United States District Court, D. Connecticut
MEMORANDUM OF DECISION ON TEACHERS INSURANCE AND
ANNUITY ASSOCIATION - COLLEGE RETIREMENT EQUITIES FUND
COUNTERCLAIM FOR INTERPLEADER [DKT. 51]
VANESSA L. BRYANT, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
the Court is a Counterclaim for Interpleader brought by
Defendant Teachers Insurance and Annuity Association -
College Retirement Equities Fund (“TIAA-CREF”).
[Dkt. 51]. Plaintiff, Wisconsin Province for the Society of
Jesus (“Wisconsin Province”) filed an Amended
Complaint on June 7, 2018, which disputed the beneficiary
designation on two retirement accounts accrued by the late
Fr. Edwin H. Cassem administrated by TIAA-CREF. See
[Dkt. 44]. The Amended Complaint named as defendants Audrey
Cassem, Thomas F. Owens II, Neil Kraner in his capacity as
Temporary Administrator of the Estate of Edwin H. Cassem, and
TIAA-CREF. [Id.]. TIAA-CREF requests the following
relief: 1) Plaintiff and Defendants A. Cassem, Thomas Owens
II, and Neil Kraner interplead their respective claims among
themselves; 2) TIAA-CREFF shall hold the disputed funds a
constructive stakeholder pending the resolution of the
dispute; 3) TIAA-CREF shall comply with any final
determination from the Court; 4) TIAA- CREF shall be
dismissed as a party; and 5) TIAA-CREF shall recover its
costs, attorney's fees, and further just and proper
relief. [Dkt. 51, at 17-18]. For the following reasons,
TIAA-CREF's requested relief is GRANTED in part and
DENIED in part.
on the extensive briefing on the motion to dismiss and the
recent Order on the Motion to Dismiss [Dkt. 74], the court
assumes general familiarity with the factual background and
procedural posture of this case. The retirement accounts at
issue in the Amended Complaint [Dkt. 44] are held by
TIAA-CREF. [Dkt. 51, ¶¶ 62-67]. TIAA-CREF argues
that it would be exposed to multiple liabilities if it were
to distribute the funds without a court determination as to
the primary beneficiary. [Id. at ¶ 69].
TIAA-CREF argues that it has not colluded with any of the
parties and has no substantive interest in the outcome of the
case. [Id. at ¶ 71]. Wisconsin Province denies
that TIAA-CREF is entitled to attorney's fees and argues
that TIAA-CREF must pay interest on the funds retained. [Dkt.
56 (Plaintiff's Answer to Defendant TIAA-CREF
Counterclaim), at 3].
“interpleader is designed to protect stakeholders from
undue harassment in the face of multiple claims against the
same fund, and to relieve the stakeholder form assessing
which claim among many has merit.” Washington Elec.
Coop. v. Paterson, Walke & Pratt, P.C., 985 F.2d
677, 679 (2d Cir. 1993). To resolve an action for
interpleader, the Court first determines that the
requirements of 28 U.S.C. § 1335 are met, and second the
Court adjudicates the claims of the defendant claimants.
See New York Life Insurance Co. v. Connecticut
Development Authority, 700 F.2d 91, 95 (2d Cir. 1983).
For the purposes of this filing, the Court considers only the
U.S.C. § 1335 provides, in part, that the district court
shall have original jurisdiction over a civil action if 1)
the party filing the interpleader action has custody or
possession of money, property, or other instrument of value
or amount of $500 or more; 2) two or more claimants, of
diverse citizenship as defined in 28 U.S.C. § 1332, are
claiming the property or the benefits of the property; and 3)
the interpleader plaintiff has deposited such money or
property into the registry of the court, or has given bond
payable to the clerk of the court. 28 U.S.C. § 1335(a).
an interpleader action is appropriate depends on whether the
plaintiff has “a real and reasonable fear of double
liability or vexatious, conflicting claims” against the
fund at issue. Washington Elec. Coop., Inc., 985
F.2d at 679. This determination does not rest on the merits
of the competing claims. See John Hancock Mutual Life
Ins. Co. v. Kraft¸ 200 F.2d 952, 954 (2d Cir.
1953) (holding that “[t]he stakeholder should not be
obliged at its peril to determine which of two claimants has
the better claim”). Thus, if both the jurisdictional
requirements and the prudential requirements are met, the
Court will discharge the stakeholder from liability. New
York Life Inc. Co., 700 F.2d at 95.
instant action, all of the requirements are met. Complete
diversity exists under 28 U.S.C. § 1332 because
Wisconsin Province is organized under the laws of Wisconsing
with a principal place of business in Chicago, defendants A.
Cassem and Thomas Owens II are citizens of Connecticut, and
defendant Neil Kraner is the temporary administrator of Fr.
Cassem's estate, which is pending in probate court in
Connecticut. See [Dkt. 44, ¶¶ 2-6]. The
funds at issue are valued at over $1.5 million. See
[Id., at ¶ 23]. Wisconsin Province and Defendants
A. Cassem and Thomas Owens II all claim to be the appropriate
beneficiary of the disputed funds, thereby exposing TIAA-CREF
to potential liability. There is no indication that, as a
neutral administrator of the plan, TIAA-CREF is independently
liable to any claimant.
discharging the stakeholder in an interpleader action may, of
course, be delayed or denied if there are serious charges
that the stakeholder commenced the action in bad
faith.” New York Life Insurance Co. v. Conn. Dev.
Auth., 700 F.2d 91, 96 (2d Cir. 1983). Wisconsin
Province does not claim that TIAA-CREF acted in bad faith.
There is no evidence to doubt TIAA-CREF's assertion that
it has not colluded with any parties and has no substantive
interest in the outcome of the dispute.
Deposit of Funds with the Court
asks to “hold the disputed fees as constructive
stakeholder pending the resolution or judicial determination
of the instant dispute.” [Dkt. 51, at 18]. The Court
denies this request. The interpleader statute states that
jurisdiction over an interpleader action is appropriate when
“the plaintiff has deposited such money or property or
has paid the amount of the loan or other value of such
instrument or the amount due under such obligation into the
registry of the court, there to abide by the judgment of the
court, or has given bond payable to the clerk of the court in