This opinion will be unpublished and

may not be cited except as provided by

Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (1996).




Great Western Bank,



Wymon Henderson,


Filed June 9, 1998

Affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded

Klaphake, Judge

Hennepin County District Court

File No. 96-7009

Karna A. Berg, Kurt J. Neiderluecke, Briggs & Morgan, P.A., 2200 First National Bank Bldg., St. Paul, MN 55101 (for appellant)

Phillip Gainsley, Ste. 527, 701 Fourth Ave. S., Minneapolis, MN 55415 (for respondent)

Considered and decided by Willis, Presiding Judge, Klaphake, Judge, and Foley, Judge*.

*Retired judge of the Minnesota Court of Appeals, serving by appointment pursuant to Minn. Const. art. VI, § 10.



Appellant Great Western Bank (Great Western) argues that the district court erred by granting summary judgment for respondent Wymon Henderson, ruling that Great Western had no property interest in IRA funds it mistakenly paid to Henderson and that Great Western was not entitled to return of the funds under the theories of mistake and restitution, conversion, or civil theft. Henderson argues that the district court erred in deciding to award attorney fees and costs. We affirm in part, reverse in part, and remand with directions to enter summary judgment for Great Western.


Great Western sued Henderson for mistake and restitution, conversion, and civil theft, seeking to recover $95,949.99 that it mistakenly paid to him from an IRA fund it administered for Henderson's father, W.L. Henderson. Henderson originally had been named as the primary beneficiary, but on January 3, 1996, W.L. Henderson changed the primary beneficiary to his sister, Alease Green. W.L. Henderson died on January 27, 1996. Due to delayed paperwork processing, Great Western had not yet changed beneficiaries and issued a $95,949.99 cashier's check to Henderson. Shortly afterwards, Green requested payment of the funds as the designated primary beneficiary. Great Western then realized its mistake and demanded that Henderson return the funds. Henderson refused and instead placed the funds in an interest-bearing bank account.

Upon Great Western's motion, the district court stayed this action while Great Western brought a federal interpleader action in Florida. The federal district court granted summary judgment for Henderson, ruling that because Great Western did not currently possess the IRA funds, it did not meet the requirements of the federal interpleader statute.

In this action, the district court granted summary judgment in favor of Henderson, ruling that: (1) Great Western's mistake and restitution claims failed because, as trustee of the IRA funds, it had no ownership interest in the funds; (2) Great Western's conversion claim failed because it no longer had a possessory interest in the funds; and (3) Great Western's civil theft claim under the Florida civil theft statute was not enforceable in Minnesota as a matter of law. Following a hearing, the district court denied Henderson's motion for sanctions and ordered judgment entered, adjudicating all matters in this case. This appeal followed.


Res Judicata

Great Western argues that the district court erred when it gave res judicata effect to the federal district court's conclusion that Great Western had no property interest in the IRA funds. We agree. In granting summary judgment, the federal district court determined only whether the elements of the federal interpleader statute, 28 U.S.C. § 1335 (1994), had been satisfied. This statute, however, simply confers subject matter jurisdiction on federal district courts and does not establish any substantive rights. See Argentine Republic v. Amerada Hess Shipping Corp., 488 U.S. 428, 437, 109 S. Ct. 683, 690 (1989) (noting 28 U.S.C. § 1335 grants subject matter jurisdiction to federal district courts). Thus, when the federal district court found that the elements of the interpleader statute had not been satisfied, the court properly concluded that it did not have subject matter jurisdiction to hear Great Western's claims. "[A] dismissal for lack of subject matter jurisdiction is not an adjudication on the merits." Martinez v. Richardson, 472 F.2d 1121, 1126 n.13 (10th Cir. 1973); see Hauser v. Menley, 263 N.W.2d 803, 808 (Minn. 1978) ("a judgment rendered by a court which lacks subject matter jurisdiction to hear a case does not have the effect of res judicata"). Thus, the district court erred in giving res judicata effect to the federal district court's conclusion that Great Western had no property interest in the IRA funds.[1]


Great Western also argues that, as trustee of the IRA account, it has a sufficient property interest in the funds to sue for its recovery. An IRA is a trust account created or organized for the exclusive benefit of an individual or his beneficiaries, subject to federal regulation. 26 U.S.C. § 408(a) (1994). In Minnesota, a "trustee of an express trust * * *

may sue in that person's own name without joining the party for whose benefit the action is brought." Minn. R. Civ. P. 17.01.

"At law, a trustee is regarded as owner of the trust property with all the rights and subject to all the liabilities of ownership." McLaughlin v. Minnesota Loan & Trust, 192 Minn. 203, 208, 255 N.W. 839, 841 (1934) (citations omitted). As trustee of W.L. Henderson's IRA, Great Western had a legitimate property interest in the IRA funds, and we conclude that it could bring suit to recover the funds.

