Only two sides have appeared in this case. Those sides are the Charles Cox, Judi Cox (Susan’s parents) and Susan’s Estate (except that Susan is not deceased, at least not legally) all represented by attorney Anne Bremner; and Michael Powell, represeted by attorney Thomas West.
The Interpleading party, New York Life Insurance, is represented by the Lane Powell firm.
According to the recently filed Joint Status Report, the Cox and Powell sides will be filing claims for the funds. Nobody else named in the complaint have responded.
So we have a few questions.
1. First, we don’t understand why things have gotten this far, i.e. a Joint Status Report negotiated without all the defendants’ involvement. There is a good possibility that more parties will show up, and then New York Life’s attorneys will be herding cats on a new Joint Status Report. We think New York Life Insurance should have defaulted the non-responding parties out and then negotiated the JSR.
2. Second, why hasn’t New York Life filed a Stipulation or Motion for an order allowing it to deposit the proceeds in the registry and receive dismissal from the case? Here’s where Transamerica did this in a similar case.
3. Third, interest is racking up on those funds. Everyday New York LIfe waits, it’s paying interest on the money. Is there disagreement over its attorneys’ fees or its entitlement to fees that have not been worked out? Here are the arguments for and against:
Argument for Fees: 28 U.S.C. 2361 (and relevant case law) entitles the district court to (a) discharge an interpleader plaintiff from further liability upon its deposit of the proceeds at issue, and (b) enjoin claimants from instituting any action against the interpleader plaintiff. Courts routinely grant attorneys fees and costs in interpleader actions such as this unless there is a showing of bad faith. See Gelfgren v. Republic Nat’l Life Ins. Co., 680 F.2d 79, 81 (9th Cir. 1982); Schirmer Stevedoring Co. v. Seaboard Stevedoring Corp., 306 F.2d 188, 194 (9th Cir. 1962); Mass. Mut. Life Ins. Co. v. Morris, 61 F.2d 104, 105 (9th Cir. 1932).
Argument against Fees: The district court is authorized to grant fees, but they are not mandatory. The issue is within the court’s discretion (Abex, 748 F.2d
513, 516 (9th Cir.). Federal law governs: Island Title Corp. v. Bundy, 488 F. Supp. 2d 1084, 1095 (D. Hi). Factors for the court to consider are: (1) Necessity of services, Hartford, 337 F.2d 1011; (2) Diligence in pursuing remedy, Aetna, 365 F. Supp. 1210; (3) Degree to which determination is part of stakeholder’s ordinary cost of business, Fidelity, 592 F. Supp. 513, 527 (E.D. Pa. 1984); (4) whether interpleading party is acting for own benefit (trying to save itself money), San Rafael, 327 F.2d 581 (9th Cir. 1964); (5) State substantive law on attorney fees, Fidelity, supra. (WA allows costs of filing, but not necessarily fees – RCW 4.08.160).
So this begs the question: Does the life insurance policy provide for fees in an interpleader? If not, then we think New York Life is out its fees.