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Aetna Life Ins. Co. v. Strickland

OCTOBER 8, 1975.

AETNA LIFE INSURANCE COMPANY, INC., PLAINTIFF-APPELLEE,

v.

OTIS STRICKLAND, ADM'R, ET AL., DEFENDANTS. — (VALERIE PHYLLIS STRICKLAND, A/K/A VALERIA PHYLLIS TURKSTRA, ET AL., DEFENDANTS-APPELLANTS.)



APPEAL from the Circuit Court of Cook County; the Hon. DONALD J. O'BRIEN, Judge, presiding.

MR. JUSTICE ADESKO DELIVERED THE OPINION OF THE COURT:

This is an appeal from certain orders of the Circuit Court of Cook County entered in an interpleader action brought in chancery to determine the rightful claimants to the proceeds of a life insurance policy. Appeal is also taken from an order entered dismissing an action at law (which had been consolidated with the interpleader action) brought by certain claimants to recover the proceeds of the policy.

On February 11, 1974, an interpleader complaint was filed in chancery by appellee, Aetna Life Insurance Co., Inc. (Aetna), naming two groups of beneficiaries as having adverse claims to the proceeds of a group life insurance policy providing coverage on the life of the decedent, James T. Strickland. The complaint in interpleader was filed against: Otis Strickland, administrator of the estate of decedent; Valerie Phyllis Strickland, a/k/a Valeria Phyllis Turkstra; David James Strickland (David), a minor, and Steven Strickland (Steven), a minor, a/k/a Richard Henry Turkstra, by and through Otto J. Nerad, guardian of the estates of said minors; and Renate Eaton, a/k/a Renate Strickland. The complaint alleged that all of the individuals named were making claims for the proceeds of the policy and prayed that Aetna be allowed to deposit the proceeds with the court and be discharged from further liability under the insurance policy.

Valeria P. Strickland and Otto J. Nerad, guardian of the estates of the two minors, filed an action at law against Aetna to recover the proceeds of the insurance policy. Subsequently, they also moved to dismiss the complaint in interpleader, asserting that no real dispute existed regarding the right to the proceeds.

On April 30, 1974, Michael J. Madigan and Philip H. Mitchel were appointed to act as guardians ad litem for David and Steven respectively in the interpleader action.

Valeria P. Strickland (Valeria) and Otto J. Nerad (Otto) moved to vacate these appointments; however, following submission of memoranda of law, both this motion as well as their prior motion to dismiss the complaint in interpleader were denied on June 25, 1974.

On July 2, 1974, the action at law brought by Valeria and Otto was consolidated with the interpleader action. That same day, an order was entered finding the interpleader petition to be properly filed and allowing Aetna to deposit the proceeds with the clerk of the court.

Prior to July 24, 1974, Valeria and Otto filed a petition for removal of the consolidated cause to the United States District Court. On Aetna's motion the United States District Court remanded the cause to the Circuit Court of Cook County.

Valeria and Otto subsequently moved to dismiss the interpleader action on the ground that a necessary party had not been joined. Meanwhile, Aetna had moved for orders discharging it from the interpleader cause, restraining the interpleaded parties from prosecuting any further actions against Aetna, and dismissing the complaint at law.

On September 4, 1974, the trial court entered orders dismissing the complaint at law, denying the motion to dismiss the interpleader complaint for improper joinder, discharging Aetna from the interpleader cause, and restraining the interpleaded parties from prosecuting any further actions against Aetna.

It is from these orders, as well as the prior orders relating to the appointment of the guardians ad litem and the deposit of funds that Valeria and Otto (hereinafter also referred to as appellants) appeal.

The first question raised by appellants is whether plaintiff's complaint states a cause of action in interpleader. Appellants argue that the complaint in interpleader does not "allege any facts showing that there are adverse claimants who are making claims against [the] proceeds * * * which [claims] are not utterly baseless." Appellants do not contend that the complaint fails to allege the existence of adverse claims.

Section 26.2 of the Civil Practice Act (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1973, ch. 110, par. 26.2) provides that a cause of action in interpleader exists when persons have claims against the plaintiff arising out of the same subject matter and those claims may expose the plaintiff to double liability. The Civil Practice Act provides that the act is to be liberally construed (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1973, ch. 110, par. 4) and that pleadings shall be liberally construed to do substantial justice between the parties (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1973, ch. 110, par. 33(3)).

• 1, 2 A purpose of the interpleader is to relieve the stakeholder of the burden and peril of weighing the relative merits of the adverse claims. The stakeholder usually does not know the facts behind the adverse claims, and those facts which are known are usually in conflict. Moreover, the stakeholder does not possess the legal knowledge necessary to evaluate those facts. Therefore, this court does not believe that a stakeholder need allege in his interpleader complaint that the adverse claims are not utterly baseless. To do so would be contrary to the purpose and spirit of the interpleader doctrine. An additional purpose of interpleader is to relieve the stakeholder of the harassment and expense of adverse claims. Even when baseless claims are asserted against a stakeholder, they nevertheless must be defended. We believe the interpleader doctrine was ...


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