NATIONWIDE LIFE INSURANCE COMPANY, Plaintiff Below, Petitioner,
EVA DAWN COMPTON, KAYLA DENISE COMPTON, BETTY HOLLEMAN, LINDA RASNAKE, AND THE ESTATE OF ROBERT L. ADAMS, Defendants Below, Respondents.
County No. 16-C-107)
petitioner herein and plaintiff below, Nationwide Life
Insurance Company ("Nationwide"), by counsel Ronda
L. Harvey and Patrick C. Timony, appeals an order entered
December 5, 2016, by the Circuit Court of Wyoming County. By
that order, the circuit court denied Nationwide's request
to interplead $30, 000.00 of life insurance policy
death benefits with the circuit court. Eva Dawn Compton
("Ms. Compton") is represented by counsel, Timothy
P. Lupardus and Tenisha D. Cline. Kayla Denise Compton
("Kayla Compton") filed no responsive pleading
below, but was recorded as present at hearings held before
the circuit court. Betty Holleman (individually and as
administratrix of The Estate of Robert Adams) ("Ms.
Holleman") and Linda Rasnake ("Ms. Rasnake")
filed responsive pleadings pro se and appeared in
person, pro se, during proceedings before the
circuit court. Kayla Compton, Ms. Holleman, and Ms. Rasnake
have not filed briefs with this Court.
appeal to this Court, Nationwide contends that the circuit
court erred when it denied Nationwide interpleader relief
under Rule 22 of the West Virginia Rules of Civil Procedure.
Nationwide claims that interpleader provides an uninterested
stakeholder, such as Nationwide, a vehicle to deposit funds
with the court and to join multiple conflicting claimants
with competing claims to the funds so that a determination as
to the asset's rightful owner can be made. Nationwide
asserts that the circuit court abused its discretion in
refusing its request which presented a textbook interpleader
our review of the parties' arguments, the appendix
record, and the pertinent authorities, we find that the
circuit court erred in denying the request of Nationwide for
relief pursuant to interpleader. Accordingly, we reverse and
remand this case to allow Nationwide to file an interpleader
and deposit the proceeds of the life insurance policy into
the court. Because this case does not present a new or
significant issue of law, and for the reasons set forth
herein, we find this case satisfies the "limited
circumstance" requirements of Rule 21(d) of the West
Virginia Rules of Appellate Procedure and is proper for
disposition as a memorandum decision.
November 28, 1978, Robert Adams ("Mr. Adams"), the
decedent herein, purchased life insurance policy No.
L035933680 from Nationwide. Due to Mr. Adams' permanent
disability, Nationwide converted the policy to a whole life
policy No. L018306570 ("the Policy") on November
28, 2002. The Policy provided Mr. Adams' beneficiary with
a death benefit of $30, 000.00.
Adams' wife of some forty-six years was the named
beneficiary until her death in 2013. Thereafter, on November
7, 2013, Mr. Adams requested that the beneficiary under the
Policy be changed to Ms. Rasnake, who is Mr. Adams'
step-daughter. On June 15, 2015, Mr. Adams requested that
Nationwide change the beneficiary to Ms. Compton. The
designated beneficiary was changed by Mr. Adams to Ms.
Rasnake on July 21, 2015. On January 19, 2016, Mr. Adams once
again requested that the beneficiary be changed to Ms.
Compton. The record includes copies of the beneficiary
designation change application forms.
11, 2016, Mr. Adams, with assistance from his sister, Ms.
Holleman, telephonically contacted Nationwide inquiring about
who the named beneficiary was on the Policy. The telephone
call was recorded by Nationwide and is part of the record.
Around 4:21 pm on May 11, 2016, Ms. Compton called Wyoming
County 911 and reported Mr. Adams as missing. Some two weeks
later, on May 24, 2016, law enforcement officers located Mr.
Adams' body and recovered it from the Guyandotte River.
An investigation of the circumstances of the death of Mr.
Adams proceeded and Nationwide was served with a subpoena
from the Wyoming County Sheriff seeking all life insurance
documents related to Mr. Adams.
the recovery of Mr. Adams' body, Ms. Compton contacted
Nationwide about the distribution of the death benefit
indicating that she was the designated beneficiary. Ms.
Holleman also contacted Nationwide regarding the death
benefit. Ms. Holleman disputed Ms. Compton's entitlement
to the benefit representing that it rightfully belonged to
Ms. Rasnake because Ms. Compton improperly influenced Mr.
Adams, who lacked capacity. Ms. Holleman expressed her belief
that Ms. Compton had involvement in Mr. Adams' death.
Additionally, Ms. Holleman submitted a letter from a
physician who represented that Mr. Adams and his wife had
been his patients since 2007, that Mr. Adams became depressed
following his wife's death, and that, thereafter, Ms.
Compton had a profoundly negative and controlling effect on
Mr. Adams. Specifically, the physician indicated that Mr.
Adams was "confused, unsure of himself, had poor
insight, etc." Additionally, among other things, the
physician wrote that, in his professional opinion, "Mr.
