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in the United States
Interpleader is a form of action originally developed under equity jurisprudence. It allows a plaintiff to initiate a lawsuit in order to compel two or more other parties to litigate a dispute. An interpleader action originates when the plaintiff holds property on behalf of another, but does not know to whom the property should be transferred. It is often used to resolve disputes arising under insurance contracts.
In an interpleader action, the party initiating the litigation, normally the plaintiff, is termed the stakeholder. The money or other property in controversy is called the res. All defendants having a possible interest in the subject matter of the case are called claimants. In some jurisdictions, the plaintiff is referred to as the plaintiff-in-interpleader and each claimant a claimant-in-interpleader.
For example, suppose a person dies with a life insurance policy. However, the insurance company knows there will be a dispute over who should receive the proceeds. The insurance company can file an interpleader action. The insurance company is the stakeholder, the claimants are the persons who might be beneficiaries under the policy, and the cash value of the policy benefit is the res. Under the proceeding as originally developed, the stakeholder would deposit the res with the court, and then the defendants would have their claims adjudicated by the court. Statutory modifications to the procedure (varying, of course, by jurisdiction) sometimes allow the stakeholder to retain the res pending final disposition of the case. Typically, once the stakeholder deposits the res into the court (for example, the face value of the insurance policy), the stakeholder is released from the action and the claimants proceed against each other to determine which of them is legally entitled to the res. Except for the denominations of the parties, the action proceeds for the most part as other civil lawsuits in the same jurisdiction.
In some jurisdictions, the res will earn interest at the legal rate until disbursed. The successful claimant is entitled to the interest as well as the principal.
Formerly a plaintiff had to disavow any claim to the res in order to avail himself of the interpleader remedy, but this requirement has also been relaxed or abolished in most jurisdictions. A plaintiff may now argue that neither of the claimants has a right to the property at issue. For example, a person dies with a life insurance policy that excludes coverage for suicide. Two people come forward claiming to be the beneficiary named in the policy. The insurance company believes that the deceased committed suicide, but the claimants believe the death was by accident. The insurance company could interplead the two claimants and simultaneously deny the claims.
There are two specific types of interpleader actions in the United States Courts. Statutory Interpleader governed by 28 U.S.C. § 1335, and Rule Interpleader established by Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 22.
A Statutory Interpleader action is commenced by the stakeholder who must initially deposit with the court, the amount in controversy, or post a specific bond with the court. The stakeholder may, however, at trial claim they don't owe money to the claimants at all. Once the Statutory Interpleader action is commenced, the court may restrict all claimants from starting or continuing any action which would affect the stake.
(Current as of December 1, 2011)
Interpleader is also allowed by the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 22. Rule 22 is known as rule interpleader. Rule interpleader provides a remedy for any person who is, or may be exposed to double or multiple liabilities. The stakeholder may invoke Rule 22 as a plaintiff, or by counter-claiming in an action already started against him by one, or more claimants. There are specific differences between Statutory Interpleader, and Rule Interpleader:
There is no deposit required to be made with the court for a Rule 22 interpleader action. The stakeholder may claim that they are not liable in whole, or part, to any or all the claimants.
(1) By a Plaintiff. Persons with claims that may expose a plaintiff to double or multiple liability may be joined as defendants and required to interplead. Joinder for interpleader is proper even though: (A) the claims of the several claimants, or the titles on which their claims depend, lack a common origin or are adverse and independent rather than identical; or (B) the plaintiff denies liability in whole or in part to any or all of the claimants.
(2) By a Defendant. A defendant exposed to similar liability may seek interpleader through a crossclaim or counterclaim.
(b) Relation to Other Rules and Statutes.
This rule supplements – and does not limit – the joinder of parties allowed by Rule 20. The remedy this rule provides is in addition to – and does not supersede or limit – the remedy provided by 28 U.S.C. § 1335, 1397, and 2361. An action under those statutes must be conducted under these rules.