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Great American Life Insurance Co. v. Tanner

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

June 25, 2019

GREAT AMERICAN LIFE INSURANCE COMPANY PLAINTIFF
v.
AVA MITCHELL TANNER, et al. DEFENDANTS

          ORDER CONSOLIDATING CASES

          DEBRA M. BROWN, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         This interpleader action is before the Court on Ava Mitchell Tanner's “Motion to Consolidate Related Cases.” Doc. #185.

         I

         Relevant Procedural History

         Because this motion concerns whether two separate cases should be consolidated, the relevant procedural history of each is provided in turn.

         A.

         This Interpleader Action

         On April 5, 2016, Great American Life Insurance Company filed an interpleader complaint in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Mississippi (“Interpleader Action”), naming Ava Mitchell Tanner, Alita Margaret Mitchell, and Craig J. Cheatham as defendants. Doc. #1 at 1. Among other relief, Great American sought a determination of the proper recipient of death benefits under two retirement annuities it issued to Don Mitchell, who passed away on December 1, 2015. Doc. #1 at 2, 4-6; Doc. #1-7. On May 27, 2016, Alita and Craig filed an answer to the complaint, which included a crossclaim by Alita against Ava. Doc. #9. On June 30, 2016, Ava filed an amended answer to Alita's crossclaim, which included a crossclaim against Alita and Craig. Doc. #24 at 1-2, 3-8. Ava's crossclaim alleged that she and her sister, Phyllis Mitchell Fernandez, were the beneficiaries of “most of [Don's] assets” until Alita and Craig exerted undue influence over Don to supplant Ava and Phyllis as beneficiaries to Don's Cetera investment account, [1] Prudential life insurance policy, Great American annuities, and a trust that included an “[o]il [i]nterest of unknown value.” Doc. #24 ¶¶ 19, 41. Alita and Craig answered Ava's crossclaim on July 18, 2016. Doc. #30.

         This Court dismissed Great American on November 29, 2016. Doc. #74 at 2, 6. On September 1, 2017, Phyllis moved to intervene in Ava's crossclaim, arguing intervention was proper because, along with Ava, she was a 50% beneficiary of the Prudential policy and mineral trust before Alita and Craig unduly influenced Don to disinherit her and Ava. Doc. #139 at 2-4. The Court denied Phyllis' motion to intervene, finding that, while the crossclaims for the Prudential policy and mineral trust involved “the same central factual inquiry, ” they fell beyond the scope of Rule 13(g) because they involved different property than that in the Interpleader Action. Doc. #154 at 5. Based on the same reasoning, the Court dismissed Ava's crossclaim to the extent it concerned assets other than the Great American annuities. Doc. #170 at 12-16. Regarding the undue influence claim as to the Great American annuities, however, the Court granted summary judgment in Ava's favor. Id. at 27-28. Alita and Craig appealed. Doc. #174.

         On appeal, the Fifth Circuit determined that undue influence was properly presumed because Don and Craig had a confidential relationship and Craig was actively involved in changing the beneficiaries of the Great American annuities. Doc. #188-1 at 10. However, it remanded the case for trial, concluding that genuine issues of fact existed regarding whether Alita and Craig could rebut the presumption. Id. at 12-16.

         Following remand, Ava filed this “Motion to Consolidate Related Cases.” Doc. #185. Alita and Craig responded in opposition, Doc. #186; and Ava replied, Doc. #187.[2]

         B.

         The Tanner/Fernandez Action

         On January 30, 2018, Ava filed a complaint against Alita[3] and Craig in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Mississippi. See Tanner v. Mitchell, et al., No. 3:18-cv-23 (N.D. Miss.), at Doc. #1. On June 7, 2018, Ava moved to amend the complaint to add her sister Phyllis as a plaintiff. Id. at Doc. #11. United States District Judge Neal B. Biggers, to whom the case is assigned, granted the motion.[4]Id. at Doc. ...


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