State Farm Fire & Cas. Co. v. Tashire
386 U.S. 523 (1967)

Annotate this Case

U.S. Supreme Court

State Farm Fire & Cas. Co. v. Tashire, 386 U.S. 523 (1967)

State Farm Fire & Casualty Co. v. Tashire

No. 391

Argued February 115, 1967

Decided April 10, 1967

386 U.S. 523

CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS

FOR THE NINTH CIRCUIT

Syllabus

A bus and a truck collided in California resulting in a large number of casualties, including many Canadians and citizens of five States. Four victims brought suits in California state courts for damages exceeding $1,000,000 against the bus and truck drivers and the truck owner (all Oregon citizens), and the bus company, a California corporation. Before these cases were tried or other suits brought, petitioner insurance company, an Illinois corporation, brought this action in the nature of interpleader in the Federal District Court in Oregon against the drivers, the bus company, truck owner, and each prospective claimant, asserting that it had insured the truck driver against bodily injury liability to the extent of $10,000 per person and $20,000 per occurrence. It paid the latter sum into court, and asked that all claims against it and the insured be established only in this single proceeding, and that it be discharged from all further obligations under its policy, including its duty to defend the truck driver in lawsuits arising from the accident. Alternatively, it asked to be relieved of all liability on the policy, claiming that the policy excluded from coverage accidents such as the one involved here, resulting from the insured's operation of a truck owned by and being used in the business of another. Jurisdiction was based on general diversity of citizenship and 28 U.S.C. § 1335, which, inter alia, vests the district courts with jurisdiction in an interpleader action where a corporation has issued an insurance policy if two or more "adverse claimants, of diverse citizenship" claim "or may claim" to be entitled to money or the benefits arising under a policy and if the plaintiff has paid the amount due into the court's registry. An injunction was issued providing that all suits against the insurance company and its insured and (on the bus company's motion) the bus company and its driver be prosecuted in the interpleader proceeding. On interlocutory appeal, the Court of Appeals reversed, holding that, in States like Oregon which do not permit

Page 386 U. S. 524

"direct action" suits against an insurance company, federal interpleader may not be invoked until the claims against the insured have been reduced to judgment, since persons with unliquidated tort claims are not "claimants" within the meaning of § 1335.

Held:

1. The diversity requirement of 28 U.S.C. § 1335 is satisfied here, and the federal courts have jurisdiction, since that provision requires only "minimal diversity," i.e., diversity of citizenship between two or more claimants, without regard to the circumstance that other rival claimants may be co-citizens, and "minimal diversity" is permissible under Article III of the Constitution. Pp. 386 U. S. 530-531.

2. Section 1335 authorizes interpleader where adverse claimants "may claim" benefits, and petitioner insurance company need not wait until claimants against the insured have reduced their claims to judgment before seeking to invoke the benefits of the interpleader statute. Pp. 386 U. S. 531-533.

3. An injunction barring the prosecution of suits against the insurance company and the alleged tortfeasors outside the confines of the interpleader proceeding was not authorized by 28 U.S.C. § 2361, the scope of the litigation being vastly more extensive than the deposited proceeds of the insurance policy which constituted the "fund." Pp. 386 U. S. 533-537.

(a) This is not a case where the effect of the interpleader is to confine the litigation to a single forum and proceeding, as where rival claims are limited to the fund itself. P. 386 U. S. 534.

(b) The fortuitous circumstance that one of the prospective defendants happens to be insured should not limit the other plaintiffs to the forum selected by the insurance company. Pp. 386 U. S. 534-535.

(c) The insurance company's interest, which is confined to its $20,000 fund, is fully vindicated when the court restrains claimants from seeking to enforce against the insurance company any judgment obtained against the insured except in the interpleader proceeding itself. The District Court had no power in that proceeding to control claimants' lawsuits against the insured or other alleged tortfeasors. P. 386 U. S. 535.

(d) Interpleader was never intended to serve as a "bill of peace" and solve all the problems of multi-party litigation arising out of a mass tort. Pp. 386 U. S. 535-536.

363 F.2d 7, reversed and remanded.

Page 386 U. S. 525

MR. JUSTICE FORTAS delivered the opinion of the Court.

Early one September morning in 1964, a Greyhound bus proceeding northward through Shasta County, California, collided with a south-bound pickup truck. Two of the passengers aboard the bus were killed. Thirty-three others were injured, as were the bus driver, the driver of the truck, and its lone passenger. One of the dead and 10 of the injured passengers were Canadians; the rest of the individuals involved were citizens of five American States. The ensuing litigation led to the present case, which raises important questions concerning administration of the interpleader remedy in the federal courts.

