The opinion of the court was delivered by: HERMAN
This is an interpleader action
which requires resolution of two unsettled areas of the law:
(2) Whether there exists an absolute prohibition on an interpleader cross-claim which does not directly involve the interpleader fund.
The Jefferson Standard Insurance Company paid $36,799 into the registry of the court, being the total liability on five life insurance policies on the life of the late Clifton A. Craven. The insurance company named Elsie A. Craven, the widow, and her sons David and Robert as nominal defendants.
Once the issue was joined Jefferson Standard moved for summary judgment against the defendants. The court determined that no dispute existed as to the amount of Jefferson Standard's liability; granted summary judgment to Jefferson Standard and retained the fund less $1,615.73 to Jefferson for costs and counsel fees. Mrs. Craven and her two sons, David Clifton Blain Craven and Robert Brent Craven are embroiled in a dispute as to who has rightful claim on the proceeds.
In actuality Mrs. Craven is the true plaintiff, asserting that her adult sons wrongfully induced their late father to eliminate their mother as beneficiary, placing them in her stead. In addition, Mrs. Craven has cross-claimed seeking $13,000 from her son Robert on a similar charge arising out of a Civil Service insurance policy.
The details of the dispute are not here relevant. Suffice it to say that Mr. Craven changed the beneficiaries during a period when he was allegedly terminally ill and lacking the necessary mental ability to change the beneficiaries. Any factual matters regarding undue influence or the mental state of Mr. Craven must await a later determination. However, the question as to who shall be the fact finder is now at issue. Mrs. Craven has demanded a jury trial on the issue of her sons' alleged undue influence. The two sons have moved to strike the demand for a jury trial. They have further moved to strike the cross-claim covering the Civil Service policy.
As noted, the court has discharged the interpleading insurance company from further liability, leaving only the ownership of the proceeds at issue.
This court views the jury trial issue in the spirit of Dimick v. Schiedt, 293 U.S. 474, 486, 55 S. Ct. 296, 301, 79 L. Ed. 603 (1935) wherein the court wrote:
"Maintenance of the jury as a factfinding body is of such importance and occupies so firm a place in our history and jurisprudence that any seeming curtailment of the right to a jury trial should be scrutinized with the utmost care."
The sons argue that interpleader is for all purposes an equitable action. In other words, once an interpleader always an interpleader. It seems unquestionable that the matter of whether the initial interpleading is to be permitted is an equitable inquiry for the court. This court has already studied that segment of the case and disposed of it. The second stage involves the resolution of disputes amongst possible claimants to the fund now held by the Clerk of ...