Regions Bank v. Lamb et al
OPINION AND ORDER granting 18 Regions's motion for discharge and award of attorney's fees and costs; discharging and dismissing Regions from this action; awarding Regions $7,000.00 in attorney's fees and $565.00 in costs; and directing the Clerk to pay Regions $7,565.00 from the interpleaded funds. Signed by Judge Susan Webber Wright on 9/8/2016. (mef)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
EASTERN DISTRICT OF ARKANSAS
ARBERTDELLA LAMB and
NANCY HAMPTON, as
Administratrix for The Estate of
NANCY HAMPTON, as
Administratrix for The Estate of
OPINION AND ORDER
Regions Bank, an Alabama Banking Corporation, brings this interpleader
action pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 22 to resolve competing claims
of ownership of funds in the amount of $80,677.87 that were on deposit in a
checking account with Regions but have now been deposited into the registry of
the Court.1 Nancy Hampton, an Arkansas resident and admistratix for the estate of
Willie Townsel, a deceased former resident of Arkansas, and ArbertDella Lamb,
also an Arkansas resident, both claim ownership of the funds.2 Hampton has filed
a cross-claim against Lamb claiming that she is the rightful owner of the funds.
Before the Court is a motion of Regions for discharge and for an award of
attorney’s fees and costs [doc.#18]. Regions seeks to be discharged of any further
liability in connection with the interpleaded funds and dismissed from this
interpleader action. Regions also seeks an award of its attorney’s fees and costs
incurred in interpleading the funds and asks that its award of attorney’s fees and
costs be paid from the interpleaded funds.
Hampton does not oppose Regions’s dismissal from this interpleader action
Rule 22 states that persons “with claims that may expose a plaintiff to double or
multiple liability may be joined as defendants and required to interplead ... even though ...
(A) the claims of the several claimants, or the titles on which their claims depend, lack a
common origin or are adverse and independent rather than identical; or (B) the plaintiff
denies liability in whole or in part to any or all of the claimants.” Fed. R. Civ. P.
22(a)(1)(A)(B). Rule 22 is designed to protect stakeholders not only from double or
plural liability but also from duality or plurality of suits, and the rule is to be construed
liberally. Sun Life Assur. Co. of Canada v. Nelson, No. 5:15cv00023 JLH, 2015 WL
3442178, at *2 (E.D. Ark. May 28, 2015) (citation and quotation marks omitted).
Rule 22 interpleader does not provide an independent basis for jurisdiction but
can be premised on the diversity statute, 28 U.S.C. § 1332. Federated Mutual Ins. Co. v.
Moody Station and Grocery, 821 F.3d 973, 976 (8th Cir. 2016) (citation and quotation
marks omitted). Jurisdiction is determined based on the parties’ status at the time the
action is filed, see Grupo Dataflux v. Atlas Global Group, L.P., 541 U.S. 567, 570-71
(2004), and it is undisputed that diversity jurisdiction exists here.
but has belatedly, in one sentence, responded in opposition to Regions’s motion for
an award of attorney’s fees and costs. Lamb has responded in opposition both to
Regions’s motion to be dismissed from this interpleader action and to its motion
for an award of attorney’s fees and costs. For the reasons that follow, the Court
grants the motion of Regions for discharge and for an award of attorney’s fees and
On May 18, 2009, Townsel and Lamb opened a checking account–Account
No. xxxx0886–with Regions. The account was titled “Willie Townsel or
ArbertDella Lamb.” Townsel and Lamb were brother and sister. Hampton was
The contractual rights and duties of Regions, Townsel, and Lamb with
respect to the account were set forth in a written Deposit Agreement. The Deposit
Agreement provides in pertinent part as follows:
If your account is a personal account and has more than one name on
it, we will treat it as a joint tenant account with right of survivorship
(to the extent such accounts are recognized under applicable law)
unless otherwise expressly designated on the signature card or other
Deposit Agreement at ¶ 23.