Mistake, Restitution, and Unjust Enrichment

Great Western claims that it is entitled to reimbursement of the IRA funds under theories of mistake and restitution. In Minnesota, these legal theories are not well developed and encompass the theories of money had and received, money paid under mistake of fact, and unjust enrichment.

An action for money had and received may be maintained when a person possesses "money which in equity and good conscience belongs to another and ought to be delivered to him." Nelson v. Tripp, 264 Minn. 216, 220, 118 N.W.2d 805, 808 (1962). The same principle applies in actions to recover money paid under mistake of fact. Youngstown Mines Corp. v. Prout, 266 Minn. 450, 475, 124 N.W.2d 328, 346 (1963). Money paid under mistake of fact may be recovered by a negligent payor because the restitution results in no loss to the recipient. United States v. Northwestern Nat'l. Bank & Trust Co., 35 F. Supp. 484, 486 (D. Minn. 1940). The only exception to this rule occurs if the recipient, in good faith, pays the money to a third party before discovery of the mistake. Grand Lodge, Ancient Order of United Workmen v. Towne, 136 Minn. 72, 81-82, 161 N.W. 403, 407 (1917).

An action for unjust enrichment may also be based on a mistake or "where it would be morally wrong for one party to enrich himself at the expense of another." Anderson v. DeLisle, 352 N.W.2d 794, 796 (Minn. App. 1984), review denied (Minn. Nov. 8, 1984).

The theory of unjust enrichment or money had and received has salutary and beneficial uses and has been invoked in support of claims based upon failure of consideration, fraud, mistake, and in other situations where it would be morally wrong for one party to enrich himself at the expense of another.

Cady v. Bush, 283 Minn. 105, 110, 166 N.W.2d 358, 361-62 (1969).

It is undisputed that Great Western paid Henderson under the mistaken belief that he was the named beneficiary of the IRA. The record also establishes that Henderson has not changed his position due to Great Western's mistake and that the funds have not been transferred to a third party. Application of the theories of unjust enrichment, mistake, and restitution lead us to the same conclusion: that Great Western is entitled to recover the money it mistakenly paid Henderson. Thus, on remand, we direct the district court to enter judgment in favor of Great Western in the amount of $95,949.99. See Minn. R. Civ. P. 56.03 (summary judgment proper where no genuine issues of material fact and party entitled to judgment as matter of law).

Undue Influence

Henderson claims that Green exerted undue influence over W.L. Henderson just before his death, forcing him to name her as the primary beneficiary, and that Great Western voluntarily assisted Green. Under both Minnesota and Florida law, a bank has no duty to judge a customer's competency unless the bank has actual knowledge that the customer is incompetent. See Minn. Stat. § 336.4-405 (1996) (stating incompetence of customer does not revoke payor or collecting bank authority to accept, pay, collect, or account an item until bank knows of fact of incompetence and has reasonable opportunity to act on it); Fla. Stat. ch. 674.405(1) (1997) (same). Further, there is no evidence in the record suggesting that Great Western acted in conjunction with Green to exert undue influence over W.L. Henderson. Thus, the district court did not err in concluding that Great Western had no obligation to inquire whether Green had exerted undue influence over W.L. Henderson.

Because of our decision on the mistake, restitution, and unjust enrichment claims, we do not address the additional conversion and civil theft claims raised by Great Western.

Attorney Fees and Sanctions

Finally, Henderson claims that he is entitled to attorney fees and sanctions under Minn. R. Civ. P. 11 because Great Western's claim that he violated Florida's civil theft statute was frivolous and made without factual or legal support. Although unsuccessful, Great Western had a reasonable legal and factual basis for claiming that Henderson's conduct amounted to a civil theft and that Florida law was controlling. See Uselman v. Uselman, 464 N.W.2d 130, 142 (Minn. 1990) (rule 11 sanctions not imposed where counsel has reasonable basis to pursue claim); Minn. Stat. § 549.211, subd. 3 (Supp. 1997) (statute applies only if attorney asserts unfounded position). We therefore conclude that the district court did not abuse its discretion by denying Henderson's motion for sanctions under rule 11 and section 549.211. See Uselman, 464 N.W.2d at 145 (abuse of discretion standard of review applies to appeals involving sanctions or attorney fees under rule 11 or section 549.211).

Affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded.

[1] We decline to pass on Henderson's argument that the federal district court had diversity jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1332 (1994). This issue was not presented to the federal district court, and it would be inappropriate for this court to rule on whether the federal district court could have exercised jurisdiction under section 1332.