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Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Co. v. Williamson

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

October 8, 2019

MASSACHUSETTS MUTUAL LIFE INSURANCE COMPANY PLAINTIFF
v.
CANDACE L. WILLIAMSON and SAMMY J. ELLIS, as co-executors of the Estate of Purvis William Hill, Jr. DEFENDANTS CANDACE L. WILLIAMSON and SAMMY J. ELLIS, as co-executors of the Estate of Purvis William Hill, Jr. PLAINTIFFS
v.
MASSACHUSETTS MUTUAL LIFE INSURANCE COMPANY and JOHN DOES 1-3 DEFENDANTS

          ORDER

          DEBRA M. BROWN UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         In these consolidated cases involving the question of coverage under a long-term care insurance policy, before the Court is Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Company's motion for civil contempt and for entry of judgment against Candace Williamson, attorney of record for the Estate of Purvis William Hill, Jr. Doc. #123. Because the motion fails to provide sufficient evidence for the contempt holding it seeks, and because the amount of the requested judgment appears inconsistent with applicable law, the Court requests additional briefing and evidence.

         I

         Relevant Procedural History

         On March 6, 2017, Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Company (“Mass Mutual”), invoking Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 17, 25, and 41, and the Court's inherent power to sanction, filed a “Motion for Entry of an Order to Show Cause, ” asking the Court to require Candace Williamson to show cause why these cases should not be dismissed for her failure to comply with various court orders. Doc. #69. United States Magistrate Judge Jane M. Virden noticed the show cause motion for a March 16, 2017, hearing. Doc. #70. Williamson did not appear for the noticed hearing. See Doc. #71.

         One day after Williamson failed to appear for the show cause hearing, Judge Virden issued an order awarding Mass. Mutual attorney's fees and expenses associated with its show cause motion and the subsequent hearing. Doc. #72. Judge Virden found sanctions justified by Williamson's “unprofessional and reprehensible” “flagrant disregard of this court's orders ….” Id. at 2.

         Mass Mutual submitted its itemization of fees on March 24, 2017. Doc. #73. On April 4, 2017, Judge Virden approved a $3, 000 fee award and directed Williamson to pay such amount by May 19, 2017. Doc. #74. When Williamson failed to pay the $3, 000 fee by the ordered date, Mass. Mutual, on June 1, 2017, filed a motion to compel the payment. Doc. #87. Judge Virden noticed the motion for a June 22, 2017, hearing. Doc. #88. Williamson did not appear for the hearing. See Doc. #90 at 4.

         On June 26, 2017, Judge Virden issued an order stating:

The court finds, as it explained at the hearing, that Ms. Williamson's conduct, as an officer of the court, in repeatedly refusing to follow the court's orders is egregious. Indeed, this conduct is willful and prejudicial to the administration of justice, a violation of MISS.R.PROF'L CONDUCT 8.4 (d). Given the gravity of this matter, the court awards, as additional sanctions for counsel's misconduct, fees of an additional $1, 000.00 to be paid to Mass. Mutual by Ms. Williamson for the benefit of its counsel, bringing the total fees now awarded to $4, 000.00. The court further orders that the total fees shall be paid in full on or before 7 days from the date of this order. If Ms. Williamson fails to pay the fees timely or otherwise seek and obtain relief from this court for inability to do so, an additional sanction of $100.00 a day will accrue, until the total is fully satisfied.

Id. at 4.

         The Estate's claims were subsequently dismissed as a sanction for Williamson engaging “in contumacious conduct by flagrantly disregarding numerous orders of the Court.” Doc. #119 at 7-8. Mass. Mutual's claim for a declaratory judgment were dismissed as moot. Doc. #122.

         On April 10, 2019, Mass. Mutual filed a motion to hold Candace Williamson in contempt of court and to enter judgment against “Williamson in favor of MassMutual in the amount of $68, 600.00, ” with such award to increase at a rate of a $100.00 per day. Doc. #123 at 6. At Judge Virden's direction, Mass. Mutual filed a supplemental brief in support of its motion. Doc. #126. Williamson did not respond to the motion or the supplemental brief.

         II

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