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Capel v. Capel

United States District Court, District of Columbia

September 27, 2017

HARRISON CAPEL,
v.
LAURA CAPEL, and DOES 1-9, Defendants. BROOKE NORMAN, and ESTATE OF THOMAS DANIEL CAPEL, Plaintiffs,

          MEMORANDUM OPINION [Dkt. ##11, 12]

          RICHARD J. KEON United States District Judge

         The 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 ongoing.

         Plaintiffs 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.

         Upon 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.

         BACKGROUND

         Decedent, 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.

         Shortly 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.

         At the 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.

         Upon 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 currently pending.

         Norman 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.

         In 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.' Mem.").[1]

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         Ms. 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 jurisdiction).

         Plaintiffs 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 ...


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