United States District Court, D. South Carolina, Florence Division
Gwendolyn Dianette Walker, as Personal Representative of the Estate of Robert Lee Walker, Plaintiff,
Liberty Mutual Insurance Company and K and W Cafeterias Inc., Defendants.
Bryan Harwell United States District Judge
matter is before the Court for resolution of five pending
motions: Plaintiff's motion for judgment on the
pleadings, Plaintiff's motion for interpleader, and
Defendant's three motions to stay, or in the alternative,
to continue. See ECF Nos. 10, 16, 19, 20, & 25. The
Court denies all motions for the reasons explained below.
and Procedural History
16, 2012, Plaintiff's husband died in an automobile
accident in Dillon, South Carolina. At the time of the
accident, Plaintiff's husband was an employee of
Defendant K & W Cafeterias, Inc. (“K & W”) and
was operating a vehicle that was owned by K & W and that had
been assigned to him for his use and convenience while
traveling for business purposes. The vehicle was insured
under a policy that included underinsurance coverage.
Plaintiff filed a wrongful death and survival action, and on
February 9, 2016, she reached a settlement on behalf of her
husband's estate that included payment under the
vehicle's underinsurance coverage as well as her own
policy of underinsurance coverage.
also submitted a claim for workers' compensation benefits
to the North Carolina Industrial Commission and received said
benefits pursuant to the North Carolina Workers'
Compensation Act. Pursuant to an order of the North Carolina
Industrial Commission, Defendant Liberty Mutual Insurance
Company (“Liberty Mutual”)-which has paid the
workers' compensation benefits-asserts a lien against the
settlement proceeds under operation of North Carolina
workers' compensation law.
March 30, 2016, Plaintiff initiated the instant lawsuit by
filing a declaratory judgment action against the two
Defendants in state court, seeking a declaration as to
whether Defendants are entitled to assert a claim against any
and all settlement proceeds, including those settlement
proceeds paid under the underinsurance coverage. See
ECF No. 1-1. Defendants were served with the complaint on
April 2, 2016, removed the action to this Court on May 2,
2016, and filed answers on May 9, 2016. See ECF Nos.
1, 5, & 6. Thereafter, Plaintiff filed a motion for judgment
on the pleadings and a subsequent motion for interpleader,
and Defendants filed three motions to stay, or in the
alternative, to continue. See ECF Nos. 10, 16, 19,
20, & 25.
Plaintiff's Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings
moves for judgment on the pleadings, asserting she is
entitled to judgment because the Court has personal and
subject matter jurisdiction and because Defendants are not
entitled to subrogate against underinsurance proceeds under
South Carolina law. See ECF No. 10.
Rule of Civil Procedure 12(c) permits a party to move for
judgment on the pleadings “[a]fter the pleadings are
closed-but early enough not to delay trial.”
Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(c). “The standard of review for Rule
12(c) motions is the same as that under Rule 12(b)(6).”
Drager v. PLIVA USA, Inc., 741 F.3d 470, 474 (4th
Cir. 2014). Thus, in considering a Rule 12(c) motion,
“all of the well pleaded factual allegations in the
adversary's pleadings are assumed to be true and all
contravening assertions in the movant's pleadings are
taken to be false.” 5C Charles A. Wright & Arthur R.
Miller, Federal Practice & Procedure § 1368 (3d
ed. 2011). “A motion for judgment on the pleadings
under Rule 12(c) may be granted only if all material issues
can be resolved on the pleadings by the district court;
otherwise, a summary judgment motion or a full trial is
necessary.” Id. “An issue of fact is
deemed to be material if the outcome of the case might be
altered by the resolution of the issue one way rather than
another.” Id. “Thus, the plaintiff may
not secure a judgment on the pleadings when the answer raises
issues of fact that, if proved, would defeat recovery.”
Id. “A material issue of fact that will
prevent a motion under Rule 12(c) from being successful may
be framed by an express conflict on a particular point
between the parties' respective pleadings. It also may
result from the defendant pleading new matter and affirmative
defenses in his answer.” Id. “[W]hen the
plaintiff moves for judgment on the pleadings, the motion
should be granted if, ‘on the undenied facts alleged in
the complaint and assuming as true all the material
allegations of fact in the answer, the plaintiff is entitled
to judgment as a matter of law.'” Lowden v.
