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Primerica Life Insurance Co. v. Frantz

United States District Court, D. Kansas

March 6, 2019




         Plaintiff Primerica Life Insurance Company filed this rule interpleader action to facilitate the proper distribution of a $150, 000 life insurance policy benefit to either of two claimants: defendant Barbara Frantz, the insured's designated primary beneficiary, or defendant Patrick C. Frantz, the insured's designated contingent beneficiary. The matter is presently before the court on plaintiff's Motion To Deposit Policy Benefit Into The Court's Registry And For Interpleader Relief. (Doc. 13). For the reasons discussed below, the court grants plaintiff's motion.

         I. Motion to Deposit Funds

         Plaintiff's motion first seeks to deposit the policy benefit into the court's registry. In its discretion, a court may allow a party to deposit a sum of money with the court, “whether or not that party claims any of it, ” if any part of the sought-after relief involves disposition of the sum of money. Fed.R.Civ.P. 67(a); see also Garrick v. Weaver, 888 F.2d 687, 694 (10th Cir. 1989). Here, plaintiff disclaims any interest in the policy benefit but requests the court's determination as to which defendant's competing claims entitle them to the benefit. Neither defendant objects to plaintiff's deposit request. A filing construed to be an answer by defendant Barbara Frantz, in fact, affirmatively requests the policy's benefits “be held by the court as trustee.” (Doc. 12, at 1). Under the authority of Rule 67 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, therefore, the court grants plaintiff leave to deposit the policy benefit and any interest applicable under law with the court's registry. See also 7 Charles Allen Wright et al., Federal Practice and Procedure § 1716 (3d ed. 2001) (stating that “the general equitable powers of the court permit it to receive a deposit, ” which “can be made in accordance with Rule 67”).

         II. Interpleader Relief

         Plaintiff next requests interpleader relief under Rule 22 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Granting that relief as requested would involve: (1) discharging plaintiff from further liability with respect to the at-issue policy; (2) dismissing plaintiff from this action; and (3) enjoining defendants (and those who may make claims by or through them) from continuing or bringing any action against plaintiff (or its representatives or agents) concerning the right to and distribution of the policy benefit.

         “Interpleader . . . under Rule 22 . . . affords a party who fears being exposed to the vexation of defending multiple claims to a limited fund or property that is under his control a procedure to settle the controversy and satisfy his obligation in a single proceeding.” 7 Wright et al., § 1704 (3d ed. 2001); see also In re Millennium Multiple Employer Welfare Ben. Plan, 772 F.3d 634, 639 (10th Cir. 2014) (quoting same in context of statutory interpleader claim). Courts resolve an interpleader action according to a two-step process. Eighth & Jackson Inv. Group v. Kaw Valley Bank, No. 12-4075-RDR, 2013 WL 183753, at *2 (D. Kan. Jan. 17, 2013) (citation omitted). Interpleader's first step requires the court to determine whether the interpleader prerequisites are met and, if so, “whether to discharge the stakeholder from further liability to the claimants.” Id.; see also 7 Wright et al., § 1714 (3d ed. 2001). If met, interpleader's second step involves determining the claimant's respective rights to the disputed fund. Eighth & Jackson Inv. Group, 2013 WL 183753 at *2; see also 7 Wright et al., § 1714 (3d ed. 2001). Plaintiff's present motion asks the court to take only the first step.

         As the party invoking rule interpleader, plaintiff bears the burden to show that its concerns of defending multiple adverse claims directed against a single fund are legitimate.[1] See Rhoades v. Casey, 196 F.3d 592, 600 (5th Cir. 1999) (“In the first state, the district court decides whether the requirements for rule . . . interpleader action have been met by determining if there is a single fund at issue and whether there are adverse claimants to that fund.”); 7 Wright et al., §§ 1704, 1714 (3d ed. 2001) (same; also stating that the party seeking interpleader bears the burden to satisfy the interpleader requirements).

