449 U.S. 155 (1980), 79-1033, Webb's Fabulous Pharmacies, Inc. v. Beckwith

Docket Nº:No. 79-1033
Citation:449 U.S. 155, 101 S.Ct. 446, 66 L.Ed.2d 358
Party Name:Webb's Fabulous Pharmacies, Inc. v. Beckwith
Case Date:December 09, 1980
Court:United States Supreme Court
 
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Page 155

449 U.S. 155 (1980)

101 S.Ct. 446, 66 L.Ed.2d 358

Webb's Fabulous Pharmacies, Inc.

v.

Beckwith

No. 79-1033

United States Supreme Court

Dec. 9, 1980

Argued October 14, 15, 1980

APPEAL FROM THE SUPREE COURT OF FLORIDA

Syllabus

Held: Appellee county's taking as its own, under the authority of a Florida statute, the interest accruing on an interpleader fund deposited in the registry of a county court was a taking violative of the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments where a fee, based on the amount of the principal deposited [101 S.Ct. 448] as prescribed by another Florida statute, was also charged for the court clerk's services in receiving the fund into the registry, and where the deposited fund was concededly private, and was required by statute in order for the depositor to avail itself of statutory protection from the claims of creditors and others. Neither the Florida Legislature, by statute, nor the Florida courts, by judicial decree, may accomplish the result the county sought simply by recharacterizing the principal of the deposited fund as "public money" because it was held temporarily by the court. The earnings of the fund are incidents of ownership of the fund itself, and are property just as the fund itself is property. Pp. 159-165.

374 So.2d 951, reversed.

BLACKMUN, J., delivered the opinion for a unanimous Court.

BLACKMUN, J., lead opinion

JUSTICE BLACKMUN delivered the opinion of the Court.

This case presents the issue whether it is constitutional for a county to take as its own, under the authority of a state statute, the interest accruing on an interpleader fund deposited in the registry of the county court when a fee, prescribed by another statute, is also charged for the clerk's

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services in receiving the fund into the registry. The statute which is the object of the constitutional challenge here is Fla.Stat. $ 28.33 (1977).1

I

On February 12, 1976, appellant Eckerd's of College Park, Inc., entered into an agreement to purchase for $ 1,812,145.77 substantially all the assets of Webb's Fabulous Pharmacies, Inc. Both Eckerd's and Webb's are Florida corporations. At the closing, Webb's debts appeared to be greater than the purchase price. Accordingly, in order to protect itself and as permitted by the Florida Bulk Transfers Act, Fla.Stat. $ 676.106(4) (1977),2 Eckerd's filed a complaint of interpleader in the Circuit Court of Seminole County, Fla., interpleading

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as defendant both Webb's and Webb's creditors (almost 200 in number) and tendering the purchase price to the court.

Pursuant to § 676.106(4), the Circuit Court thereupon ordered that the amount tendered be paid to the court's clerk and that the clerk deposit it "in an assignable interest-bearing account at the highest interest." App. 4a. The court specifically reserved decision on the issue of entitlement, as between the clerk and Webb's creditors, to the interest earned on the fund while so deposited, stating that the transfer to the clerk was without prejudice to the creditors' claims to that interest. Id. at 4a-5a. Eckerd's tendered the sum to the [101 S.Ct. 449] clerk on July 13, 1976, id. at 6a, and that official proceeded to make the required investment.

The clerk deducted from the interpleader fund so deposited the sum of $9,228.74 as his fee, prescribed by Fla.Stat. § 28.24(14) (1977),3 "for services rendered" for "receiving money into the registry of court." The fee, as the statute directed, was calculated upon the amount placed in the registry, that is, 1% of the first §500, and 1/2% of the remainder.

On July 5, 1977, almost a year after the tender and payment, the Circuit Court, upon its own motion,4 appointed a receiver for Webb's. Among the receiver's stated duties were

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the determination of the number and amount of claims filed against the interpleader fund and the preparation and filing with the court of a list of those claims. App. 9a. The receiver filed a motion for an order directing the clerk to deliver the fund to him. Id. at 12a. The motion was granted, id. at 14a, and the principal of the fund, reduced by the $9,228.74 statutory fee and by $40,200 that had been paid out pursuant to court order, was paid to the receiver on July 21. The interest earned on the interpleader fund while it was held by the clerk, but which was not turned over to the receiver, then exceeded $90,000. Interest earned thereafter on the amount so retained brought the total to more than $100,000, Tr. of Oral Arg. 34. It is this aggregate interest that is the subject matter of the present litigation. Appellants make no objection to the clerk's statutory fee of $9,228.74 taken pursuant to § 28.24(14). Tr. of Oral Arg. 6; Brief for Appellants 6, 9.

The receiver then moved that the court direct the Clerk to pay the accumulated interest to the receiver. App. 22a, 26a, 33a. The Circuit Court ruled favorably to the receiver, holding that the clerk

is not entitled to any interest earned, accrued or received on monies deposited in the registry of this Court pursuant to the Court's order . . . ; the creditors herein are the rightful parties entitled to all such interest earned on the interpleader fund while it is held by the Clerk of this Court.

Id. at 35a.

Seminole County and the clerk appealed to the Florida District Court of Appeal. That court transferred the cause to the Supreme Court of Florida. The Supreme Court, in a per curiam opinion with one justice dissenting in part, ruled that § 28.33 was "constitutional" and reversed the judgment of the Circuit Court. 374 So.2d 951 (1979). The stated rationale was that a fund so deposited is "considered `public money'" from the date of deposit...

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