On April 4, 2014, Townsel died at age 66. Approximately three weeks later,
on April 23, 2014, Lamb presented Townsel’s death certificate to Regions and
requested that the account be changed to her name alone. Regions searched its
account records for any express designation or any other evidence that would alter
the presumption that the account at all times was a joint tenant account with right
of survivorship (JTWRS) and found none. Accordingly, Regions granted Lamb’s
request that the account be changed to her name alone.
On April 28, 2014, Hampton petitioned the Circuit Court of Crittenden
County, Arkansas, to administer Townsel’s estate and be appointed his personal
representative. On April 30, 2014, the circuit court granted Hampton’s petition
and appointed her administratrix of Townsel’s estate. The following day, May 1,
2014, Regions received written demand from Ronald Wilson, an attorney
representing Hampton, that the account be “frozen” until the rightful owners of the
account funds could be determined by a state court.
By letter dated June 24, 2014, Eric Buchanan, an attorney representing
Lamb, informed Regions that because Townsel and Lamb owned the account
JTWRS, Lamb became the sole owner of the account when Townsel died.
Buchanan asked Regions “[o]n what legal authority has the account being [sic]
In an email to Wilson dated July 22, 2014, Regions informed Wilson that the
account was being treated as JTWRS and that it was not aware of any basis to
abide by his request that the account be frozen. Regions requested that Wilson
either reiterate and detail his request that Regions leave the freeze on the account
or that he withdraw his request. When Wilson did not respond, Regions, by email
dated August 5, 2014, informed him that it would appreciate an update on the
matter and that if it did not hear from him, Regions would evaluate its options on
moving forward without his input.
In an email to Regions dated August 14, 2014, Wilson states he was
informed that Townsel left a Last Will and Testament which he was attempting to
locate and that the best course of action was to interplead the account funds in state
court until it could be determined who was the rightful owner of the funds.
However, in her petition to the circuit court to administer Townsel’s estate,
Hampton stated that Townsel died intestate. In granting Hampton’s petition, the
circuit court likewise stated that Townsel died intestate. In her cross-claim against
Lamb, Hampton does not mention a will but states she is the rightful owner of the
funds “based on a constructive trust theory and other applicable common law and
By letter dated August 15, 2014, Buchanan, referencing Hampton’s petition
to the circuit court to administer Townsel’s estate and the circuit court’s order
granting same, informed Regions that Townsel died intestate and that because the
Deposit Agreement required the account to be treated as JTWRS, it was
unnecessary to interplead the funds. Buchanan stated he was concerned that the
claim of a will was simply a delay tactic to keep Lamb from accessing the funds.
The Deposit Agreement provides that in the event of a dispute “about who
owns or is entitled [to] any funds on deposit in an account,” Regions has the
At our option, however, we may place a "hold" on funds until
resolution of the controversy, or we may accept an indemnity
satisfactory to us, or we may deposit the funds with a court until a
court order directs us to do otherwise. If we incur attorneys' fees,
costs or expenses to resolve the issues specified in this paragraph, you
agree to reimburse us for those sums we incur.
Deposit Agreement at ¶ 33.3
On September 3, 2014, Regions filed an interpleader action in the Circuit
Court of Cross County, Arkansas, against Hampton and Lamb to determine
ownership of the funds. Regions later moved for interpleader. Hampton agreed to
interpleader of the funds and to Regions’s dismissal from the state court
interpleader action. Lamb opposed both Regions’s request for interpleader and for
See also Deposit Agreement at ¶ 36 (providing for reimbursement of attorney’s
fees and costs “in connection with . . . (ii) any ownership or authority disputes regarding
dismissal from the state court interpleader action. Lamb’s view was that
interpleader was unnecessary because Regions admitted that Lamb was the rightful
owner of the account by JTWRS and therefore either had no authority to place the
hold on Lamb’s account or, alternatively, caused its own asserted detriment by
placing the hold on the account and thus should be responsible for its own costs,
expenses and attorney’s fees.