The litigation began when four of the injured passengers filed suit in California state courts, seeking damages in excess of $1,000,000. Named as defendants were Greyhound Lines, Inc., a California corporation; Theron Nauta, the bus driver; Ellis Clark, who drove the truck, and Kenneth Glasgow, the passenger in the truck, who was apparently its owner as well. Each of the individual defendants was a citizen and resident of Oregon. Before these cases could come to trial and before other suits were filed in California or elsewhere, petitioner State Farm Fire & Casualty Company, an Illinois corporation, brought this action in the nature of interpleader in the United States District Court for the District of Oregon.

Page 386 U. S. 526

In its complaint, State Farm asserted that, at the time of the Shasta County collision, it had in force an insurance policy with respect to Ellis Clark, driver of the truck, providing for bodily injury liability up to $10,000 per person and $20,000 per occurrence, and for legal representation of Clark in actions covered by the policy. It asserted that actions already filed in California and others which it anticipated would be filed far exceeded in aggregate damages sought the amount of its maximum liability under the policy. Accordingly, it paid into court the sum of $20,000 and asked the court (1) to require all claimants to establish their claims against Clark and his insurer in this single proceeding and in no other, and (2) to discharge State Farm from all further obligations under its policy -- including its duty to defend Clark in lawsuits arising from the accident. Alternatively, State Farm expressed its conviction that the policy issued to Clark excluded from coverage accidents resulting from his operation of a truck which belonged to another and was being used in the business of another. The complaint, therefore, requested that the court decree that the insurer owed no duty to Clark and was not liable on the policy, and it asked the court to refund the $20,000 deposit.

Joined as defendants were Clark, Glasgow, Nauta, Greyhound Lines, and each of the prospective claimants. Jurisdiction was predicated upon 28 U.S.C. § 1335, the federal interpleader statute, [Footnote 1] and upon general diversity

Page 386 U. S. 527

of citizenship, there being diversity between two or more of the claimants to the fund and between State Farm and all of the named defendants.

An order issued requiring the defendants to show cause why they should not be restrained from filing or prosecuting

"any proceeding in any state or United States Court affecting the property or obligation involved in this interpleader action, and specifically against the plaintiff and the defendant Ellis D. Clark."

Personal service was effected on each of the American defendants, and registered mail was employed to reach the 11 Canadian claimants. Defendants Nauta, Greyhound, and several of the injured passengers responded, contending that the policy did cover this accident and advancing various arguments for the position that interpleader was either impermissible or inappropriate in the present circumstances. Greyhound, however, soon switched sides and moved that the court broaden any injunction to include Nauta and Greyhound among those who could not be sued except within the confines of the interpleader proceeding.

When a temporary injunction along the lines sought by State Farm was issued by the United States District Court for the District of Oregon, the present respondents moved to dismiss the action and, in the alternative, for a change of venue -- to the Northern District of California, in which district the collision had occurred. After a hearing, the court declined to dissolve the temporary injunction, but continued the motion for a change of venue. The injunction was later broadened to include the protection sought by Greyhound, but modified to

Page 386 U. S. 528

permit the filing -- although not the prosecution -- of suits. The injunction, therefore, provided that all suits against Clark, State Farm, Greyhound, and Nauta be prosecuted in the interpleader proceeding.

On interlocutory appeal, [Footnote 2] the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit reversed. 363 F.2d 7. The court found it unnecessary to reach respondents' contentions relating to service of process and the scope of the injunction, for it concluded that interpleader was not available in the circumstances of this case. It held that, in States like Oregon which do not permit "direct action" suits against insurance companies until judgments are obtained against the insured, the insurance companies may not invoke federal interpleader until the claims against the insured, the alleged tortfeasor, have been reduced to judgment. Until that is done, said the court, claimants with unliquidated tort claims are not "claimants" within the meaning of § 1335, nor are they "persons having claims against the plaintiff" within the meaning of Rule 22 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. [Footnote 3] Id.

Page 386 U. S. 529

at 10. In accord with that view, it directed dissolution of the temporary injunction and dismissal of the action. Because the Court of Appeals' decision on this point conflicts with those of other federal courts [Footnote 4] and concerns a matter of significance to the administration of federal interpleader, we granted certiorari. 385 U.S. 811 (1966). Although we reverse the decision of the Court of Appeals upon the jurisdictional question, we direct a substantial modification of the District Court's injunction for reasons which will appear.

