an original counterclaim (ECF No. 33), asserting affirmative claims against Royal Neighbors. When Plaintiff moved to dismiss the original counterclaim, see Mot. (ECF No. 36), the Robertson Defendants filed their First Amended Counterclaim, which is the subject of Plaintiff's pending Motion to Dismiss (ECF No. 41) filed March 7, 2019.

         In their First Amended Counterclaim, the Robertson Defendants seek a declaratory judgment and bring claims for negligence and breach of contract against Royal Neighbors. First Am. Counterclaim 6-9. The Robertson Defendants assert that Royal Neighbors was required to record Dale's 2004 change-of-beneficiary request under the policy and that, as a result, they are entitled to the proceeds because “KKCLC and Diann are both ineligible to receive the Policy proceeds under Texas law and/or under the Agreed Final Decree of Divorce.” Id. 6-7. Plaintiff argues the Robertson Defendants' counterclaims should be dismissed for the following reasons: (1) interpleader was proper, and discharge is appropriate; (2) the Robertson Defendants lack standing; (3) the Robertson Defendants' claims for declaratory relief are duplicative of Plaintiff's claims; and (4) the Robertson Defendants' claims are barred by limitations.

         Before the Court could reach Plaintiff's Motion to Dismiss, Plaintiff filed the pending Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 57) pursuant to the deadlines established by the Court's Scheduling Order. Plaintiff moves for summary judgment on the Robertson Defendants' First Amended Counterclaim on four grounds: (1) interpleader, (2) the economic-loss rule, (3) standing, and (4) limitations. All of Plaintiff's motions are now fully briefed. With respect to the pending summary-judgment motion, KKCLC does not oppose the relief Plaintiff requests[1]. KKCLC Resp. (ECF No. 68). Given these circumstances, the Court finds that disposition of Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment would simplify the case, and, thus, it considers that motion first.

         Ju ...


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