United States District Court, District of Columbia
MEMORANDUM OPINION [Dkt. ##11, 12]
RICHARD J. KEON United States District Judge
underlying dispute in this case began when Laura Capel
("Ms. Capel" or "defendant") learned that
her husband, Thomas Daniel Capel ("Mr. Capel" or
"decedent"), had passed away unexpectedly. Ms.
Capel was separated, but not divorced, from Mr. Capel at the
time, so she was understandably shocked when she discovered,
shortly after Mr. Capel's death, that her husband had
apparently married Brooke Norman ("Norman"). Ms.
Capel accordingly filed suit in North Carolina state court,
seeking a declaratory judgment that she was, in fact, Mr.
Capel's legal spouse. That declaratory judgment action is
Norman, Harrison Capel ("Harrison"), and the Estate
of Thomas Daniel Capel (collectively referred to as
"plaintiffs") sued Ms. Capel and nine unidentified
co-defendants ("Does 1-9") in the District of
Columbia, alleging claims under RICO and other state-law
torts for events related to decedent's 2016 death.
See Compl. [Dkt. #1]. Ms. Capel moved to dismiss
plaintiffs' complaint for lack of personal jurisdiction,
lack of subject matter jurisdiction, and failure to state a
claim under RICO. She alternatively requested a stay of the
proceedings pending the outcome of the state court
declaratory judgment action.
consideration of the parties' submissions, and the entire
record herein, I find that this Court lacks personal
jurisdiction over Ms. Capel. Accordingly, defendant's
motion to dismiss is GRANTED and plaintiffs' complaint is
DISMISSED with prejudice.
a medically retired former Navy SEAL, married his third wife,
Ms. Capel, in 1999. See Def.'s Mot. Dismiss, Ex.
B. ¶ 3 [Dkt. #11-2] ("Def. Ex. B"). The two
legally separated in approximately 2006. See Compl.
¶ 31. In 2014, they signed a Separation & Property
Settlement Agreement ("Agreement"), which required
Mr. Capel to make monthly payments to Ms. Capel and to
maintain her status as a beneficiary of his life insurance
until he had paid her "her full alimony payment."
See Id. at ¶ 4; Def. Ex. B. ¶ 10; Compl.
Ex. A, Separation & Prop. Settlement Agreement 6-7
("Agreement") [Dkt. #1-1] ("Agreement").
That "full alimony payment" totaled $504, 000 over
14 years, or $400, 000 if paid in one lump sum. See
Agreement 4-5. Mr. Capel made monthly payments to defendant
under the terms of the Agreement until his death.
See Compl. ¶¶ 32-37.
after the Agreement was signed, Mr. Capel married Norman.
See Id. at ¶¶ 2, 38. At the time of their
marriage, Norman was apparently under the impression that Mr.
Capel was legally divorced from defendant. Id. at
¶¶ 48-50. Indeed, plaintiffs allege that Ms. Capel
represented to Norman that she and Mr. Capel were legally
divorced. See Id. ¶¶ 39-46, 225-28.
time of the signing of the Agreement-and their subsequent
marriage-Mr. Capel and Norman were residents of Washington,
D.C. See Id. ¶¶ 35, 94. Shortly after
their marriage, the two moved to North Carolina in late 2014,
and they continued to reside there until Mr. Capel's
death in May of 2016. See Id. ¶¶ 35-36.
Plaintiff Harrison, decedent's son, is a resident of
Utah. See Id. ¶ 14. Harrison was the named
beneficiary of decedent's life insurance policy
maintained through the Federal Employees Group Life Insurance
('TFEGLI") program. See Id. ¶ 106.
learning of Mr. Capel's death, defendant contacted
various federal agencies based in Washington, D.C. to claim
certain benefits stemming from Mr. Capel's military
service and subsequent government employment. See
Id. ¶ 103. She also filed a lawsuit in North
Carolina state court, seeking a declaratory judgment that she
is Mr. Capel's legal spouse. Id. ¶ 72. The
North Carolina court issued a preliminary injunction
preventing either Ms. Capel or Norman from coordinating the
interment of decedent's remains and enjoining the payment
of the proceeds of decedent's FEGLI life insurance policy
pending a final decision on the merits in that case.