Page 386 U. S. 530

I

Before considering the issues presented by the petition for certiorari, we find it necessary to dispose of a question neither raised by the parties nor passed upon by the courts below. Since the matter concerns our jurisdiction, we raise it on our own motion. Treines v. Sunshine Mining Co.,308 U. S. 66, 308 U. S. 70 (1939). The interpleader statute, 28 U.S.C. § 1335, applies where there are "Two or more adverse claimants, of diverse citizenship. . . ." This provision has been uniformly construed to require only "minimal diversity," that is, diversity of citizenship between two or more claimants, without regard to the circumstance that other rival claimants may be co-citizens. [Footnote 5] The language of the statute, the legislative purpose broadly to remedy the problems posed by multiple claimants to a single fund, and the consistent judicial interpretation tacitly accepted by Congress, persuade us that the statute requires no more. There remains, however, the question whether such a statutory construction is consistent with Article III of our Constitution, which extends the federal judicial power to

"Controversies . . . between Citizens of different States . . . and between a State or the Citizens thereof, and foreign States, Citizens or Subjects."

In Strawbridge v. Curtiss, 3 Cranch 267 (1806), this Court held that the diversity of citizenship statute required "complete diversity": where co-citizens appeared on both sides of a dispute,

Page 386 U. S. 531

jurisdiction as lost. But Chief Justice Marshall there purported to construe only "The words of the act of congress," not the Constitution itself. [Footnote 6] And, in a variety of contexts, this Court and the lower courts have concluded that Article III poses no obstacle to the legislative extension of federal jurisdiction, founded on diversity, so long as any two adverse parties are not co-citizens. [Footnote 7] Accordingly, we conclude that the present case is properly in the federal courts.

II

We do not agree with the Court of Appeals that, in the absence of a state law or contractual provision for

Page 386 U. S. 532

"direct action" suits against the insurance company, the company must wait until persons asserting claims against its insured have reduced those claims to judgment before seeking to invoke the benefits of federal interpleader. That may have been a tenable position under the 1926 [Footnote 8] and 1936 interpleader statutes. [Footnote 9] These statutes did not carry forward the language in the 1917 Act authorizing interpleader where adverse claimants "may claim" benefits as well as where they "are claiming" them. [Footnote 10] In 1948, however, in the revision of the Judicial Code, the "may claim" language was restored. [Footnote 11] Until the decision below, every court confronted by the question has concluded that the 1948 revision removed whatever requirement there might previously have been that the insurance company

Page 386 U. S. 533

wait until at least two claimants reduced their claims to judgments. [Footnote 12] The commentators are in accord. [Footnote 13]

Considerations of judicial administration demonstrate the soundness of this view which, in any event, seems compelled by the language of the present statute, which is remedial and to be liberally construed. Were an insurance company required to await reduction of claims to judgment, the first claimant to obtain such a judgment or to negotiate a settlement might appropriate all or a disproportionate slice of the fund before his fellow claimants were able to establish their claims. The difficulties such a race to judgment pose for the insurer, [Footnote 14] and the unfairness which may result to some claimants, were among the principal evils the interpleader device was intended to remedy. [Footnote 15]

III

The fact that State Farm had properly invoked the interpleader jurisdiction under § 1335 did not, however, entitle it to an order both enjoining prosecution of suits against it outside the confines of the interpleader proceeding and also extending such protection to its insured, the alleged tortfeasor. Still less was Greyhound Lines entitled to have that order expanded so as to protect itself and its driver, also alleged to be tortfeasors, from suits brought by its passengers in various state or federal courts. Here, the scope of the litigation, in terms of

Page 386 U. S. 534

parties and claims, was vastly more extensive than the confines of the "fund," the deposited proceeds of the insurance policy. In these circumstances, the mere existence of such a fund cannot, by use of interpleader, be employed to accomplish purposes that exceed the needs of orderly contest with respect to the fund.

There are situations, of a type not present here, where the effect of interpleader is to confine the total litigation to a single forum and proceeding. One such case is where a stakeholder, faced with rival claims to the fund itself, acknowledges -- or denies -- his liability to one or the other of the claimants. [Footnote 16] In this situation, the fund itself is the target of the claimants. It marks the outer limits of the controversy. It is, therefore, reasonable and sensible that interpleader, in discharge of its office to protect the fund, should also protect the stakeholder from vexatious and multiple litigation. In this context, the suits sought to be enjoined are squarely within the language of 28 U.S.C. § 2361, which provides in part:

"In any civil action of interpleader or in the nature of interpleader under section 1335 of this title, a district court may issue its process for all claimants and enter its order restraining them from instituting or prosecuting any proceeding in any State or United States court affecting the property, instrument or obligation involved in the interpleader action. . . ."

(Emphasis added.)

But the present case is another matter. Here, an accident has happened. Thirty-five passengers or their representatives have claims which they wish to press against a variety of defendants: the bus company, its driver, the owner of the truck, and the truck driver. The circumstance that one of the prospective defendants happens

Page 386 U. S. 535

to have an insurance policy is a fortuitous event which should not of itself shape the nature of the ensuing litigation. For example, a resident of California, injured in California aboard a bus owned by a California corporation, should not be forced to sue that corporation anywhere but in California simply because another prospective defendant carried an insurance policy. And an insurance company whose maximum interest in the case cannot exceed $20,000 and who, in fact, asserts that it has no interest at all, should not be allowed to determine that dozens of tort plaintiffs must be compelled to press their claims -- even those claims which are not against the insured and which in no event could be satisfied out of the meager insurance fund -- in a single forum of the insurance company's choosing. There is nothing in the statutory scheme, and very little in the judicial and academic commentary upon that scheme, which requires that the tail be allowed to wag the dog in this fashion.