On February 5, 2016, eleven months after it moved for interpleader, Regions
filed a motion for voluntary dismissal of its state court interpleader action. In so
moving, Regions noted that the parties have answered but that there has been no
ruling on the motion for interpleader and that the case has not been set for trial or
hearing to determine ownership of the funds.4 The court granted Regions’s motion
and, on February 11, 2016, dismissed the state court interpleader action over
On February 12, 2016, one day after the state court interpleader action was
dismissed, Regions filed the interpleader action now before the Court and
requested permission to deposit the funds into the registry of the Court. In her
answer, Lamb denied that Regions has a contractual right to interpleader under the
Apparently, the presiding judge died while the action was pending and a new
judge was later appointed.
circumstances. Nevertheless, on March 24, 2016, Lamb filed a motion for a
declaratory judgment asking the Court to declare that she is the rightful owner of
the funds. Because Lamb asked the Court to resolve the dispute underlying this
interpleader action despite earlier denying that Regions has a contractual right to
interpleader, the Court, on March 31, 2016, granted Regions’s request to deposit
the funds into the registry of the Court.
By Order entered April 21, 2016, the Court denied Lamb’s motion for a
declaratory judgment, finding that there were issues concerning ownership of the
funds, including a constructive trust issue, that the Court was unable to resolve at
that time. Thereafter, on July 22, 2016, Regions filed the motion now before the
Court seeking to be discharged from this interpleader action and for an award of
attorney’s fees and costs to be paid from the interpleaded funds.
“The purpose of an interpleader action is to shield a disinterested stakeholder
from the costs of having to defend against multiple suits, and from the risk of
multiple liability or inconsistent obligations where several claimants assert rights
to a single stake.” Stonebridge Life Ins. Co. v. Litherland, No. 4:10-cv-1231
(CEJ), 2011 WL 743753, at *1 (E.D. Mo. Feb. 23, 2011) (citing S & W
Foreclosure Corp. v. Okenfuss, No. 4:09cv353, 2010 WL 106675, at *1 (E.D. Mo.
Jan. 6, 2010)). “Where a stakeholder is disinterested and has deposited the stake
into the Court registry, the Court may dismiss it from the interpleader action,
leaving the claimants to prosecute their conflicting claims.” Id.
Lamb objects to Regions’s motion to be discharged on grounds that
sufficient evidence has been presented to prove, as a matter of law, that Regions
knew that Lamb is the rightful owner of the account by JTWRS prior to the
commencement of this entire matter and that Regions, not in good faith, unlawfully
withheld Lamb’s funds by freezing her account in violation of its contract with
Townsel and Lamb. Lamb further objects to Regions’s motion to be discharged on
grounds that Regions, as a party to the contract which is the basis of this
interpleader action, is an indispensable party and was the initiator of this
interpleader action, though it was unwarranted and in violation of its contract with
Townsel and Lamb. As a consequence, argues Lamb, Regions may be
independently liable to Lamb.
Certainly, a stakeholder will not be dismissed from an interpleader action if
its participation in the action is required. See, e.g., Legacy Inv. and Management,
LLC v. Susquehanna Bank, Civil No. WDQ-12-2877, 2013 WL 5423919, at *5 (D.
