An equitable proceeding brought by a third person to have a court determine the ownership rights of rival claimants to the same money or property that is held by that third person.
Interpleader is a form of equitable relief. Equitable remedies are ways for courts to enforce rights other than by issuing a judgment for money damages. Interpleader is employed when two or more parties seek ownership of money or property that is held by a third party. The property in question is called the stake, and the third party who has custody of it is called the stakeholder. The stakeholder is faced with a legal dilemma: giving the property to either one of the parties will likely lead to a lawsuit by the other party against the stakeholder and the new property owner.
Interpleader enables the stakeholder to turn the controversy over to a court and to be dismissed from the legal action. It is designed to eliminate multiple lawsuits over the same stake and to protect the stakeholder from actual or potential multiple liability. Typically, interpleader will involve corporate securities or proceeds from insurance policies.
The stakeholder initiates an interpleader by filing an action that states that he or she has no claim to the money or property in controversy, and does not know to which claimant it should be lawfully delivered. The stakeholder must also establish the possibility of multiple lawsuits. The stakeholder then may be required to deposit the stake with the court, and notifies possible claimants that they can present their claims of ownership in court for determination.
The court must decide whether the interpleader is proper. It has discretion to allow the interpleader, and may deny the relief if the stake-holder is guilty of laches (unreasonable delay) or was responsible for the creation of the adverse claim. If the court grants the interpleader, the stakeholder is dismissed from the action. The rival claimants are given the right to litigate their claims, and they will be bound by the decision of the court.
Interpleader is primarily a device of federal civil procedure. Two types of interpleader are available in federal courts: one under the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure and one under federal statute. When interpleader is sought through rule 22 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, more than $10,000 must be at issue in the action, and the claimants must reside in the same state and must be citizens of a state other than the one in which the stakeholder is a citizen. The action can be tried where the stakeholder resides, where the cause of action arose, or where the claimants reside. The stakeholder is not obligated to deposit the stake with the court, an important advantage when the property is used for purposes of investment and to generate income.
Interpleader authorized under 28 U.S.C.A. § 1335 differs in several respects from rule 22 interpleader. The dispute may involve as little as $500, at least two of the claimants must be from different states, and the citizenship of the stake-holder is immaterial. The venue, or place of trial, is anywhere that a claimant resides. At the time the suit is filed, the stakeholder must deposit the stake or post a bond in an amount equivalent to its value.
Claimants in an interpleader proceeding may be permitted to assert additional claims against each other or the stakeholder if they satisfy jurisdictional requirements and do not unreasonably complicate or delay the action. Courts must decide, on the particular facts of each case, whether such claims will be considered.