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Case 3:12-cv-00625-UATC-JRK Document 49 Filed 07/31/13 Page 1 of 14 PageID 249

UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT

MIDDLE DISTRICT OF FLORIDA

JACKSONVILLE DIVISION

THE PRUDENTIAL INSURANCE
COMPANY OF AMERICA,

vs.

Plaintiff,

Case No. 3:12-CV-625-J-99TJC-JRK

CHRISTINA KULIK, as Personal
Representative of the ESTATE of RAQUELL
LYNCH; CHRISTINA KULIK as Personal
Representative of the Estate of K.L. (a minor);
VICTORIA LYNN LYNCH



Defendants.

ORDER

The Prudential Insurance Company of America originally filed this Complaint in

Interpleader to resolve a dispute between two competing claims for life insurance policy

benefits following the murder of two individuals covered by Servicemembers’ Group Life

Insurance (“SGLI”). At issue is whether SGLI death benefits should be paid to the sole

remaining named beneficiary of the Policy, Victoria Lynn Lynch, or to the personal

representative of the victims’ estates, Christina Kulik. While Prudential, as stakeholder, has

deposited the insurance proceeds and been dismissed as a named party (Doc. 48), the

dispute between Victoria Lynch and Christina Kulik remains. Before this Court are Kulik’s

Motion for Summary Judgment and three memoranda in support of Kulik’s Motion. (Docs.

10, 36, 45.)

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I. Background

Prudential provides group life insurance benefits to the United States Department of

Veterans Affairs for servicemembers under the Servicemembers’ Group Life Insurance Act

(“SGLIA”), 38 U.S.C. § 1965, et seq. (Doc. 1 at ¶ 7.) This policy also provides coverage on

the lives of servicemembers’ spouses and dependent children, who are automatically

insured through the servicemember’s policy. The servicemember can list primary and

1

contingent beneficiaries for the servicemember’s coverage. The servicemember is the

automatic beneficiary of his spouse’s and dependent children’s coverage. If the

servicemember dies or is disqualified from receiving proceeds before payment on a

spouse’s or dependent child’s policy is due, the proceeds are paid to the beneficiary entitled

to receive payment on the servicemember’s own SGLI policy. 2

38 U.S.C. § 1967(a)(1)(A)(ii).

1

2

insurance proceeds.

38 U.S.C. § 1970(i) states that if a servicemember dies before payment on an insurable
dependent’s life can be made, the payment is made to the person who would receive the
servicemember’s
The Family SGLI Procedures Guide
(http://benefits.va.gov/INSURANCE/fsgli_guide_part1.asp) provides that a servicemember
is disqualified from receiving an insurable dependent’s proceeds if he kills the insured
dependent, and the next eligible beneficiary is determined under 38 U.S.C. § 1970(a). See
also Morris v. Prudential Ins. Co. of Am., CIV.A. DKC 12-1946, 2013 WL 2370513, at *3 (D.
Md. May 30, 2013) (“In the event that Specialist Goodwin [a servicemember] were
disqualified and the benefit remained payable, the death benefit would be paid ‘to the person
or persons entitled to receive payment of the proceeds of insurance on the member’s life[.]’”
(quoting 38 U.S.C. § 1970(i)). Prudential asserts in the Complaint that Victoria Lynch is the
contingent beneficiary upon the death of Raquell and K.L. and the disqualification of Kip
Lynch. (Doc. 1at ¶ 20.) In her Motion for Summary Judgment, Kulik does not appear to
dispute this but argues that the Slayer Statute disqualifies Victoria Lynch from receiving the
proceeds of the Policy.

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The Policy at issue here only expressly names Servicemember Kip Lynch as the

insured, but his wife, Raquell Lynch (“Raquell”), and their eight month old daughter, K.L., are

automatically insured. Kip Lynch designated Raquell as the principal beneficiary of the SGLI

Coverage. (Exhibit D.) (Doc. 1 at ¶ 18.) He designated his sister, Victoria Lynch, as the sole

contingent beneficiary. (Exhibit D.) (Doc. 1 at ¶ 18.) Kip Lynch is assumed to be a

beneficiary of the SGLI Coverage on Raquell’s and K.L.’s lives.