Md. Sept. 26, 2013) (noting that interpleader actions follow the same joinder rules
as any other federal court action, including Fed. R. Civ. P. 19, which governs
joinder of necessary parties). Here, however, there is no dispute that Regions is a
disinterested stakeholder and that neither Hampton nor Lamb assert a formal claim
against Regions. Although Lamb claims Regions unlawfully withheld her funds by
freezing her account in violation of its contract with her and Townsel, she has not
counterclaimed against Regions for breach of contract. But even if she had, such a
claim would likely fail as Regions is not responsible for the existence of
conflicting claims to the interpleaded funds and has properly instituted an
interpleader action. “‘[W]here a stakeholder is allowed to bring an interpleader
action, rather than choosing between adverse claims, its failure to choose between
the adverse claimants (rather than bringing an interpleader action) cannot itself be a
breach of a legal duty.’” Nelson, 2015 WL 3442178, at * 2 (quoting Prudential
Ins. Co. of America v. Hovis, 553 F.3d 258, 265 (3rd Cir. 2009)). Cf. Reliance
Standard Life Ins. Co. v. Winiarski, Nos. 2:12-cv-123, 2:12-cv-255, 2012 WL
1564540, at *3 (W.D. Pa. May 3, 2012) (where claimant alleged that stakeholder
breached its contract by instituting an interpleader action rather than paying the
proceeds to her, court held that to allow such a claim to proceed would run counter
to the very idea behind the interpleader remedy and that because stakeholder
brought an appropriate interpleader action, it is shielded from any liability as to
claimant’s breach of contract claim). Lamb has failed to show why the Court
cannot accord complete relief as between her and Hampton and the Court
accordingly grants Regions’s motion to be discharged and dismissed from this
The Court now turns to Regions’s motion for an award of attorney’s fees and
costs. In cases brought pursuant to Rule 22, federal district courts have followed
the traditional equity rule that gives the trial court discretion to allow a
disinterested stakeholder to recover attorney's fees and costs from the stake itself.
Stonebridge, 2011 WL 743753, at *2 (citing American Life Ins. Co. of N.Y. v.
Karnes, No. 07-4053-cv-C-NKL, 2007 WL 4365732, at *1 (W.D. Mo. Dec. 11,
2007); 4 James Wm. Moore, Moore's Federal Practice § 22.06 (3rd ed. 2002)).
“‘In the usual case the fee will be relatively modest, inasmuch as all that is
necessary is the preparation of a petition, the deposit in court or posting of a bond,
service on the claimants, and the preparation of an order discharging the
stakeholder.’” Id. (quoting 7 Charles Alan Wright et al., Federal Practice and
Procedure § 1719 (3d ed.1998)). “[T]he fees awarded must not significantly
diminish the value of the asset.” Id. (citing Karnes, 2007 WL 4365732, at *2;
Bush v. Teachers Ins. and Annuity Ass’n of America, No. 1:05cv378-WC, 2008
WL 1776684, at *3 (M.D. Ala. April 16, 2008)). In this respect, courts have
awarded fees in amounts varying between 0.1% and 15% of the interpleaded funds,
depending upon the degree of complexity of the case. Id. (collecting cases).
Here, Regions seeks $7,000.00 in attorney’s fees and $565.00 in costs which
is equal to 9.4% of the interpleaded funds. Hampton makes a bare, one sentence
objection to Regions’s motion for an award of attorney’s fees and costs but does
not set forth any argument why Regions is not entitled to such an award. Lamb, in
turn, objects to Regions’s motion for an award of attorney’s fees and costs on
grounds that the amount of its requested attorney’s fees and costs are unreasonable
and the accrual of those fees and costs was entirely due to Regions’s unnecessary
actions in which it continued to file the same facts and arguments “over and over.”5
The Court rejects Lamb’s arguments (Hampton making none) and finds that
Regions is entitled to an award of attorney’s fees and costs to be paid from the
Alternatively, Lamb argues that should the Court find Regions had the authority
to place the hold on the account, Hampton should be ordered to pay the entirety of
Regions’s attorney’s fees and costs for bringing a meritless claim for which she, to date,
has not given an argument or evidence to support. Hampton, in turn, argues that Lamb
should be ordered to pay Regions’s attorney’s fees and costs should such be granted
because of her untenable opposition to Regions’s motion for interpleader. The Court
rejects both of these arguments. Discovery is ongoing and the Court finds no basis in the
record as it now stands for finding that Hampton’s claim to ownership of the funds is
meritless and not asserted in good faith or that Lamb’s opposition to an interpleader
action was untenable (even though she lost) and not asserted in good faith.
To determine the amount of a reasonable attorney’s fee, the Court will
utilize the lodestar method outlined in Hensley v. Eckerhart, 461 U.S. 424 (1983),
which determines the number of hours reasonably expended on the subject matter
multiplied by a reasonable hourly rate. Marez v. Saint-Gobain Containers, Inc.,
688 F.3d 958, 965 (8th Cir. 2012). A reasonable hourly rate is usually the ordinary
rate for similar work in the community where the case has been litigated. Fish v.
