Interpleader: Meaning, proceedings and everything you need to know

In a situation whereby two or more people claiming for the ownership right of a certain property which is in possession of another person, the person who is in the possession of that property may seek the help of the court to decide who is the rightful owner of the disputed property.

In law, the process which allows that person to institute the case is called an interpleader proceedings and the case filled is called interpleader suit.

    NB: This post is relevant to all common law jurisdictions; however, for the purpose of clarification and authority, I will use Tanzania law and Indian precedents to backup my points.

     Law Govern Interpleader Proceedings in Tanzania

    The law which governs interpleader proceedings in Tanzania is Civil Procedure Code Cap 33 CPC (Section 63 read together with Order XXXIII)

    You should look the provisions of the Civil Procedure Act/Code  in your country for relevant insights.

    Interpleader Definition

    Interpleader refers to the suit in which the dispute is not between the plaintiff and defendant but between the defendants who claim over the property which is in the plaintiff’s possession.

    Mulla in his wonderful book, Code of Civil Procedure stated that

    An interpleader suit is a suit in which the real dispute is not between a plaintiff and a defendant but between the defendants who interplead against each other; unlike in an ordinary suit in an interpleader suit, the plaintiff is not really interested in the subject matter of the suit.

    Further Section 63 of CPC provides that

    Where two or more persons claim adversely to one another the same debt, sum of money or other property, movable or immovable, from another person who claims no interest therein other than for charges or costs and who is ready to pay or deliver it to the rightful claimant, such other person may institute a suit of interpleader against all the claimants for the purpose of obtaining a decision as to the person to whom the payment or delivery shall be made and of obtaining indemnity for himself:                      

    Have you got it right? If not consider the following example

    Assume you have a shop, X come to your shop, after a long shopping he forgot his bag and left. You don’t know the owner but you decided to keep the bag. Later on, Y come to your shop, see the bag and claim it is his bag for the reasons known only to him. Suddenly X return to your shop and ask for his bag. Now you are in possession of the bag, you claim no interest in the bag and you’re willing to hand it over to the rightful owner. The bag claimed by X and Y. In this situation, you may file an interpleader suit against X and Y so the court may decide as to who is the rightful owner of the bag as between X and Y.

    Who may institute Interpleader suit

    The person who has the legal right (locus stand) to file an interpleader suit is the one who is in possession of the disputed property but has no interest to it and he is ready to deliver it to the rightful owner.

    Who May Not Institute  Interpleader Suit

    There are certain people who have been precluded to institute an interpleader suit by law.

    Generally, agents cannot institute interpleader suit against their principles and tenants cannot institute interpleader suit against their landlords.

    Conditions to Institute Interpleader Suit

    The following are the conditions which must be satisfied before an interpleader suit can be instituted.

    • There must be a property in dispute. (ie. some debt, sum of money or other property movable or immovable)
    • Two or more persons claiming it must be adversely to one another
    • The person in possession of that property must not be claiming an interest therein other than the charges and costs and he must be ready and willing to pay or deliver it to the rightful claimant/owner
    • There must be no pending suit where the ownership of disputed property between the claimants can properly be decided.
    • There must be no collusion between the plaintiff and any of the defendants.

    NB. In interpleader suit the plaintiff must be in a neutral position. Otherwise, he cannot file an interpleader suit.

    In the case of Jugnath vTulka (1908) 32 Bom.592 it was held that

    A person who has taken an indemnity from one of the claimants is not entitled to file an interpleader suit,

    In that case, A had a sum of Rs.10, 000 which sum was claimed from him both by X and Y, adversely to each other. A instituted an interpleader suit against X and Y.

    It was found at the hearing that A had entered into an agreement with X before the suit was instituted, that if X succeeded in the suit, he would accept from A, R.s 7,500 only in full of the satisfaction of his claim.

    Here A had an interest in the subject matter of the suit by virtue of his agreement with X. He was therefore not entitled to institute an interpleader suit and accordingly his suit was dismissed.

    The rationale for Interpleader Suit

    • The rationale behind filing an interpleader suit is to get claims of the rival defendants adjudicated.

    That was clearly stated in the case of Groundnuts Extractions Export Development Assn.v State Bank of India (1977) 79 Bom LR 184.

    • It is the process wherein the plaintiff calls upon the rival claimants to appear before the court and get their claims decided.

    • The decision of the court in an interpleader suit affords an indemnity to the plaintiff on the payment of money or delivery of property to the person whose claim has been upheld by the court

    Plaint in Interpleader Suits and Proceedings

    In every interpleader suit, the plaint shall in addition to other statements necessary for plaints state

    • that the plaintiff claims no interest in the subject matter in dispute other than for charges or costs;
    • that the claims made by the defendants severally
    • that there is no collusion between the plaintiff and any of the defendants.

    • After institution of the suit the court may order the plaintiff to deposit the amount or place of property in the custody of the court before he can be entitled to any order in the suit

    • At the first hearing court declare that the plaintiff is discharged from all liability, award him costs and dismiss him from the suit, but if the court thinks that justice so require it will retain all the parties until the final disposal of the suit

    • On the basis of the evidence available the court may adjudicate the title of the thing claimed. Where it is not possible, the court may direct that an issue or issues between the parties be framed and tried, one of the claimants be made a plaintiff and the suit shall proceed in an ordinary manner

    Sample of Plaint in Interpleader Suits


    AT …………………….

    CIVIL CASE NO     OF 20…

    A                                                                                             PLAINTIFF


    X                                                                                                         1st DEFENDANT
    Y                                                                                                         2nd DEFENDANT
    Z                                                                                                          3rd DEFENDANT


    The above-named plaintiff states as follows:

    1. Before the date of the claims hereinafter mentioned, X deposited with the plaintiff 50,000 for safekeeping.

    1. The defendant Y claims the same under an alleged assignment thereof to him from X.

    1. The defendant Z also claims the same under an order of X transferring the same to him.

    1. The plaintiff is ignorant of the respective rights of the defendants

    1. The plaintiff has no claim upon the said amount other than for charges and costs and is ready and willing to deliver it to such persons as the Court shall direct

    1. The suit is not brought by collusion with either of the defendants

    1. Facts as to when the cause of action arose

    1. Facts as to the jurisdiction of the court

    WHEREOF the plaintiff claims:

      1. That the defendants are restrained by injunctions, from taking any proceedings against the plaintiff in relation thereto;
      2. That they be required to interplead together concerning their claims to the said property;
      3. That some person be authorized to receive the said property pending such litigation;’
      1. That upon delivering the same to such person, the plaintiff be discharged from all liability to either of the defendants in relation thereto.

    I do hereby verify that all that is stated above in paragraphs 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 and 8 are true according to the best of my knowledge.

    Presented for filling this____day of                          20...




    This post was about interpleader suit. It covered the meaning of interpleader suit, conditions to institute interpleader suit, who may and may not institute interpleader suit, the rationale of interpleader suit, plaint, and proceeding in interpleader suit.

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