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Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Co. v. Hill

United States District Court, N.D. Mississippi, Greenville Division

December 6, 2017

MASSACHUSETTS MUTUAL LIFE INSURANCE COMPANY PLAINTIFF
v.
PURVIS WILLIAM HILL, JR. DEFENDANT PURVIS WILLIAM HILL, JR. PLAINTIFF
v.
MASSACHUSETTS MUTUAL LIFE INSURANCE COMPANY; and JOHN DOES 1-3 DEFENDANTS

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          DEBRA M. BROWN UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         These consolidated cases are before the Court on Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Company's motion to dismiss. Doc. #79.

         I Procedural History

         On August 5, 2016, approximately eight and a half months after the lead case in this action was filed, Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Company (“Mass Mutual”) filed a “Suggestion of Death” stating that “Counsel for [Purvis William Hill, Jr.] has notified counsel for Mass. Mutual that Dr. Hill passed away on July 26, 2016.” Doc. #41.[1] The notice was electronically mailed to all counsel of record, including Candace Lenette Williamson, Hill's daughter and former counsel.[2]

         Approximately three months later, on November 2, 2016, Mass. Mutual filed a “Motion for Order Regarding Substitution of Parties.” Doc. #53. The motion sought (1) an order “stating that the ninety day time limit under [Federal] Rule 25 has not yet begun to run” or, in the alternative, “an Order extending the deadline to file a motion for substitution until such time as an estate can be created for Dr. Hill and an administrator can be appointed to represent his estate;” and (2) “an Order compelling action and/or information from [Candace] Williamson.” Id. at ¶¶ 10-13.

         On November 15, 2016, United States Magistrate Judge Jane M. Virden granted Mass. Mutual's motion. Doc. #54. In her order, Judge Virden held that “[t]he 90-day period for filing a motion to substitute pursuant to Rule 25 has not yet begun to run” because “[t]he suggestion of death has not been served in accordance with Rule 4 on any nonparty.” Id. at 1. The order also directed

that counsel of record for the decedent file a declaration in this case within 14 days of this order stating: 1) whether an estate has been or will be opened and the identity of the estate's representative; 2) if no estate has been but will be opened, by what date this will occur; and 3) if no estate has been or will be opened, the identity of the decedent's legal successor(s) or representative(s). Counsel is warned that failure to file such declaration in accordance with this order may result in an appropriate sanction.

Id. at 2.

         Williamson did not file a declaration within the time allowed and, on December 9, 2016, Judge Virden convened a status conference “in reference to counsel['s] failure to comply with [the] prior order.” Doc. #57. Following the conference, Judge Virden directed that Williamson “must file [a] declaration by 5:00 pm [on] 12/12/2016.” Id.

         On December 12, 2016, Williamson, as “Former Attorney for Dr. Purvis William Hill Jr., Deceased, ” filed a “Suggestion of Death of Party and Motion for Continuance.” Doc. #56. In this filing, Williamson represented that Hill passed away on July 26, 2016, and that an estate for Hill was opened on or about October 17, 2016. Id. at 1. According to Williamson, the validity of Hill's last will and testament was challenged in the Chancery Court of Coahoma County, Mississippi. Id. at 2-3. Williamson asked that this matter “be stayed for a determination of who will pursue the claims of the Estate.” Id. at 3.

         On December 19, 2016, Mass. Mutual filed a response, in which it “consent[ed] to a limited continuance of the deadlines in this case … to the extent such a continuance is necessary … for the proper party to be substituted for Dr. Hill.” Doc. #59. On the same day it filed the response, Mass. Mutual filed a motion requesting an order “requiring Candace Williamson to provide regular reports about her efforts in the Chancery Court.” Doc. #58. On December 29, 2016, Williamson responded in opposition to the motion for reports, Doc. #61; and also filed a second motion to continue, Doc. #62.

         On January 5, 2017, this Court reset trial in this matter for June 5, 2017. Doc. #63. Approximately two weeks later, on January 18, 2017, Judge Virden denied Mass. Mutual's motion for continued status reports. Doc. #65. Also on January 18, Judge Virden noticed a telephonic conference for January 19, 2017.

         On January 19, 2017, this Court issued an order staying the consolidated actions “pending a determination of who will pursue the claims of the Estate” or ninety days, whichever came first. Doc. #66. Also that day, Williamson did not appear for the scheduled telephonic conference. Accordingly, Judge Virden issued an order directing Williamson to submit periodic status reports including “details of the status of the estate proceedings in Chancery Court” and “details of efforts made by Ms. Williamson to have a representative appointed for Dr. Hill's estate;” and to file the first report on January 24, 2017, and then “file an updated report every 21 days thereafter.” Doc. #67.

         Williamson filed a status report on January 24, 2017, which included a status of the chancery proceedings but included no details of efforts to secure a representative. Doc. #68. This filing is the only status report of record.

         On March 6, 2017, Mass. Mutual filed a “Motion for Entry of an Order to Show Cause, ” seeking an order requiring Williamson to show cause why the case should not be dismissed. Doc. #69. Judge Virden noticed the show cause motion for a March 16, 2017, hearing. Doc. ...


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