On April 26, 2010, in Anchorage, Alaska, Kip Lynch shot and killed both Raquell and

K.L. As a result, the Policy’s death benefits for Raquell and K.L. became due and payable

in the total amount of one hundred ten thousand dollars ($110,000.00). (Doc. 1 at ¶¶ 10,

11.) Kip Lynch was convicted of the murders of Raquell and K.L. and was thereby

disqualified from receiving the benefits under the terms of the Policy3 and under both Alaska

law and Florida law.

4

5 (Exhibit C.) (Doc. 1 at ¶¶ 12, 14.) Because Kip Lynch was

3

The Department of Veterans Affairs Family SGLI Procedures Guide states that:
A servicemember is not entitled as beneficiary if he/she is convicted or pleads guilty to
involvement in the death of the spouse or the dependent child. See also Servicemembers’
Group Life Insurance and Veterans’ Group Life Insurance—Slayer’s Rule Exclusion, 77 Fed.
Reg. 60,304 (Oct. 3, 2012) (to be codified at 38 C.F.R. pt. 9). This regulation was amended
on October 3, 2012, and is applicable to any claim filed on or after November 2, 2012, and
any claim filed before that date that has not been paid or denied as of that date. Thus, it
applies here.

4

See Alaska Stat. Ann. § 13.12.803, which states, in relevant part:
The felonious killing of the decedent . . . revokes a revocable . . . disposition or appointment
of property made by the decedent to the killer in a governing instrument.

See Fla. Stat. Ann. § 732.802, which states, in relevant part:

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732.802(3) A named beneficiary of a bond, life insurance policy, or other contractual
arrangement who unlawfully and intentionally kills the principal obligee or the person upon
whose life the policy is issued is not entitled to any benefit under the bond, policy, or other
contractual arrangement; and it becomes payable as though the killer had predeceased the

3

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disqualified, the next beneficiary in line to receive the decedents’ benefits is the person

entitled to receive Kip Lynch’s benefits. See supra note 2. As the primary beneficiary under

Kip’s policy, Raquell, is deceased, the next eligible beneficiary is the contingent beneficiary,

Victoria Lynch.

On May 26, 2010, Christina Kulik, Raquell’s mother, became the Personal

Representative of the estates of Raquell and K.L., who both died intestate. (Exhibits G & H.)

(Doc. 1.) (Exhibits K & L.) (Doc. 10-1.) On March 9, 2011, Victoria Lynch made a claim for

the Policy’s benefits as the contingent beneficiary of the Policy. (Exhibits E & F.) (Doc. 1.)

On June 3, 2011, Kulik made a competing claim for the benefits as Personal

Representative. (Exhibits I & J.) (Doc. 1.) Prudential then filed this Complaint in

Interpleader. (Doc. 1.)

Kulik submitted three Memoranda of Facts and Law seeking to eliminate Victoria

Lynch’s interest in the benefits. (Docs. 10, 36, 45.) Victoria Lynch has proceeded mostly

pro se and has submitted a letter to the Court indicating that she should receive the benefits

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because she was childhood friends with Raquell and regularly babysat K.L. (Doc. 27.)

decedent.

6

Attorney Margaret Zabijaka was appointed by the Court to represent Victoria Lynch pro
bono for the purpose of assisting her with settlement discussions and served as her attorney
in that capacity from November 30, 2012, to January 7, 2013, when the Court relieved her
after settlement efforts were at an impasse.

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II.

Discussion

Kulik’s memoranda of law fail to address the relevant SGLI Regulations pertaining to

issuance of the Policy benefits. (Neither has Lynch provided any assistance.) Instead, Kulik

relies on Florida law and argues that because under Florida’s Slayer Statute Kip Lynch is

legally deemed to have predeceased Raquell and K.L., Raquell’s and K.L.’s estates are

entitled to the Policy’s benefits rather than the contingent beneficiary named in the Policy.7

Kulik also argues that Florida’s Slayer Statute should exclude Victoria Lynch from receiving

the benefits based on the crimes of her brother, Kip. However, under both the SGLI

Regulations and Florida law, Victoria Lynch remains entitled to the benefits.