State Farm's interest in this case, which is the fulcrum of the interpleader procedure, is confined to its $20,000 fund. That interest receives full vindication when the court restrains claimants from seeking to enforce against the insurance company any judgment obtained against its insured, except in the interpleader proceeding itself. To the extent that the District Court sought to control claimants' lawsuits against the insured and other alleged tortfeasors, it exceeded the powers granted to it by the statutory scheme.

We recognize, of course, that our view of interpleader means that it cannot be used to solve all the vexing problems of multiparty litigation arising out of a mass tort. But interpleader was never intended to perform such a function, to be an all-purpose "bill of peace." [Footnote 17] Had

Page 386 U. S. 536

it been so intended, careful provision would necessarily have been made to insure that a party with little or no interest in the outcome of a complex controversy should not strip truly interested parties of substantial rights -- such as the right to choose the forum in which to establish their claims, subject to generally applicable rules of jurisdiction, venue, service of process, removal, and change of venue. None of the legislative and academic sponsors of a modern federal interpleader device viewed their accomplishment as a "bill of peace," capable of sweeping dozens of lawsuits out of the various state and federal courts in which they were brought and into a single interpleader proceeding. And only in two reported instances has a federal interpleader court sought to control the underlying litigation against alleged tortfeasors, as opposed to the allocation of a fund among successful tort plaintiffs. See Commercial Union Insurance Co. of New York v. Adams, 231 F.Supp. 860 (D.C.S.D. Ind.1964) (where there was virtually no objection and where all of the basic tort suits would, in any event, have been prosecuted in the forum state), and Pan American Fire Casualty Co. v. Revere, 188 F.Supp. 474 (D.C.E.D.La.1960). Another district court, on the other hand, has recently held that it lacked statutory authority to

Page 386 U. S. 537

enjoin suits against the alleged tortfeasor, as opposed to proceedings against the fund itself. Travelers Indemnity Co. v. Greyhound Lines, Inc., 260 F.Supp. 530 (D.C.W.D.La.1966).

In light of the evidence that federal interpleader was not intended to serve the function of a "bill of peace" in the context of multiparty litigation arising out of a mass tort, of the anomalous power which such a construction of the statute would give the stakeholder, and of the thrust of the statute and the purpose it was intended to serve, we hold that the interpleader statute did not authorize the injunction entered in the present case. Upon remand, the injunction is to be modified consistently with this opinion. [Footnote 18]

Page 386 U. S. 538

IV

The judgment of the Court of Appeals is reversed, and the case is remanded to the United States District Court for proceedings consistent with this opinion.

It is so ordered.

[Footnote 1]

28 U.S.C. § 1335(a) provides:

"The district courts shall have original jurisdiction of any civil action of interpleader or in the nature of interpleader filed by any person, firm, or corporation, association, or society having in his or its custody or possession money or property of the value of $500 or more, or having issued a . . . policy of insurance . . . of value or amount of $50 or more . . . if"

"(1) Two or more adverse claimants, of diverse citizenship as defined in section 1332 of this title, are claiming or may claim to be entitled to such money or property, or to any one or more of the benefits arising by virtue of any . . . policy . . . , and if (2) the plaintiff has . . . paid . . . the amount due under such obligation into the registry of the court, there to abide the judgment of the court. . . ."

[Footnote 2]

28 U.S.C. § 1292(a)(1).

[Footnote 3]

We need not pass upon the Court of Appeals' conclusions with respect to the interpretation of interpleader under Rule 22, which provides that

"(1) Persons having claims against the plaintiff may be joined as defendants and required to interplead when their claims are such that the plaintiff is or may be exposed to double or multiple liability. . . ."

First, as we indicate today, this action was properly brought under § 1335. Second, State Farm did not purport to invoke Rule 22. Third, State Farm could not have invoked it in light of venue and service of process limitations. Whereas statutory interpleader may be brought in the district where any claimant resides (28 U.S.C. § 1397), Rule interpleader based upon diversity of citizenship may be brought only in the district where all plaintiffs or all defendants reside (28 U.S.C. § 1391(a)). And whereas statutory interpleader enables a plaintiff to employ nationwide service of process (28 U.S.C. § 2361), service of process under Rule 22 is confined to that provided in Rule 4. See generally 3 Moore, Federal Practice

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