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METROPOLITAN LIFE INS. CO. v. MASON

December 28, 1937

METROPOLITAN LIFE INS. CO.
v.
MASON et al.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: MARIS

This is a bill filed by the plaintiff under the Interpleader Act of 1936, 28 U.S.C. § 41(26), 28 U.S.C.A. § 41(26). It appears from the bill that the plaintiff issued two policies of insurance on the life of defendant James H. Mason. One of these was for the face amount of $210 and the other for the face amount of $416, the total being $626. The total cash surrender value of the two policies is $130.98.

Defendant James H. Mason, a citizen of Pennsylvania, has instituted suit against the plaintiff in the municipal court of Philadelphia to recover the cash surrender value of the two policies, the payment of which has been refused to him by the plaintiff. Defendant Mance Mason, a citizen of South Carolina, by written notice given to the plaintiff has alleged that he is the owner of the two policies and is legally entitled to the rights, benefits, and privileges therein conferred and provided for, that he has at all times and is now paying the premiums due on said policies, that he is in possession of the premium receipt books, and that defendant James H. Mason took the policies from his possession without his permission and consequently has no right, title, or interest to them or to the rights, benefits, and privileges conferred and provided by them. Defendant Mance Mason, having disclosed these facts, has directed the plaintiff to make no payments of any benefits accruing under the policies to defendant James H. Mason.

 Plaintiff has moved for a temporary injunction restraining defendant James H. Mason from further prosecuting his suit against it and for a decree requiring the defendants to interplead. Defendant James H. Mason opposes the motion on the ground that this court has no jurisdiction of the bill.

 The question is thus whether this court has jurisdiction. By the Interpleader Act of 1936, 28 U.S.C. § 41(26), 28 U.S.C.A. § 41(26), jurisdiction is conferred upon the District Courts:

 "(a) Of suits in equity begun by bills of interpleader or bills in the nature of bills of interpleader duly verified, filed by any person, firm, 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 note, bond, certificate, policy of insurance, or other instrument of the value or amount of $500 or more, or providing for the delivery or payment or the loan of money or property of such amount or value, or being under any obligation written or unwritten to the amount of $500 or more, if --

 "(i) Two or more adverse claimants, citizens of different States, are claiming to be entitled to such money or property, or to any one or more of the benefits arising by virtue of any note, bond, certificate, policy, or other instrument, or arising by virtue of any such obligation; and

 "(ii) The complainant (a) has deposited such money or property or has paid the amount of or the loan or other value of such instrument or the amount due under such obligation into the registry of the court, there to abide the judgment of the court; or (b) has given bond payable to the clerk of the court in such amount and with such surety as the court or judge may deem proper, conditioned upon the compliance by the complainant with the future order or decree of the court with respect to the subject matter of the controversy.

 "Such a suit in equity may be entertained although the titles or claims of the conflicting claimants do not have a common origin, or are not identical, but are adverse to and independent of one another."

 It will be seen that the act confers jurisdiction of bills of interpleader in the following two classes of cases:

 (1) Where the plaintiff has in its custody or possession money or property of the value of $500 or more and two or more adverse claimants, citizens of different states, are claiming to be entitled to such money or property; and

 Clearly the suit does not come within the first class which relates only to money or property in custody or possession, since here the plaintiff does not claim to have in its custody or possession any money or property belonging to either defendant. On the contrary, this is a case where the plaintiff has issued a policy of insurance. It must, therefore, be shown to come within the second class if our jurisdiction is to be sustained.

 The defendant argues, however, that it does not come within that class because, while the face amount of the policies in question is more than $500, their present cash surrender value is very much less than that amount. It will be noted, however, that the statute refers to policies of insurance of the value or amount of $500 or more. Giving effect to the canon of statutory construction that each word in the statute must be given a distinct meaning if possible, we construe the word "value" to mean the present or cash surrender value of the policy and the word "amount" to mean the face amount or the amount payable in case of death. So construed, it is clear that the plaintiff has brought itself within ...


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