An Historical and Critical Analysis of Interpleader

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The argument in these pages is as follows: First, until the end of the eighteenth century there was no settled body of rules concerning the conditions under which interpleader might be available to a party who found himself confronted with competing claims. The course of the Court of Chancery consisted of an accepted tradition of practice and a few general precepts. The rules that came to be accepted in the nineteenth century as the rules of interpleader were developed in a dozen or so English decisions between 1790 and 1840 which upon reexamination look unconvincing.

Second, the expressions of opinion in the earlier English decisions were thereafter compressed into a black-letter mold that was at the same time simplistic and distorting. In part this process occurred in the development of doctrine in the nineteenth century cases. In part it occurred in the work of the text writers. Specifically, the four supposed "essential elements" for maintaining interpleader propounded by Pomeroy in his treatise, Equity Jurisprudence, are the product of uncritical reading and uncritical thinking. This process of compression appears in retrospect to be the consequence of the legal point of view, widely encountered in the nineteenth century, that combined a reverence for precedent with an insensitivity to the realities of history; all cases were read as though they were decided aright, and at about the same time. If it is recognized that the early cases were not all decided at the same time, and the assumption is indulged that judges in the past were as puzzled, as prone to rhetorical expedient and as occasionally slipshod as they are now, the precedents appear of less determinate authority. Indeed, it seems not too much to say that one can advance as far by considering the problem of interpleader as an original proposition as by assuming that any part of the traditional doctrine of interpleader makes really good sense.

Third, and here we proceed analytically rather than historically, a satisfactory statement of the conditions under which interpleader ought to be allowed is no simple task. The approach that seems most effective, though perhaps not most direct, is by a series of propositions which indicates that the strength of the interest in granting the man in the middle a way out of his dilemma is determined by the kind of dilemma he is in and how he got there. We shall undertake to state those propositions in the concluding portion of the paper. We begin with the historical account.


The article is found at http://scholarship.law.berkeley.edu