United States District Court, D. Delaware
William A. Crawford, Esquire, Noelle Briana Torrice, Esquire:
Franklin & Prokopik, Wilmington, DE - attorneys for
Plaintiff Securian Life Insurance Company
Gerard Holmes, Esquire, Richard H. Cross, Jr., Esquire: Cross
& Simon, LLC, Wilmington, DE - attorneys for David Dawson
R. Weaver, Jr., Esquire, Wilmington, DE - attorneys for Beth
P. Ullom, Ian C. Payne, and William Payne
NOREIKA, U.S. DISTRICT JUDGE
Plaintiff, Securian Life Insurance Company
("SLIC"), has moved for leave to deposit into the
registry of the Court $236, 000.00 in death benefits payable
by a group term life insurance policy issued to a non-party,
E.I. DuPont de Nemours and Co. Policy #34343-G
("Policy") plus accrued interest (collectively the
"Funds"). In its motion, SLIC also seeks to be
dismissed as the party plaintiff in this action and seeks a
preliminary and permanent injunction as to all defendants
precluding each of them from suing SLIC 1) to recover the
Funds or 2) on any claims derivative of the Policy. Finally,
SLIC seeks to tax as recoverable from the corpus of the
Funds, its reasonable costs and attorneys' fees.
Defendants Beth P. Ullom, Ian C. Payne and William Payne have
not objected to SLIC's motion. Defendant David Dawson has
filed a limited objection and reservation of certain rights.
federal interpleader statute, 28 U.S.C. § 1335, "is
a remedial device which enables a person holding property or
money to compel two or more persons asserting mutually
exclusive rights to the fund to join and litigate their
respective claims in one action." NYLife Distribs.,
Inc. v. The Adherence Grp., Inc. et al, 72 F.3d 371, 374
(3d Cir. 1995) (citing 3A J. Moore & J. Lucas,
Moore's Federal Practice Sec. 22.02 (2d ed. 1994)). This
"relieves the stakeholder from determining at his peril
the merits of competing claims and shields him from the
prospect of multiple liability." Id. It also
"gives the claimant who ultimately prevails ready access
to the disputed fund." Id. The statute further
allows the district court to enjoin any other proceedings
that may impact the person holding property or money at
issue. Id. at 375.
action commenced under §1335 "typically involves
two steps: during the first, the district court determines
whether the requirements of the statute have been met and
whether the stakeholder may be relieved from liability;
during the second, it actually adjudicates the
defendants' adverse claims to the interpleaded
fund." Id. (citing New York Life Ins. Co.
v. Connecticut Dev. Auth., 700 F.2d 91, 95 (2d Cir.
1983); 7 C. Wright, A. Miller & Mary Kay Kane, 7 Federal
Practice and Procedure Sec. 1714 (2nd Ed. 1986)). The second
step is ultimately resolved by the entry of a judgment in
favor of the claimant who is lawfully entitled to the stake.
Id. (citing Diamond Shamrock Oil & Gas Corp.
v. Commissioner of Revenues, 422 F.2d 532, 534 (8th Cir.
the Court addresses only the first step. It is undisputed
that the requirements of the first step have been met. SLIC
possesses property, the Funds, and that property belong to
one or more of the defendants. SLIC also disclaims all
interest in the property and seeks to dispose of the property
as the Court directs. SLIC meets the first step and thus may
be relieved from liability and the Funds may deposited into
the registry of the Court.
as no objection has been made to SLIC's request to be
dismissed as the party plaintiff in this action, or its
requests for a preliminary and permanent injunction as to all
defendants precluding each of them from suing SLIC to recover
the Funds or on any claims derivative of the Policy, the
Court will grant SLIC's motion in those respects as well.
respect to SLIC's request to recover its reasonable costs
and attorneys' fees from the corpus of the Funds,
defendant, David Dawson, objects. The awarding of attorney
fees in an interpleader complaint is "committed to the
sound discretion of the trial court." Banner Life
Ins. Co. v. U.S. Bank, NA,931 F.Supp.2d 629, 632 (D.
Del. 2013) (citing Mutual of Omaha Ins. Co. v.
Dolby,531 F.Supp. 511, 516 (E.D. Pa. 1982)).
"Insurance companies regularly encounter disputes
between multiple claimants to a policy's benefits. Making
a determination as to which claim prevails is the ordinary
business of insurance companies. Awarding attorney fees to
insurance companies would shift their ordinary business
expenses to the claimants, which is not generally
appropriate. Id. (citing Mutual of Omaha at
517; Fidelity Bank v. Com. Marine and General Assur.
Co.,592 F.Supp. 513, 526 (E.D. Pa. 1984)).
Nevertheless, as ...