A.

The SGLI Regulations Do Not Preclude Victoria Lynch from Receiving

the Benefits.

Courts have long applied the principle that “no person shall be permitted to benefit

from the consequences of his or her wrongdoing” to disqualify murderers from inheriting

from their victims, whether the inheritance is through a will, an intestacy statute, or a life

7

Federal SGLIA statutory law preempts inconsistent state laws. Ridgway v. Ridgway,
454 U.S. 46, 60 (1981). Federal regulations have the same preemptive effect as federal
statutes. Shuford v. Fidelity Nat. Property & Cas. Ins. Co., 508 F.3d 1337, 1344 (11th Cir.
2007) (citing Fidelity Fed. Sav. & Loan Ass’n v. de la Cuesta, 458 U.S. 141, 153 (1982)).
A conflict that would cause preemption occurs when compliance with both federal and state
regulations is impossible, Hillman v. Maretta, 133 S. Ct. 1943, 1950 (2013) (citing Florida
Lime & Avocado Growers, Inc. V. Paul, 373 U.S. 132, 142-43 (1963)), or when state law
“stands as an obstacle to the accomplishment and execution of the full purposes and
objectives of Congress.” Hillman, 133 S. Ct. at 1950 (quoting Hines v. Davidowitz, 312 U.S.
52, 67 (1941)). Here, as to the question of who receives the benefits, the SGLI Regulations
and Florida law obtain the same result; therefore the Court need not undertake further
preemption discussion.

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insurance policy. Prudential Insurance Company of America v. Athmer, 178 F.3d 473, 475-

76 (7th Cir. 1999) (citing Mutual Life Ins. Co. v. Armstrong, 117 U.S. 591, 600 (1886); Riggs

v. Palmer, 115 N.Y. 506 (N.Y. 1889); Swietlik v. United States, 779 F.2d 1306 (7th Cir.

1985)). The SGLI Regulations adopt this common law slayer’s rule and extend its reach to

the slayer’s family members who are not also related to the victim by blood, adoption, or

marriage. According to 38 C.F.R. § 9.5(e)(1) and (e)(2)(i), anyone convicted of intentionally

and wrongfully killing the decedent is not entitled to the decedent’s SGLI proceeds. In8

addition, under § 9.5(e)(1) and (e)(2)(iii) a member of the family of a slayer “who is not

related to the decedent by blood, legal adoption, or marriage” is also not entitled to the

decedent’s SGLI proceeds. Section 9.1(l) defines a “member of the family” who would be

disqualified under § 9.5(e)(1) and (e)(2)(iii) as someone with one of the following

relationships to the slayer: spouse; biological, adopted, or step child; biological, adoptive,

or step parent; biological, adopted, or step sibling; or biological, adoptive, or step

grandparent or grandchild. Under § 9.5(e)(4)(i), once a slayer (or slayer’s family member)

is disqualified, payment is made to the next eligible listed beneficiary, then to the widow or

widower (and so on, in the same order as prescribed by 38 U.S.C. § 1970(a)).

The term “related by marriage” is not defined in the SGLI Regulations. Black’s Law

9

See supra note 3.

8

9

In a different section within Title 38 (dealing with Vocational Rehabilitation and
Education for veterans), 38 C.F.R. § 21.374 states that “VA will not pay the attendant a fee
if he or she is a relative of the veteran. A relative, for this purpose, is a person who by blood
or marriage is the veteran’s (i) Spouse, (ii) Parent, (iii) Child, (iv) Brother, (v) Sister, (vi)
Uncle, (vii) Aunt, (viii) Niece, or (ix) Nephew.” This, however, does not define “related by

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Dictionary defines “in-law” as “a relative by marriage.” Florida courts have interpreted the

term “related by marriage” to include sibling-in-law relationships. See Gilligan v. Liberty Mut.

