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Nunziata v. Janus Funds, Inc.

United States District Court, D. Maine

March 30, 2018

RALPH NUNZIATA, Plaintiff,
v.
JANUS FUNDS, INC., Defendant.

          ORDER ON MOTIONS FOR DISBURSEMENT OF FUNDS

          JOHN A. WOODCOCK, JR. UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         A Maine plaintiff seeks disbursement of certain retirement funds originally belonging to his brother, a New York decedent, which the Defendant, a financial services company, deposited into the Court's Registry after instituting an interpleader counterclaim. Because of the highly irregular procedural posture of this case, the Court is reluctant to take any action to disturb the pre-existing conditions and, therefore, orders the Clerk to return the funds to the Defendant.

         I. BACKGROUND

         On March 10, 2016, Ralph Nunziata (Plaintiff) filed a complaint for declaratory judgment in this Court against Janus Funds, Inc. (Janus, Defendant) and the Thrift Savings Plan, an agency of the United States. Compl. (ECF No. 1).[1] The Complaint alleged that Ralph Nunziata, as the executor of the Estate of Robert Nunziata, is the rightful beneficiary of retirement accounts managed by Janus originally owned by Robert Nunziata, who is now deceased. Id. On May 4, 2016, Janus filed an answer and also filed an interpleader counterclaim, asserting that Robert Nunziata's retirement file with Janus listed Robert Nunziata's ex-wife, Dolores Nunziata-Lagamon, as the beneficiary of his retirement account and expressing concern that it not be subject to double liability. Def.'s Ans. and Interpleader Countercl. (ECF No. 4).

         On August 18, 2016, the Court expressed concern about whether there was a real case or controversy and suggested that both potential adverse claimants had to be parties for there to be a proper interpleader action, so the Court ordered Ralph Nunziata to implead Dolores Nunziata-Lagamon. Order (ECF No. 21). On August 30, 2016, the Court further advised, “Once Ms. Nunziata-Lagamon is impleaded in Mr. Nunziata's direct action, Janus may wish to close the circle by interpleading Ms. Nunziata-Lagamon to respond to the interpleader concern. . . .” Order on Status Conf. at 3 (ECF No. 24). At the same time, as Janus was anxious to file the proceeds with the Clerk's Office while the issue of the rightful beneficiary was being resolved, the Court granted its motion to deposit the proceeds with the Clerk's Office. Agreed Order on Def. Janus Funds, Inc.'s Interpleader Countercl. (ECF No. 25).

         On September 16, 2016, Ralph Nunziata filed an amended complaint, naming Dolores Nunziata-Lagamon as an additional party. Am. Compl. for Decl. J., an Accounting and Turnover (ECF No. 29). The Clerk's Office issued a summons to (ECF No. 56). To cut to the quick, in its recitation of the facts underlying the pending motions, the Court has eliminated any further reference to the TSP, Dolores Ruth O'Dea, formerly known as Dolores Nunziata-Lagamon, on October 19, 2016. Summons in a Civil Action (ECF No. 31). On March 28, 2017, the executed summons was filed. Sheriff's Return (ECF No. 39). Janus never closed the circle by interpleading Ms. O'Dea.

         The Court issued a scheduling order on March 29, 2017. Scheduling Order at 1-3 (ECF No. 41). However, Ms. O'Dea failed to answer the amended complaint, and on April 26, 2017, the Clerk's Office filed an order to show cause. Order to Show Cause (ECF No. 42). On May 9, 2017, Attorney Jeffrey White, who had been representing Ralph Nunziata, moved to withdraw as his attorney and moved to extend the time within which to respond to the order to show cause. Mot. to Withdraw as Counsel for the Pl. (ECF No. 43); Resp. to Order to Show Cause and Req. to Extend Time to File Responsive Pleading (ECF No. 44). On May 10, 2017, the Court granted the motion to extend time and the motion to withdraw as counsel, giving Ralph Nunziata twenty-one days to find new counsel. Order (ECF No. 45); Order (ECF No. 47). On May 31, 2017, Attorney Jeffrey Bennett entered his appearance on behalf of Ralph Nunziata. Notice of Appearance (ECF No. 50).

         On June 16, 2017, Attorney Bennett for Ralph Nunziata and Attorney John Giffune for Janus filed a Stipulation of Dismissal, dismissing the action. Stip. of Dismissal (ECF No. 54). On the same day, Attorney Bennett filed a voluntary dismissal as to Dolores Ruth O'Dea. Notice of Voluntary Dismissal (ECF No. 55).

         On July 10, 2017, the Court expressed dissatisfaction with the state of the docket as a result of the dismissals, because “[t]he case is . . . over from the Court's perspective, except that the Clerk's Office continues to hold monies in anticipation of a legally-sufficient direction from the parties as to what to do with the proceeds.” Status Order at 3-4 (ECF No. 57). The Court instructed the parties to file documents under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 67, Local Rule 67(d), and 28 U.S.C. §§ 2041-42 to enable the Court to release the funds. Id. at 4.

         On July 31, 2017, Mr. Nunziata entered a pro se appearance. Notice of Pro Se Appearance (ECF No. 62). On August 2, 2017, Attorney Bennett moved to withdraw as Mr. Nunziata's attorney in light of the pro se appearance. Mot. to Withdraw as Counsel for the Pl. (ECF No. 64). The Court granted the motion to withdraw on August 3, 2017. Order (ECF No. 65).

         On August 7, 2017, the Court received a letter from the Public Administrator of Queens County, New York claiming that it was the true administrator of the Estate of Robert Nunziata. Letter (ECF No. 66). The Public Administrator provided exhibits showing that the Surrogate's Court of Queens County, New York had revoked Ralph Nunziata's letters of Administration on August 17, 2015 and appointed the Public Administrator as executor of the Estate. Id. Attachs. 2-3.

         On August 17, 2017, Ralph Nunziata filed a motion to withdraw the funds. Mot. for Withdrawl [sic] of C.R.I.S. Funds (ECF No. 69) (Pl.'s Mot.). On September 1, 2017, the Public Administrator filed a response, Affirmation in Opp'n to Mot. for Withdrawal of C.R.I.S. Funds (ECF No. 71) (Public Administrator Opp'n), and Janus filed a response on September 7, 2017. Resp. to Mot. for Withdrawl of C.R.I.S. Funds (ECF No. 72) (Def.'s Opp'n). On September 15 and 19, 2017, Mr. Nunziata filed replies. Obj. to the Office of Public Administration's for Queens County Affirmation in Opp'n to Pl.'s Mot. for the Withdrawl [sic] of C.R.I.S. Funds (ECF No. 74) (Pl.'s Public Administrator Reply); Pl.'s Reply to Def.'s Obj. to Pl.'s Mot. for Disbursement of Interpleader Funds (ECF No. 75) (Pl.'s Janus Reply).

         Meanwhile, on August 22, 2017, Janus filed its motion to direct disbursement of the funds. Mot. Regarding Disbursement of Interpleader Funds (ECF. No. 70) (Def.'s Mot.). On September 13, 2017, Mr. Nunziata filed a response to Janus's motion. Pl.'s Obj. to Def.'s Mot. for Disbursement of Interpleader Funds (ECF No. 73) (Pl.'s Opp'n). Janus did not reply to Mr. Nunziata's response and the Public Administrator did not respond to either Janus' motion or Mr. Nunziata's response.

         II. THE ...


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