         Here, plaintiff's concern is legitimate. This action concerns a single fund-insured decedent Gary Patrick Frantz's life insurance policy benefit. Defendant Barbara Frantz and defendant Patrick C. Frantz adversely claim exclusive entitlement to the policy benefit. Defendant Barbara Frantz claims entitlement as the designated primary beneficiary. A jury, however, has convicted defendant Barbara Frantz of homicide in connection with the insured's death. Defendant Barbara Frantz disputes the jury's verdict, pursues an appeal to overturn her conviction, and insists that defendant Patrick C. Frantz instead bears responsibility for the insured's death. Defendant Patrick C. Frantz, however, denies any responsibility for the insured's death. He claims entitlement as the policy's designated contingent beneficiary, alleging not only that that defendant Barbara Frantz's homicide conviction bars her from receiving the benefit but also that she renounced any right to the benefit under the terms of a separation agreement she and the decedent previously executed. Whatever the merit to these claims, they are not so lacking in substance-or so clear as to make proper distribution of the funds sufficiently certain- that plaintiff's concern over incorrect distribution or defending multiple claims is unjustified. Plaintiff's invocation of interpleader is appropriate. See Aetna U.S. Healthcare v. Higgs, 962 F.Supp. 1412, 1414 (D. Kan. 1997) (approving interpleader to settle dispute concerning proceeds of a life insurance policy where primary beneficiary was a suspect in the insured's murder).

         Having determined that plaintiff properly invoked rule interpleader, the court further determines that granting plaintiff's requested interpleader relief is appropriate.

Where an insurance company is a mere stakeholder and can contribute nothing toward resolution of the issues between the other parties, its interpleader action is properly filed, and no genuine issue exists as to its rights and liabilities, “it should be discharged from any and all liability arising out of or based on the policies involved, except to pay the proceeds of such policies to the party or parties ultimately adjudged to be entitled thereto.” Rosenberger v. Northwestern Mut. Life Ins. Co., 176 F.Supp. 379, 385 (D. Kan. 1959), modified 182 F.Supp. 633 (D. Kan. 1960). See Nationwide Mut. Ins. Co. v. Eckman, 555 F.Supp. 775, 777 (D. Del. 1983); Francis I. du Pont & Co. v. Sheen, 324 F.2d 3, 5 (3d Cir. 1963) (When a plaintiff in interpleader has paid the amount of his admitted debt into court and, after notice and opportunity to be heard, the claimants have been ordered to interplead, the law normally regards the plaintiff as having discharged his full responsibility in the premises and “the court often enters an order finally relieving the plaintiff of further responsibility and permanently enjoining the claimants from harassing him.”).

Am. Home Life Ins. Co. v. Barber, No. 02-4168-SAC, 2003 WL 21289986, at *2 (D. Kan. May 16, 2003); see also 7 Wright et al., § 1717 (3d ed. 2001) (discussing, in part, a court's authority to issue injunctions in rule interpleader cases). Plaintiff, as just discussed, has properly filed this interpleader action. Plaintiff has conceded its liability to pay the policy benefit to the proper beneficiary, whoever the court determines that to be. And to facilitate proper payment, plaintiff has requested to deposit and the court has agreed to accept the policy benefit into its registry. Plaintiff, therefore, is a disinterested stakeholder entitled to interpleader relief. Upon deposit of the policy benefit and, as discussed more fully below, final resolution of plaintiff's claim to attorneys' fees, the court will issue an order: (1) discharging plaintiff from all further liability to defendants concerning Gary Patrick Frantz's life insurance policy; (2) dismissing plaintiff from this action; and (3) enjoining defendants from taking any further action against plaintiff regarding the policy.

         III. Attorneys' Fees

         Plaintiff also requests reasonable costs and attorneys' fees associated with filing this interpleader action. Defendant Patrick C. Frantz objects to assessing any costs or fees against the benefit. Each party provides authority from this district supporting its position. Plaintiff requests the court award it fees under the general rule that “[w]here the stakeholder is disinterested, i.e., does not claim any right to the fund, concedes its liability in full, deposits the fund in court, seeks discharge, and does not appear to the court to be culpable, it is appropriate and equitable to allow fees and costs from the fund.” Irwin v. Principal Life Ins. Co., 404 F.Supp.2d 1271, 1278 (D. Kan. 2005) (citations omitted). Defendant Patrick C. Frantz, in contrast, urges the court to deny plaintiff's request on the basis that “‘[t]he insurer may not transfer part of the ordinary costs of doing business to the insured by bringing an interpleader action.'” Higgs, 962 F.Supp. at 1414. Ultimately, ...

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