Ins. Co., 265 So. 2d 543, 545 (Fla. 4th DCA 1972) (finding that insured’s brother-in-law was

related to the named insured by marriage for purposes of automobile insurance policy);

Sharpe v. Sharpe, 695 So. 2d 1302, 1304 (Fla. 5th DCA 1997) (finding that widow was

related by marriage to her deceased husband’s brother, which would make her a relative by

marriage under statutes pertaining to domestic violence injunctions, §§ 741.30 and 741.82

Fla. Stat.). Furthermore, outside of statutory interpretation, courts refer to siblings-in-law as

being “related by marriage.” See, e.g., Dill v. Allen, 488 F.3d 1344, 1352 (11th Cir. 2007)

(stating that petitioner’s sisters-in-law were related to him by marriage).10

marriage,” and the definition it does provide is expressly limited to the provision at hand.
Federal regulations in other titles of the Code do not define “related by marriage”
consistently. In Title 7, for Farm Loan Program purposes, “[r]elated by blood or marriage
is being connected to one another as husband, wife, parent, child, brother, sister, uncle,
aunt, or grandparent.” 7 C.F.R. § 761.2. Title 10 uses a different definition: in the section
dealing with payment of travel expenses, “relative means . . . an individual who is related to
the employee by blood, marriage, or operation of law, as father, mother, son, daughter . .
. nephew, niece . . . brother-in-law, sister-in law.” 10 C.F.R § 1060.501.


In its Proposed Rule, the Department of Veterans Affairs cites Prudential Ins. Co. of
10
Am. v. Tolbert, 320 F. Supp. 2d 1378 (S.D. Ga. 2004) to support the proposal that the SGLI
slayer rule also exclude family members of the slayer who are not also related to the
decedent. Servicemembers’ Group Life
Insurance and Veterans’ Group Life
Insurance—Slayer’s Rule Exclusion, 76 Fed. Reg. 77,455 (Dec. 13, 2011) (to be codified
at 38 C.F.R. pt. 9). In Tolbert, the court precluded the decedent’s in-laws (slayer’s mother
and brother) from receiving the decedent’s death benefits. Thus, under Tolbert, Victoria
Lynch would be precluded from receiving the benefits. However, in 38 C.F.R. § 9.5(e), the
Department of Veterans Affairs included those related to the decedent “by marriage” in the
safe harbor for family members of the slayer who are also related to the decedent and thus
not subject to the slayer rule. The Court finds the actual language of the Rule more

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Under the SGLI Regulations, Kip Lynch’s family members are precluded from

receiving the benefits unless they are related to decedents Raquell and K.L by “blood, legal

adoption, or marriage.” While Victoria Lynch is not related to Raquell by blood or legal

adoption, she is related to Raquell by marriage, as they are sisters-in-law. Victoria Lynch

is also related to K.L. since she is her aunt by blood. Thus, Victoria Lynch falls within the

safe harbor created by § 9.5(e)(2)(iii) for individuals who, while related to the slayer, are also

related to the decedent. As the only contingent beneficiary listed, she is the next eligible

beneficiary under 38 C.F.R. § 9.5(e)(4) and should receive the benefits.

B.

Florida’s Slayer Statute Does Not Preclude Victoria Lynch from

Receiving the Benefits.

Even if the SGLI Regulations did not apply, the result under Florida law would be the

same. Kulik argues that 1) because Florida’s Slayer Statute treats the killer as having

predeceased the decedent, the benefits pass to the intestate estate, and 2) Florida’s Slayer

Statute not only precludes Kip Lynch from benefitting from the murder but also extends to

disqualify his sister from receiving the benefits. Florida case law does not support Kulik’s

interpretation of the Slayer Statute. When the slayer is treated as having predeceased the

victim, insurance proceeds pass to the next beneficiary in line, not the estate, and Florida

expressive of the Department of Veterans Affairs’s intent than the case cited in its Proposed
Rule. Given the cases above where “related by marriage” refers to in-laws, the Court
concludes that the extended slayer rule in 38 C.F.R. § 9.5(e) does not preclude in-laws of
the decedent who are also related to the slayer from receiving the decedent’s death
benefits.

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courts have not extended the Slayer Statute to family members of the killer.

1. Under Florida’s Slayer Statute, Insurance Proceeds Pass to the

Contingent Beneficiary if a Slayer is Disqualified.

