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American-Amicable Life Insurance Company of Texas v. Snyder

United States District Court, W.D. Missouri, Western Division

December 7, 2017

AMERICAN-AMICABLE LIFE INSURANCE COMPANY OF TEXAS, Plaintiff/Cross-Claim Defendant,
v.
SHELIA K. SNYDER and NIKKI J. DAVIS, Defendants/Cross-Claim Plaintiffs/ Cross-Claim Defendants.

          ORDER ENTERING JUDGMENT AGAINST DEFENDANT SNYDER

          GREG KAYS, UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT CHIEF JUDGE

         This interpleader action involves a dispute over $100, 000 of life insurance proceeds from a policy issued by Plaintiff American-Amicable Life Insurance Company of Texas (“AATX”) and a cross-claim of defamation. Nikki Davis (“Davis”), the decedent's daughter, and the decedent's wife, Shelia Snyder (“Snyder”) dispute who is entitled to the policy proceeds. Davis also alleges Snyder has defamed her.

         Now before the Court is Davis's motion for default judgement, damages, attorneys' fees, and costs, and supporting affidavits (Doc. 25). For the reasons below, the Court enters default judgment against Snyder and in favor of Davis in the amount of the insurance proceeds ($100, 000 plus interest), and $9, 087.78 on the defamation claim.

         Factual and Procedural Background

         Larry Snyder died on May 21, 2016, leaving the proceeds of a life insurance policy (the “Policy”). The Policy application listed Snyder as the designated beneficiary. On April 5, 2015, AATX received a beneficiary change request naming Davis as the primary beneficiary. At the time of his death, Larry Snyder was in the midst of divorcing Snyder, but the divorce was not final. Both Snyder and Davis filed a claim with AATX for the life insurance proceeds.

         On March 31, 2017, AATX filed an interpleader action in the Circuit Court of Cass County, Missouri. On May 7, 2017, Snyder answered, and asserted counterclaims against AATX and a cross-claim against Davis, alleging Davis committed fraud or forgery relating to the Policy beneficiary change form. Subsequently, the case was removed to this Court (Doc. 1), and the cross-claim against Davis was dismissed for failing to state a claim (Doc. 22).

         On June 6, 2017, Davis asserted two cross-claims against Snyder (Doc. 17). Count I claimed Davis was the proper beneficiary. Count II alleged Snyder defamed Davis by alleging in court documents and telling members of her community that Davis forged Larry Snyder's life insurance beneficiary change form or exercised undue influence over him, which caused him to sign the beneficiary change form against his wishes. Snyder did not answer the cross-claims against her, and on July 11, 2017, Davis moved for default judgment. After Snyder failed to respond to the Court's Show Cause order, the Clerk entered default against Snyder (Doc. 21).

         Davis then moved for default judgment, which the Court granted in part, finding Davis was the proper beneficiary of the life insurance policy and Snyder was liable for defamation (Doc. 24). The Court ordered Davis to file a brief and evidence in support of her claim for money damages and attorneys' fees on the defamation claim.

         Discussion

         Although factual allegations in the complaint are generally taken as true, allegations relating to the amount of damages must be proven by the plaintiff, to a reasonable degree of certainty. See Everyday Learning Corp. v. Larson, 242 F.3d 815, 818 (8th Cir. 2001). The district court must provide detailed findings regarding damage calculations even in default judgments. Stephenson v. El-Batrawi, 524 F.3d 907, 916-17 (8th Cir. 2008) (finding “generic reference to evidentiary support for the damages determination” is insufficient). Plaintiff may prove damages by a sworn affidavit and supporting documentation. See, e.g., id. at *2-3 (relying on affidavits from accountant and controller of pension funds and plaintiffs' attorney to enter damages award for ERISA default); SSM Managed Care Org., L.L.C. v. Comprehensive Behavioral Care, Inc., No. 4:12-CV-2386 CAS, 2014 WL 1389581, at *2-4 (E.D. Mo. Apr. 9, 2014) (relying on affidavits of movant's attorney and executive officer as sufficient to establish attorney's fees and costs, and damages from breach of facility provider agreement, respectively).

         On October 25, 2017, Davis filed a brief and three supporting affidavits outlining her damages on the defamation claim. Davis seeks medical expenses, lost wages, pain and suffering, and attorneys' fees and costs. These requests, which all pertain to the defamation claim, are discussed below.

         I. Davis is entitled to recover $154.28 for medical expenses and $462.00 for lost wages.

         First, Davis seeks medical expenses for anxiety and depression. She states defending her reputation in the community and combatting Snyder's false allegations caused her depression and anxiety. She was prescribed anti-anxiety medication and submits receipts of $154.28 for those medications and a doctor visit. See (Doc. 25 at 12-13). Davis also seeks $462.00 in lost wages for the seven days she missed work for appointments relating to her medical treatment and meetings with her attorney related with this case.

         Actual damages are compensable in a defamation case. Kenney v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., 100 S.W.3d 809, 817 (Mo. 2003). The evidence proffered to establish actual damages may not be too speculative and must be founded upon more than the plaintiff's embarrassment or perception of their own reputation. Id. “To demonstrate actual damages, plaintiffs must show that the defamatory statement caused a quantifiable professional or personal injury, such as interference with job performance, psychological or ...


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