Interpleader

If two or more people claim an asset in the hands of a third party, the federal interpleader statute provides a remedy. Under the statute, the third party-- called a stake holder-- is permitted to deposit the property with the court, and require the claimants to litigate with each other rather than with him. Typically, depositing the asset with the court relieves the stakeholder of further liability. The statute even permits the stake holder to require claimants who are as yet known to litigate with the existing claimants rather than with him.

The most common fact pattern is where two parties each claim ownership to a bank account. Or an insurance company may be ready to pay proceeds to the beneficiary, but is unsure who is the rightful beneficiary. Sometimes an employer is served with papers by the employee's creditor-- such an a former spouse-- directing the employer to pay the money to the creditor rather than to the employee. The employer doesn't want to take a chance on paying the wrong person, and may resort to the interpleader statute. Or someone with whom the assets was left-- such as an art restorer-- may become aware of a claim by someone other than the person who left the object with him.

The litigation may begin with the stakeholder voluntarily depositing the money into the court. Or one of the claimants may sue the stakeholder and the other claimant, which typically causes the stakeholder to deposit the money in the court and then exit the picture. Then the first claimant proceeds to litigate with the other claimant to establish his title to the funds.

If the stakeholder can show he benefited the claimants, he may be entitled to recover his attorneys fees. For example, a brokerage firm that increased the value of brokerage account through good stewardship may be able to recover his attorneys fees from the fund.

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