Kulik argues that because Kip Lynch is deemed to have predeceased Raquell and

K.L., Raquell’s and K.L.’s estates are entitled to the death benefits. Kulik relies on Fla.

Stat.§ 732.802(1) which states that:

A surviving person who unlawfully and intentionally kills or participates in
procuring the death of the decedent is not entitled to any benefits under the
will or under the Florida Probate Code, and the estate of the decedent
passes as if the killer had predeceased the decedent. Property appointed
by the will of the decedent to or for the benefit of the killer passes as if the
killer had predeceased the decedent.

732.802(3) states that:

A named beneficiary of a bond, life insurance policy, or other contractual
arrangement who unlawfully and intentionally kills the principal obligee or
the person upon whose life the policy is issued is not entitled to any benefit
under the bond, policy, or other contractual arrangement; and it becomes
payable as though the killer had predeceased the decedent.

Kulik argues that if Kip Lynch had actually predeceased Raquell and K.L., Raquell would be

entitled to the SGLI death benefits on his life. (Doc. 10-1 at paragraph ¶ 7.) Since Raquell

is deceased, Kulik argues the SGLI death benefits pass to her estate, citing Fla. Stat. §§

732.101(1) and 732.102.

This argument confuses Kip Lynch’s life insurance coverage with that of Raquell and

K.L. If Kip Lynch had actually predeceased his wife and child, they would have been entitled

to his SGLI death benefits, not their own SGLI death benefits. Kip Lynch is not dead, so his

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SGLI proceeds are not at issue. When an insurance policy “becomes payable as though

the killer had predeceased the decedent” under Fla. Stat. § 732.802(3), the killer is simply

removed from consideration and the proceeds are paid to the next listed contingent

beneficiary. For example, in Prudential Ins. Co. of America, Inc. v. Baitinger, a man who had

murdered his wife “was entitled to no benefits under the policy, and the policy became

payable as though he had predeceased his wife.” 452 So. 2d 140, 143 (Fla. 3d DCA 1984).

The insurance proceeds were thus “payable to any alternative beneficiaries designated in

the policy . . . or absent such designation, to the decedent’s estate.” Id. (citing Carter v.

Carter, 88 So. 2d 153, 160 (Fla. 1956), which states that when a slayer is disqualified, the

intent of the insured should be given effect and proceeds should be paid to the “beneficiary

first in priority who is eligible under the law to receive the money”). Thus, by operation of

law, the killer is disqualified from receiving the victim’s death benefits and the next eligible

beneficiary listed in the policy receives those benefits. Here, that next eligible beneficiary

is Victoria Lynch.

2. Florida’s Slayer Statute Does Not Extend to Innocent Family Members

of the Slayer.

Kulik also argues that Florida’s Slayer Statute extends to Victoria Lynch and

precludes her from receiving the SGLI death benefits, since she could use the proceeds to

benefit her brother, the murderer. The Slayer Statute does not explicitly preclude family

members of slayers from receiving victims’ property or insurance proceeds, and Florida

courts have declined to extend the statute to innocent beneficiaries.

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In In re Estate of Benson, the Second District Court of Appeal refused to extend the

Slayer Statute to a slayer’s family members. 548 So. 2d 775 (Fla. 2d DCA 1989). An adult

son murdered his mother and one of his two adult siblings. Under the mother’s will, two

heirs remained: the slayer and the surviving sibling. At issue was whether the slayer’s

children could inherit as if the slayer had predeceased his victims or whether the slayer’s line

of succession should be severed along with the slayer’s. The Second District Court of

Appeal was very clear:

We have no difficulty in rejecting appellant's contention that there exists a
public policy in Florida that would extend Florida's Slayer Statute so as to
disinherit the natural and/or statutory heirs of a killer who except for his
murderous act would have been a beneficiary of his victims' estates. We
find the statutory language clear and unambiguous. If there is to be
declared in Florida such a public policy as appellant urges, it must be
accomplished by a legislative amendment to the Slayer Statute and not by
a pronouncement of this court. . . . . It is difficult to advance a credible
argument as to any ambiguity in the statute or how the legislature could
have more clearly spoken. It is the “surviving person who … kills” who is
prohibited from benefitting from the act of the killing.

