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Wegmans Food Markets, Inc. v. Ancoma

April 10, 2006

WEGMANS FOOD MARKETS, INC., PLAINTIFF,
v.
ANCOMA, INC., ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: David G. Larimer United States District Judge

DECISION AND ORDER INTRODUCTION

Plaintiff, Wegmans Food Markets, Inc. ("Wegmans"), filed a complaint for statutory interpleader on January 30, 2006 pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1335. On that same day, Wegmans moved, ex parte, for this Court to treat this case as a proper interpleader action and direct the United States Marshal to serve the numerous defendants listed in the complaint.*fn1 Wegmans also requested an order restraining all claimants from instituting any proceeding affecting the financial obligation at issue. (28 U.S.C. § 2361).

On February 22, 2006, the Court denied Wegmans' ex parte motion, and ordered it to show cause as to why this case is a proper interpleader action. (Dkt. #2). Wegmans filed an affidavit with exhibits and a memorandum of law in response. (Dkt. #4). The Court has reviewed Wegmans' submissions, and finds that dismissal of the complaint for interpleader is warranted.

FACTUAL BACKGROUND

Between March 1, 2005 and September 21, 2005, Ancoma, Inc. ("Ancoma") performed construction and maintenance repair work at Wegmans stores in New York and Maryland pursuant to various agreements between Wegmans and Ancoma. Ancoma, in turn, subcontracted with thirty-three of the named defendants ("the labor and materialmen defendants") to provide labor and materials to Ancoma for the work at various Wegmans' stores.

Wegmans represents that Ancoma ceased business operations in September 2005 and now is insolvent. Wegmans acknowledges that under its outstanding agreements with Ancoma, it currently owes Ancoma payment for the work Ancoma performed at the various stores. Wegmans claims that this amount is $330,750 and refers to it as the "Ancoma Payable." Wegmans also represents that Ancoma did not paid the labor and materialmen defendants pursuant to its subcontracts with them. According to Wegmans, Ancoma still owes "in excess of $280,000" to the labor and materialmen defendants. (Affidavit of April Purdie, ¶11).

Since Ancoma ceased business operations, Wegmans has been receiving calls and correspondence from some of the defendants seeking payment from Wegmans as owner of the improved premises for the debts owed by Ancoma. Three such defendants have already filed notices of mechanics' liens against Wegmans' real property.

In addition, defendant Hudson United Bancorp ("Hudson United") claims to have a security interest in all of Ancoma's accounts receivables. Hudson United, through both a collection agency and legal counsel, has sought payment from Wegmans of the entire $330,750 Ancoma Payable Wegmans still allegedly owes Ancoma. It is unclear, though, what amount of the indebtedness is between Ancoma and Hudson United.

Wegmans claims that it is "ready, willing and able to pay the Ancoma Payable to the appropriate party," but it cannot determine whether "the superior claim to the Ancoma Payable" is held by the labor and materialmen defendants or by Hudson United. Wegmans claims that it fears that payment of the Ancoma Payable to either the thirty-three labor and materialmen or to Hudson United "will expose Wegmans to potential double liability." Consequently, it seeks interpleader relief in federal court.

DISCUSSION

The purpose of interpleader is to avoid multiple, conflicting claims to a single, identifiable fund by forcing all claimants to resolve their competing claims in a single action before one court. See State Farm Fire & Casualty Co. v. Tashire, 386 U.S. 523, 530 (1967); Ashton v. Josephine Bay Paul and C. Michael Paul Found., Inc., 918 F.2d 1065, 1068 (2d Cir.1990). In short, interpleader "protect[s] plaintiff[] from multiple lawsuits involving singular liability." North American Marketing Corp. v. K. Gronbach & Assoc., Inc., 221 F.R.D. 296, 298 (D.Conn.2002).

The first task in any interpleader action is to determine whether a plaintiff has met the prerequisites for statutory interpleader pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1335. See New York Life Ins. Co. v. Connecticut Dev. Auth., 700 F.2d 91, 95 (2d Cir.1983). In this regard, Wegmans must establish that: (1) there are two or more "adverse" claimants, (2) who assert competing interests in, or entitlement to, (3) a single, identifiable fund.

Wegmans concedes that it has the burden of proving entitlement to invoke statutory interpleader. See, e.g., Rubinbaum LLP v. Related Corporate Partners V, L.P., 154 F.Supp.2d 481, 486 (S.D.N.Y.2001). I find that Wegmans has failed to make the requisite showing that interpleader is appropriate in this case. As discussed below, I am not persuaded that this case involves a "single, identifiable fund" or "stake." Nor am I persuaded ...


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