Adams was not competent to make any type of legal or
the competing claims, as well as the Wyoming County
Sheriff's Department open investigation into the
circumstances of the death of Mr. Adams, on August 15, 2016,
Nationwide filed an Interpleader Complaint with the Circuit
Court of Wyoming County. Ms. Compton filed an answer
generally indicating that Nationwide should pay her the
policy proceeds as the named beneficiary of the policy. A
handwritten letter answer of Linda Rasnake detailed her
relationship with her step-father, Mr. Adams, as well as
alleged facts regarding the detrimental and abusive role of
Ms. Compton in his life. Generally, Ms. Rasnake claimed that
Ms. Compton was a well-known local drug addict who showed up
with friends at Mr. Adams' home three times a month when
he received his miner's pension, his social security, and
his workers' compensation benefits; left him financially
ruined; sold all his household goods, appliances, and
furnishings for drug money; and destroyed his vehicle. She
further indicated that Ms. Compton was not Mr. Adams'
fiancée and Kayla Compton was not his step-daughter as
had been indicated in the beneficiary change documents. Ms.
Holleman also filed a handwritten answer to the effect that
Ms. Compton was a drug abuser, was not a fiancée of
Mr. Adams, and orchestrated and lied on beneficiary forms,
and further asserted that Kayla Compton is a minor who has
been in the custody of the West Virginia Department of Health
and Human Services. Ms. Holleman disputed the legitimacy of
the beneficiary change form stating that the form purportedly
and improperly was signed by Ms. Compton as a witness and by
Ms. Compton's boyfriend as a witness. She also indicated
that the contingent beneficiary, Kayla Compton, was falsely
listed as a step-daughter. Ms. Holleman's position was
that the proceeds of the Nationwide policy should be paid to
hearing was held on November 16, 2016, during which
Nationwide and Ms. Compton were represented bycounsel. At the
hearing, counsel for Ms. Compton represented that there was
no objection to Nationwide depositing the money into the
circuit court. Ms. Compton argued that she was the last
formally named beneficiary, she had not been charged with a
crime in connection with Mr. Adams' death, and the
autopsy showed nothing other than death by drowning. Ms.
Holleman argued that Ms. Compton exerted undue influence over
Mr. Adams, raised questions regarding his mental competence,
indicated that there were misrepresentations on the
beneficiary change forms regarding Ms. Compton, and asserted
that Ms. Compton was involved in Mr. Adams' death.
Nationwide contended that Ms. Compton and Ms. Holleman had
competing, conflicting, and legitimate claims to the funds
they were holding. In light of the issues raised and the
ongoing criminal investigation, coupled with the fact that it
had no interest in the money, Nationwide argued for the
application of a traditional two-step interpleader procedure
whereby it would deposit the funds into the court, where
interest would be earned, until such time as those with
competing interests resolved the matter through a jury trial,
circuit court was disturbed by the notion that the two
competing parties would be expending money to determine to
whom the funds should be paid. The circuit court indicated
that the individuals would be "stuck paying for their
own lawyers" noting further that "I see Nationwide
being obligated to payfor legal representatives for
everybody." The circuit court questioned "[w]hy
should they pay for an attorney? My take is that they may be
entitled to have lawyers representing them by Nationwide
because if it weren't for Nationwide for that lawsuit
which is exactly where it's going." Moreover, the
circuit court suggested that Nationwide was engaging in a
money laundering tactic. "I'll tell you what
they're trying to do, they're trying to laundry [sic]
their money." According to the circuit court, Nationwide
was seeking relief in the form of "laundering their
money to the Court."
the circuit court entered the December 5, 2016, order
concluding that the parties have conflicting claims which may
need to be litigated in court. However, the circuit court
observed that Nationwide was unfairly forcing the parties to
litigate because it was unsure how to honor its contract with
Mr. Adams. The circuit court further concluded that forcing
the potential beneficiaries to litigate would subject them to
costs and attorney's fees that would reduce the death
benefit. Thus, Nationwide's request to pay the death
benefits into the court and be removed from the action was
December 16, 2016, Nationwide filed a motion to amend the
order whereby it again set forth a factual and legal argument
as to why the interpleader process affords it an appropriate
mechanism for the deposit with the court of the insurance
funds. A hearing was held on February 8, 2017. Nationwide and
Ms. Compton were present by counsel. Kayla Compton was
present. Ms. Rasnake and Ms. Holleman were present pro
se. Ms. Compton and Ms. Holleman again argued over the
facts regarding who should be the beneficiary of the funds.
The circuit court reiterated its position that it was not
going to permit Nationwide to deposit the funds and
"walk away." The circuit court again stated the
position that "it seems to me that [Nationwide] just
want[s] to pay the money into a court so that people can
spend their assets in their suit over who gets the money and
who gets to go home free and I'm hard put to allow
that." Accordingly, an order was entered on February14,
2017, denying Nationwide's motion to amend the order.
Nationwide then filed and perfected the present appeal.
When this Court reviews challenges to the findings and
conclusions of the circuit court, a two-prong deferential
standard of review is applied. We review the final order and
the ultimate disposition under an abuse of discretion
standard, and we review the circuit ...