Id. at 777. In Benson, the slayer’s innocent children were allowed to collect not only through

the slain mother’s will, but also from the intestate estate of the slain sibling. Id. at 778. See

also Lopez v. Rodriguez, 574 So. 2d 249, 250 (Fla. 3d DCA 1991) (“We decline to hold that

the legislature intended the statute [Fla. Stat. § 732.802] to deprive an innocent beneficiary

of the trust proceeds.”).

The cases cited by Kulik do not advance her argument that Florida’s Slayer Statute

eliminates Victoria Lynch as a proper beneficiary. Instead, a majority of the cases cited in

her memoranda deal only with the application of the Slayer Statute, Fla. Stat. § 732.802, as

to the slayer himself and do not address the extension of the Slayer Statute that Kulik is

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seeking here. Baitinger, 452 So. 2d 140 (holding that, despite pending appeal, beneficiary’s

conviction for the first degree murder of insured was conclusive for purposes of determining

his interest in the proceeds of the policy which covered insured’s life; thus, proceeds were

payable to any alternative beneficiaries designated in the policy or to the decedent’s estate

if there were no alternative beneficiaries); Barber v. Parrish, 963 So. 2d 892 (Fla. 1st DCA

2007) (holding that trial court's adjudication of guilt is the “final judgment of conviction” even

if appellate remedies have not been exhausted); American United Life Ins. Co. v. Barber,

No. 3:05-cv-266-J-32JRK, 2008 WL 1766916 (M.D. Fla. May 7, 2008) (also holding that trial

court’s adjudication of primary beneficiary’s guilt was conclusive evidence of guilt, so

contingent beneficiary was rightfully entitled to insurance proceeds); In re Estate of Howard,

542 So. 2d 395 (Fla. 1st DCA 1989) (concluding that clear and convincing evidence had

established that the defendant unlawfully and intentionally killed her husband, which thereby

excluded her from inheriting under Florida’s Slayer Statute regardless of her being acquitted

in the criminal prosecution). Each of these cases, as applied to this case, addresses an

undisputed issue under Florida law: Kip Lynch, who killed his wife and child, is not entitled

to any benefit under the Policy. These cases do not suggest that Victoria Lynch, the

innocent sister of Kip, is similarly deprived of that right.

Kulik also cites Rolling v. State to support her contention that Florida law prohibits a

killer or anyone in a special relationship with the killer to benefit from the homicide. 741 So.

2d 627 (Fla. 1st DCA 1999). This case is not on point, as it does not deal with the Florida

Slayer Statute. The statute at issue in Rolling, Fla. Stat. § 944.512, imposes a lien on any

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proceeds received from memorabilia commemorating a crime to prevent felons from

profiting from promotion of their crime. Unlike the Slayer Statute, Fla. Stat. § 944.512

explicitly extends the lien to someone receiving financial benefits “on her or his [the felon’s]

behalf.” Thus, Rolling is inapposite.

III.

Conclusion

After a careful review of the Complaint, Kulik’s Motion for Summary Judgment and

additional memoranda, the SGLI Regulations, and Florida law, the Court finds that there is

no legal basis to interfere with the right of Victoria Lynch, the sister of the killer, the sister-in-

law of the adult decedent, and the aunt of the child decedent, to collect as sole remaining

named beneficiary of the Policy.

While Lynch did not file a motion for summary judgment per se, the Court permitted

her to rely on authorities supplied by her former counsel as a response to Kulik’s Motion for

Summary Judgment. Having now analyzed what is a purely legal issue, the Court has

determined that the law supports entry of judgment in favor of Victoria Lynch. However,

pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(f), before entering judgment in her favor, the Court will permit

Kulik a final opportunity to be heard. Following review of any further submission by Kulik,

the Court will make a final decision.

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Accordingly, it is hereby

ORDERED:

Counterclaimant Kulik’s Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. 10) is DENIED. No

later than August 23, 2013, Kulik may file any further response in opposition to entry of

judgment in favor of Victoria Lynch. The Court will then enter an appropriate final judgment.

DONE AND ORDERED at Jacksonville, Florida this 31st day of July, 2013.

Copies:

pro se parties
counsel of record

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