Cty. of Clare, 709 F.Supp.2d 540, 546 (E.D. Mich. 2010)
(quoting United States v. Blumenthal, 315 F.2d 351,
352 (3d Cir. 1963)).
Plaintiff is not entitled to judgment on the pleadings
because Defendants' answers raise issues of fact that, if
proved, could possibly defeat recovery. First, Defendants
have denied several facts alleged in Plaintiff's
complaint relating to (1) whether the vehicle's
underinsurance policy was procured to conform to South
Carolina law and (2) the exact nature of Plaintiff's
settlement regarding certain insurance coverages.
Compare ECF No. 1-1 (Complaint) at ¶¶
10-11, with ECF Nos. 5 & 6 (Answers) at p. 3.
Second, and more significantly, Defendants plead new facts
and raise affirmative defenses relating to the claim for
workers' compensation benefits that Plaintiff submitted
to the North Carolina Industrial Commission. See ECF
Nos. 5 & 6 at pp. 4-6. Defendants allege (1) Plaintiff
received workers' compensation benefits pursuant to the
North Carolina Workers' Compensation Act; (2) the North
Carolina Industrial Commission has exclusive personal and
subject matter jurisdiction over the matter; and (3)
Plaintiff's claims are barred by legal and equitable
estoppel, waiver, arbitration and award, and accord and
satisfaction. Id. Defendants' affirmative
defenses rely on material allegations of fact that preclude
the summary procedure of judgment on the pleadings. See
generally In re MI Windows & Doors, Inc. Prod. Liab.
Litig., No. 2:12-CV-01297-DCN, 2013 WL 427345, at *1
(D.S.C. Feb. 4, 2013) (“Courts follow ‘a fairly
restrictive standard' in ruling on Rule 12(c) motions, as
‘hasty or imprudent use of this summary procedure by
the courts violates the policy in favor of ensuring to each
litigant a full and fair hearing on the merits of his or her
claim or defense.'” (quoting Wright & Miller,
supra, § 1368)). Accordingly, the Court will
deny Plaintiff's motion for judgment on the pleadings.
Plaintiff's Motion for Interpleader
moves for interpleader pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil
Procedure 22, asking the Court to allow her “to
interplead any and all sums that are due to the Defendant
Liberty Mutual Insurance Company, which it is allowed under
the law as a workers['] compensation lien
holder.” ECF No. 16-1 at 1. Plaintiff also seeks an
order “restraining the Defendants from seeking a
determination as to their lien amount and disbursement of
same from the North Carolina Industrial Commission during the
pendency of this action.” Id.
Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 22, “[p]ersons with
claims that may expose a plaintiff to double or multiple
liability may be joined as defendants and required to
interplead.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 22(a)(1). “Interpleader
is a procedural device that allows a disinterested
stakeholder to bring a single action joining two or more
adverse claimants to a single fund.” Sec. Ins. Co.
of Hartford v. Arcade Textiles, Inc., 40 F. App'x
767, 769 (4th Cir. 2002). “ Interpleader is an
equitable remedy designed to protect the stakeholder from
multiple, inconsistent judgments and to relieve it of the
obligation of determining which claimant is entitled to the
fund.” Id. “An interpleader action
involves two stages. During the first stage, it must be
determined whether the stakeholder has properly invoked
interpleader.” Metro. Life Ins. Co. v. Vines,
No. CIV. WDQ-10-2809, 2011 WL 2133340, at *2 (D. Md. May 25,
2011). “The propriety of interpleader depends on
whether the stakeholder ‘legitimately fears'
multiple litigation over a single fund.” Id.
“The Court considers whether: (1) it has jurisdiction
over the suit; (2) a single fund is at issue; (3) there are
adverse claimants to the fund; (4) the stakeholder is
actually threatened with multiple liability; and (5)
equitable concerns prevent the use of interpleader.”
Id. (emphasis added). “If interpleader is
proper, the Court may direct the funds plus interest to be
deposited with the Clerk, dismiss the stakeholder with