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Regions Bank v. Lamb

United States District Court, E.D. Arkansas, Western Division

February 28, 2017

REGIONS BANK, Plaintiff,
v.
ARBERTDELLA LAMB and NANCY HAMPTON, as Administratrix for The Estate of Willie Townsel, Defendants. NANCY HAMPTON, as Administratrix for The Estate of Willie Townsel, Cross-Claimant,
v.
ARBERTDELLA LAMB, Cross-Defendant.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          SUSAN WEBBER WRIGHT UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Regions Bank, an Alabama Banking Corporation, brought this interpleader action pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 22 to resolve competing claims of ownership of funds in the amount of $80, 677.87 that were on deposit in a checking account with Regions (Account No. xxxx-0886) but have now been paid into the registry of the Court.[1] Nancy Hampton, an Arkansas resident and Admistratix for the Estate of Willie Townsel, a deceased former resident of Arkansas, and ArbertDella Lamb, also an Arkansas resident, both claim ownership of the funds.[2] Hampton has filed a cross-claim against Lamb claiming that she is the rightful owner of the funds. Regions has since been discharged from this action.

         Now before the Court is a motion of Lamb for summary judgment [doc.#37]. Hampton has responded in opposition to Lamb's motion and Lamb has filed a reply to Hampton's response. For the reasons that follow, the Court grants Lamb's motion for summary judgment.

         I.

         On May 18, 2009, Townsel and Lamb opened a checking account-Account No. xxxx0886-with Regions. The account was titled “Willie Townsel or ArbertDella Lamb.” Townsel and Lamb were brother and sister. Hampton was Townsel's daughter.

         The contractual rights and duties of Regions, Townsel, and Lamb with respect to the account were set forth in a written Deposit Agreement. The Deposit Agreement provides in pertinent part as follows:

If your account is a personal account and has more than one name on it, we will treat it as a joint tenant account with right of survivorship (to the extent such accounts are recognized under applicable law) unless otherwise expressly designated on the signature card or other account records.

Deposit Agreement at ¶ 23.

         On April 4, 2014, Townsel died at age 66. Approximately three weeks later, on April 23, 2014, Lamb presented Townsel's death certificate to Regions and requested that the account be changed to her name alone. Regions granted Lamb's request after searching its account records and not finding any express designation or any other evidence that would alter the presumption that the account at all times was a joint tenant account with right of survivorship (JTWRS).

         On April 28, 2014, Hampton petitioned the Circuit Court of Crittenden County, Arkansas, to administer Townsel's estate and be appointed his personal representative. On April 30, 2014, the circuit court granted Hampton's petition and appointed her administratrix of Townsel's estate.[3] The following day, May 1, 2014, Regions received written demand from Ronald Wilson, an attorney representing Hampton, that the account be “frozen” until the rightful owners of the account funds could be determined by a state court.

         By letter dated June 24, 2014, Eric Buchanan, an attorney representing Lamb, informed Regions that because Townsel and Lamb owned the account JTWRS, Lamb became the sole owner of the account when Townsel died. Buchanan asked Regions “[o]n what legal authority has the account being [sic] seized?”

         In an email to Wilson dated July 22, 2014, Regions informed Wilson that the account was being treated as JTWRS and that it was not aware of any basis to abide by his request that the account be frozen. Regions requested that Wilson either reiterate and detail his request that Regions leave the freeze on the account or that he withdraw his request. When Wilson did not respond, Regions, by email dated August 5, 2014, informed him that it would appreciate an update on the matter and that if it did not hear from him, Regions would evaluate its options on moving forward without his input.

         In an email to Regions dated August 14, 2014, Wilson stated he was informed that Townsel left a Last Will and Testament which he was attempting to locate and that the best course of action was to interplead the account funds in state court until it could be determined who was the rightful owner of the funds. However, in her petition to the circuit court to administer Townsel's estate, Hampton stated that Townsel died intestate. In granting Hampton's petition, the circuit court likewise stated that Townsel died intestate. In her cross-claim against Lamb, Hampton does not mention a will but states she is the rightful owner of the funds “based on a constructive trust theory and other applicable common law and statutory law.”

         By letter dated August 15, 2014, Buchanan, referencing Hampton's petition to the circuit court to administer Townsel's estate and the circuit court's order granting same, informed Regions that Townsel died intestate and that because the Deposit Agreement required the account to be treated as JTWRS, it was unnecessary to interplead the funds. Buchanan stated he ...


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