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Herndon v. Hearndon

United States District Court, M.D. Florida, Orlando Division

June 11, 2019

JENNA N. HEARNDON, Plaintiff,
v.
MELODY A. HEARNDON, MARVIN D. HEARNDON and JESSE D. HEARNDON, Defendants.

          ORDER

          THOMAS B. SMITH UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         Pending before the Court is Plaintiff's Motion to Compel Disclosure (Doc. 38). Defendants oppose the motion (Doc. 40).

         Background

         As summarized by Judge Dalton in an earlier Order (Doc. 34), this interpleader action is about the parties' competing claims to decedent Joshua Hearndon's (“Insured”) $400, 000 death benefit. Prudential Insurance Company of America, through the Office of Servicemembers' Group Life Insurance (“OSGLI”), provides group life insurance to the Department of Veterans Affairs of the United States (Doc. 1, ¶ 9). On August 23, 2006, the Insured submitted a form designating his family members, Marvin D. Hearndon, Melody A. Hearndon, and Jesse D. Hearndon (“Defendants”), as the co-equal primary beneficiaries of the death benefit. (Id. ¶ 11). The Insured died in Florida on March 3, 2018 (Doc. 1-4, p. 2). Jenna Hearndon, the Insured's widow (“Plaintiff”), notified OSGLI of the Insured's death, and the death benefit became due (Doc. 1, ¶¶ 14-15).

         Plaintiff claimed the death benefit, but Prudential informed her that the Insured had not listed her as a beneficiary (Id. ¶¶ 20-21). In accordance with the 2006 Designation, OSGLI invited claims from Defendants, but Plaintiff protested, providing forms from September 30, 2014 and December 4, 2016 (collectively, the “Hearndon Forms”) to support her contention that the Insured had designated her as the sole beneficiary after they were married (Id. ¶¶ 23). Prudential contacted the Insured's local OSGLI branch to inquire about the veracity of the Hearndon Forms, but the office could not make a definitive determination as to whether it had received them (Id. ¶ 24).

         Faced with the competing claims, Prudential initiated this suit (Doc. 1), deposited the death benefit with the Court, and was discharged (Doc. 34). The case continues with the parties realigned, and Defendants have counterclaimed (Doc. 37), alleging, among other things, that the Hearndon Forms are fraudulent and forged, or, if not forged, that the Insured acted under Plaintiff's undue influence (Id. ¶¶ 25-27).

         Plaintiff complains that Defendants' Fed.R.Civ.P. 26 initial disclosures are inadequate. She seeks an order requiring Defendants to complete and tender adequate mandatory initial disclosures and an award of her attorney's fees for having to file this motion. Defendants argue that their disclosures are adequate, and they also seek costs.

         Discussion

         Under Federal Rule 26(a)(1)(A)(i) and (ii):

[A]a party must, without awaiting a discovery request, provide to the other parties:
(i) the name and, if known, the address and telephone number of each individual likely to have discoverable information--along with the subjects of that information--that the disclosing party may use to support its claims or defenses, unless the use would be solely for impeachment;
(ii) a copy--or a description by category and location--of all documents, electronically stored information, and tangible things that the disclosing party has in its possession, custody, or control and may use to support its claims or defenses, unless the use would be solely for impeachment; …

Fed. R. Civ. P. 26(a)(1)(A) (emphasis added). The rule is enforced through Fed.R.Civ.P. 37(c)(1), which provides that “[i]f a party fails to provide information or identify a witness as required by Rule 26(a) or (e), the party is not allowed to use that information or witness to supply evidence on a motion, at a hearing, or at a trial, unless the failure was substantially justified or is harmless.” Further, “[i]n addition to or instead of this sanction, the court, on motion and after giving an opportunity to be heard: (A) may order payment of the reasonable expenses, including attorney's fees, caused by the failure; (B) may inform the jury of the party's failure; and (C) may impose other appropriate sanctions....” Frierson v. Atlanta Indep. Sch. Sys., 22 F.Supp.3d 1264, 1283-4 (N.D.Ga. 2014), citing Fed.R.Civ.P. 37(c)(1). The non-disclosing party bears the burden of showing that the failure to comply with Rule 26 was substantially justified or harmless. Id.

         In their disclosures, Defendants list eighteen witnesses. The subject of each of the witnesses' ...


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