St. Cloud State University, 295 F.3d 849, 851 (8th Cir. 2002) (citation omitted).
Here, the record reflects that the legal services for Regions were performed
by Edie R. Ervin at the billing rate of $275.00 per hour (and, at times, $225.00 per
hour). Neither Hampton nor Lamb dispute the reasonableness of the hourly rate
charged in this case and they do not dispute that Ervin is an experienced and
reputable attorney with excellent legal skills. Accordingly, the Court finds that
$275.00 is a reasonable hourly rate for this community (central Arkansas) and that
an attorney in this community possessing experience and skill similar to Ervin
would command an hourly rate of $275.00. Cf. Retro Television Network, Inc. v.
Luken Communications, LLC, No. 4:11-cv-00489-SWW, 2012 WL 682372, at *2
(E.D. Ark. March 2, 2012) (collecting cases in the Eastern District of Arkansas
involving hourly rates).
Concerning the hours expended by Ervin, neither Hampton nor Lamb
challenge the individual time entries Regions has submitted with its motion for
attorney’s fees. Lamb claims Regions filed the same facts and arguments “over
and over” but a review of Ervin’s time entries reveals no such duplicate filings.
For example, Ervin did not charge for any redrafting of the complaint filed in this
court from that filed in state court. In any case, the time entries are sufficiently
detailed to allow for meaningful review and the Court’s review of those time
entries does not reveal any matters for which attorney’s fees should not be
awarded, and they reflect a requested fee award in line with those awarded in other
interpleader actions. See Stonebridge, 2011 WL 743753, at *2 (collecting cases).
In addition, this interpleader action (including when it was in state court) was more
difficult than the normal interpleader action and presented unusual problems.6
Accordingly, the Court awards Regions $7,000.00 in attorney’s fees.7
The Court has also considered other factors, including the important factor of the
results obtained, to determine whether the loadstar amount should be adjusted upward or
downward. Marez, 688 F.3d at 965. Many of the factors to be considered, commonly
referred to as the Johnson factors, see Hensley, 461 U.S. at 429-30 & n.3 (citing Johnson
v. Georgia Highway Express, Inc., 488 F.2d 714, 717-719 (5th Cir. 1974)), are “subsumed
within the initial calculation of hours reasonably expended at a reasonable hourly rate.”
Id., at 434 n.9.
Region’s motion for an award of attorney’s fees and costs (and brief in support)
states that it is seeking $7,000.00 in attorney’s fees. Ervin’s Declaration attached to
Regions’s motion states that Regions has paid a total of $7,160.54 for legal services
performed between August 22, 2014 and June 2, 2016. Ervin notes that the billing
Turning to costs, Regions seeks reimbursement for the $165.00 state court
filing fee and $400.00 for the federal court filing fee. The Court finds that these
fees are taxable as costs and therefore awards Regions $565.00 in costs. See 28
U.S.C. § 1920 (a judge or court clerk “may tax as costs” fees of the clerk).
For the foregoing reasons, the Court grants Regions’s motion for discharge
and an award of attorney’s fees and costs [doc.#18]. The Court discharges and
dismisses Regions from this interpleader action. The Court further awards Regions
$7,000.00 in attorney’s fees and $565.00 in costs. The Court directs the Clerk to
pay Regions $7,565.00 from the interpleaded funds.
IT IS SO ORDERED this 8th day of September 2016.
/s/Susan Webber Wright
UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
records show fees for the work performed in the amount of $8,004.00 but that the
difference in this amount and the total billed and paid–$7,160.54–reflects discounts and
other write-downs. In her reply brief to the addendum filed by Regions, Lamb assumes
Regions is seeking $7,160.54 in attorney’s fees. However, given the representations of
Regions’s motion for an award of attorney’s fees and costs that it is requesting $7,000.00
in attorney’s fees rather than the total billed and paid, that is the amount the Court will
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