See Def.'s Mot. Dismiss, Ex. C ¶¶ 1-4
[Dkt. #11-3] ("Def". Ex. C"). That lawsuit is
subsequently filed her complaint in this Court in August of
2016, alleging that Ms. Capel has engaged in a multi-year
"shameful and unjust ruse, " whereby she "hid
the fact (if true) that she had never been divorced
officially from [Mr. Capel]" and "forced"
Norman and Mr. Capel "to pay inordinate sums of money
over the last two years" for alimony payments. Compl.
¶¶ 123-135. Norman also alleges that Ms. Capel made
various defamatory statements about her to mutual
acquaintances who reside in the District, including that
Norman was Mr. Capel's "'pretend' wife,
" and that "Norman was not in a loving relationship
with [Mr. Capel]." See Id. ¶¶
136-140. These alleged actions form the basis of the
complaint in this case.
particular, plaintiffs allege two counts under the Racketeer
Influenced and Corrupt Organizations ("RICO")
statute, based on Ms. Capel's alleged violation of
various federal fraud statutes, see Id. at
¶¶ 145-61, 163; various common law claims related
to the Agreement, see Id. at ¶¶ 173-74,
181, 192, 196, 211, 223, 231; one count pertaining to
defendant's contacting federal agencies to claim
decedent's benefits, see Id. at ¶¶
205; and two counts related to defendant's alleged
defamation of Norman, see Id. at ¶¶ 220,
245. Ms. Capel is named as a defendant in all counts, and the
unidentified defendants are named in six of the twelve
counts. Ms. Capel moved to dismiss all claims for lack of
personal jurisdiction, and she moved to dismiss the RICO
counts for lack of Article III standing and failure to state
a claim. See Def.'s Mot. Dismiss 1 [Diet. #11]
("Def.'s Mot."). Defendant also moved to
dismiss the common law claims for lack of subject matter
jurisdiction, but she subsequently abandoned that defense.
See Id. 18; Def.'s Reply Supp. Mot. Dismiss
[Dkt. #14] ("Def.'s Reply"). Alternatively, Ms.
Capel requested a stay of the proceedings in this case until
the North Carolina case is resolved. See Def.'s
Mot. 1. In opposing Ms. Capefs motion, plaintiffs moved for
jurisdictional discovery in the event that I find personal
jurisdiction over Ms. Capel lacking in this case.
See Pls.' Mem. Opp'n. to Def.'s Mot.
Dismiss 12 n.17 [Dkt. #13] ("Pls.'
Capel moves to dismiss plaintiffs' complaint pursuant to
Rule 12(b)(2) for lack of personal jurisdiction. Faced with
such a challenge, plaintiffs bear the burden of establishing
a basis for personal jurisdiction. See Crane v. N.Y.
Zoological Soc'y, 894 F.2d 454, 456 (D.C. Cir.
1990). "A plaintiff makes such a showing by alleging
specific acts connecting the defendant with the forum."
United States v. Philip Morris Inc., 116 F.Supp.2d
116, 121 (D.D.C. 2000) (citing Naartex Consulting Corp.
v. Watt, 722 F.2d 779, 787 (D.C. Cir. 1983)). While
courts normally address subject-matter jurisdiction before
turning to personal jurisdiction, this is not an absolute
requirement. See, e.g., Ruhrgas AG v. Marathon Oil
Co., 526 U.S. 574, 577-78 (1999) (affirming dismissal
for lack of personal jurisdiction without considering
subject-matter jurisdiction where defendant filed motions to
dismiss on both grounds); see also Forms v. Rauf,
812 F.3d 1102, 1105 (D.C. Cir. 2016) (affirming dismissal for
lack of personal jurisdiction without considering
defendant's motion to dismiss for lack of subject-matter
opposing such a challenge must plead specific facts to
establish personal jurisdiction and cannot rely on
"[c]onclusory statements." Livnat v.
Palestinian Auth.,851 F.3d 45, 56-57 (D.C. Cir. 2017)
(affirming dismissal) (quoting First Chi. Int'l v.
United Exch. Co.,836 F.2d 1375, 1378 (D.C. Cir. 1988).
When considering a motion to dismiss for lack of personal
jurisdiction, "[t]he court may receive and weigh the
contents of affidavits and any other relevant matter
submitted by the parties to assist it in determining the
jurisdictional facts." 5B Charles Alan Wright &
Arthur R. Miller, Federal Practice and Procedure