United States District Court, D. Columbia.
LACREASHA A. KENNEDY-JARVIS, et al., Plaintiffs,
CALVIN R. WELLS., Defendant
[Copyrighted Material Omitted]
For LACREASHA A. KENNEDY-JARVIS, LASHAWN D. LEWIS, DEREK JARVIS, Plaintiffs, Counter Defendants: Jaime T. Zeas, Bethesda, MD.
CALVIN REGINALD WELLS, Administrator of the Estate of Rose E. Walker, Defendant, Pro se, Albuquerque, NM.
CALVIN REGINALD WELLS, Administrator of the Estate of Rose E. Walker, Counter Claimant, Pro se, Albuquerque, NM.
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
RANDOLPH D. MOSS, United States District Judge.
In this civil action, Plaintiffs allege that Defendant committed fraud and common-law torts in connection with the estate of Defendant's grandmother, Rose E. Walker. Before the Court are Plaintiffs' Motion to Strike and for Sanctions, Dkt. 29; Defendants' Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings or for Summary Judgment For Lack of Subject Matter Jurisdiction, Dkt. 31; and Plaintiffs' Motion for Leave to File an Amended Motion to Strike or Response in Opposition to Defendant's Motion in Opposition, Dkt. 35. The principal issue presented is whether the judicially-recognized probate exception to federal jurisdiction is applicable to any or all of Plaintiffs' claims. For the reasons explained below, the Court concludes that, although the Court lacks jurisdiction to consider whether to grant some of the relief sought, the probate exception does not preclude the Court from adjudicating the merits of each of Plaintiffs' claims.
The complaint sets forth the following allegations, which, at this stage of the litigation and in light of the minimal factual record before the Court, are taken as true for purposes of resolving Defendant's challenge to the Court's jurisdiction.
Rose Walker, a resident of Plainfield, New Jersey, died on March 28, 2000. At the time of her death, her will provided that all of her real and tangible personal property would be sold, and the proceeds would be placed in a trust for the benefit of three beneficiaries: (1) James Jarvis, who was Walker's son; (2) Calvin Wells, who was Walker's grandson and the Defendant in this action; and (3) Rayfield Wells, who was another of Walker's grandsons. Each beneficiary received a one-third interest in the trust. The will also included a " spendthrift clause," which provided that each beneficiary would receive 20% of his share of the trust each year for a period of five years.
Although United National Bank was named to serve as the executor and trustee, the Defendant, Calvin Wells, was permitted by the Probate Part of the New Jersey Superior Court to serve as substitute administrator. The complaint alleges that Defendant failed in his duties as administrator and, before and after Walker's death, engaged in a series of fraudulent or improper acts designed to deprive Defendant's uncle, James Jarvis, of a substantial portion of his share of the estate. It alleges, for example, that Defendant unduly influenced Walker to deed her residence to herself, Defendant and his brother just eleven days before Walker's death, see Dkt. 1 ¶ 19-21; failed to report the transfer of that property on the New Jersey Inheritance Tax Return as " a transfer made in contemplation of death," id. ¶ 22; and, in his capacity as administrator, ignored the terms of Walker's will, e.g. id. ¶ 25. The complaint also alleges that Defendant misrepresented the value of Walker's estate to Jarvis and thereby induced him to forgo his interest in the trust in exchange for a payment well below the amount to which he was entitled. It alleges, in particular, that Defendant failed to disclose to Jarvis that Walker had conveyed her residence to Defendant and his brother just days before her death and that Defendant hid or failed to account for other property in the estate, including a property located in South Carolina that sold in 2003 for over $600,000. Id. ¶ ¶ 26-28, 34. As a result, Jarvis agreed to receive approximately $180,000 in cash and property for his inheritance, rather than the $600,000 to which he was allegedly entitled. Id. ¶ 30.
Jarvis died on June 3, 2003. Id. ¶ 47. The Plaintiffs in this action are his heirs--his surviving spouse and two children. Id. ¶ ¶ 7-9, 48. They sue in their capacity as residual beneficiaries of the Walker estate. The complaint alleges claims for breach of fiduciary duty, conversion, and the tort of deceit, fraudulent misrepresentation and omission. Id. ¶ ¶ 50-69. Plaintiffs seek compensatory and punitive damages, as well as an order that, among other things, would require Defendant to " provide an inventory and Formal Accounting" of the estate, remove Defendant as administrator of the estate, disgorge Defendant of fees
collected as administrator of the estate, appoint a neutral third party to administer the estate, and establish a trust on all converted estate assets. Id. at 13.
The issues currently before the Court fall into two categories: those relating to the Court's jurisdiction and those relating to the parties' meet and confer obligations. Because the Court must first consider its jurisdiction, see Bancoult v. McNamara, 445 F.3d 427, 432, 370 U.S. App.D.C. 348 (D.C. Cir. 2006), the Court starts with Defendant's Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings or for Summary ...