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Wells Fargo Bank, N.A. v. Eastham

United States District Court, D. Maryland

May 9, 2016



DEBORAH K. CHASANOW United States District Judge.

Presently pending and ready for resolution in this interpleader action are: a motion for entry of order of interpleader filed by Plaintiff Wells Fargo Bank, N.A. (“Plaintiff” or “Wells Fargo”) (ECF No. 2); and a motion for entry of default filed by Defendant Mary Eastham (“Mary”) (ECF No. 28). The issues have been briefed, and the court now rules, no hearing being deemed necessary. Local Rule 105.6. For the following reasons, Plaintiff’s motion will be granted in part and denied in part, and Mary’s motion will be granted.

I. Background

A. Factual History

Thomas Eastham (the “Decedent”) died on June 11, 2013. (ECF No. 1 ¶ 9). The Decedent’s last will and testament provided that his estate would be conveyed to the trustees of the Eastham Family Trust (the “Trust”). (ECF No. 1-1, at 3). The Trust agreement named the Decedent and his late spouse as trustees and named their children, Scott Eastham (“Scott”) and Defendant Todd Eastham (“Todd”) as successor trustees. (ECF No. 1-2, at 2). Thus, at the time of the Decedent’s death, Scott and Todd were the Trust’s trustees. Under the Trust agreement, the money in the Trust was to be divided equally between Scott and Todd. Following the Decedent’s death, the Trust opened investment accounts with Defendant State Farm Investment Management Corporation (“State Farm”). (ECF No. 1 ¶ 16). On October 10, 2013, before the funds in the Trust were divided, Scott passed away unexpectedly. (Id. ¶ 17). Scott’s last will and testament left his estate to his wife, Mary. (ECF No. 1-4, at 3).

From 2013 to 2015, as trustee, Todd made multiple transfers from the Trust’s accounts at State Farm to a personal checking account at Wells Fargo, which bore both his name and that of the Decedent. The transfers from State Farm were made payable to the Decedent, even after his death. On October 16, 2015, Todd initiated a transfer of $1, 033, 277.13 (the “Disputed Funds”) from his checking account at Wells Fargo to another Wells Fargo account owned jointly by Mary and her sister, Defendant Barbara Abramson (“Barbara”). (ECF No. 1 ¶ 26). In light of this large transfer and other large transactions, Wells Fargo contacted Todd to inquire about the transactions and his use of the account. (Id. ¶ 27). Wells Fargo avers that this is the first time it learned about the Decedent’s death. (Id.). According to Wells Fargo, Todd did not provide requested documentation for the funds and informed Wells Fargo that he was using his personal account to administer the Trust due to tax implications. (See ECF No. 29, at 3). Furthermore, Wells Fargo contends that Todd did not provide “adequate assurances that the transfers and withdrawals from the checking account were lawful and [that] Wells Fargo will not face conflicting claims for the disputed funds.” (ECF No. 1 ¶ 29). Therefore, Wells Fargo “put an immediate hold on the [Disputed] Funds, ” which remains in place today. (Id. ¶ 28).

B. Procedural Background

On February 11, 2016, Wells Fargo filed a complaint in interpleader pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1335 and Fed.R.Civ.P. 22 against Todd, the Trust, Mary, Barbara, and State Farm (collectively, the “Defendants”). (ECF No. 1).[1] On the same day, Wells Fargo filed the pending motion for entry of order of interpleader. (ECF No 2). Wells Fargo’s complaint and motion contend that an interpleader action is appropriate because there are multiple “actual or potential conflicting claims as to the Disputed Funds.” (ECF No. 1 ¶ 34). Accordingly, the motion requests that the court: (1) require “Defendants and any other claimants to the Disputed Funds [] interplead here and settle their respective rights and claims to the Disputed Funds”; (2) discharge Wells Fargo “from any liability upon its deposit with the [c]ourt of the Disputed Funds”; (3) permanently restrain “Defendants and any other claimant from bringing or prosecuting any other action against Wells Fargo with respect to the Disputed Funds”; (4) award Plaintiff “its costs and reasonable attorney’s fees”; and (5) grant “such other and further relief as the [c]ourt may deem proper.” (ECF No. 2, at 6).

Mary, Barbara, and State Farm answered. (ECF Nos. 20; 22; 24). Mary asserts in her answer that she is the sole claimant to the Disputed Funds. (ECF No. 24, at 1-2). Barbara admits that the Disputed Funds were intended solely for Mary. (ECF No. 20, at 1). State Farm’s answer “disclaims any interest as to the Disputed Funds.” (ECF No. 22 ¶ 33). Todd and the Trust did not answer, and Mary has filed a motion for entry of default against them. (ECF No. 28).[2] Mary and State Farm filed responses to Plaintiff’s motion for entry of order of interpleader, objecting to Plaintiff’s request for attorney’s fees and costs. (ECF Nos. 25; 27). Mary also objects to the case proceeding in interpleader and requests that the court “order Wells Fargo immediately to release the [Disputed Funds] to [Mary] or her designee.” (ECF No. 25, at 1). Plaintiff has not replied to State Farm or Mary’s responses, and the time to do so has passed. On April 26, 2016, the parties filed a joint status report summarizing their arguments. (ECF No. 29).

II. Plaintiff’s Motion for Entry of Order of Interpleader

A. Standard of Review

An interpleader action involves two steps or stages. 7 Wright, Miller, & Kane, supra § 1714; see Rapid Settlements, Ltd. v. U.S. Fid. & Guar. Co., 672 F.Supp.2d 714, 717 (D.Md. 2009). In Metro. Life Ins. Co. v. Vines, No. WDQ-10-2809, 2011 WL 2133340, at *2 (D.Md. May 25, 2011), Judge Quarles explained them:

During the first stage, it must be determined whether the stakeholder has properly invoked interpleader. United States v. High Tech. Prods., Inc., 497 F.3d 637, 641 (6th Cir. 2007); Fed. Ins. Co. v. Parnell, No. 6:09CV00033, 2009 WL 2848667, at *4 (W.D.Va. Sept. 3, 2009). The propriety of interpleader depends on whether the stakeholder “legitimately fears” multiple litigation over a single fund. The Court considers whether: (1) it has jurisdiction over the suit; (2) a single fund is at issue; (3) there are adverse claimants to the fund; (4) the stakeholder is actually threatened with multiple liability; and (5) equitable concerns prevent the use of interpleader. High Tech., 497 F.3d at 641; Rhoades v. Casey, 196 F.3d 592, 600 (5th Cir. 1999).
If interpleader is proper, the Court may direct the funds plus interest to be deposited with the Clerk, dismiss the stakeholder with prejudice and discharge it from all liability with respect to the deposited funds, and prohibit the claimants from initiating or pursuing any action or proceeding against the stakeholder regarding the relevant insurance policy or plan. See, e.g., High Tech., 497 F.3d at 641; [C ...

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