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Beshears v. Wood

United States District Court, W.D. Missouri, Southern Division

May 3, 2017

JOHN M. BESHEARS, Plaintiff,
v.
ANDREW PATRICK WOOD, Defendant.

          ORDER

          ROSEANN A. KETCHMARK, JUDGE.

         Before the Court is Defendant's Motion to Dismiss. (Doc. 10.) Defendant seeks dismissal pursuant to Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) and (b)(6), alleging that Plaintiff's First Amended Complaint (doc. 8) fails to establish subject matter jurisdiction, and also fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. Upon review, the action will be DISMISSED for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.

         Background

         Plaintiff brings this action against Defendant, a licensed attorney in the State of Missouri, for legal malpractice in Count 1 and for breach of fiduciary duty/constructive fraud in Count 2. Plaintiff alleges that on June 26, 2009, he was injured in an automobile accident which also resulted in the death of his wife. (Doc. 8 ¶ 4.) On July 1, 2009, Defendant, on behalf of Charles V. Reynolds and Ruth Ann Reynolds (the “Reynolds”), filed a petition for guardianship of Plaintiff and conservatorship of the estate of Plaintiff in the Probate Court of McDonald County, Missouri (the “probate court”). (Id. ¶ 7.) On July 7, 2009, the probate court appointed the Reynolds as co-guardians of Plaintiff and co-conservators of his estate. (Id. ¶ 10.) At some point thereafter, Plaintiff retained attorney Jason Higdon to represent him in the probate court action. (Id. at 13.) On October 3, 2012, Plaintiff was restored to his full rights and capacities. (Id. ¶ 12.)

         Plaintiff alleges that “prior to the accident on June 26, 2009, [] Defendant [] had been the personal and professional attorney for [] Plaintiff and his wife for a number of years, representing them concerning their assets which were the subject of the conservatorship.” (Id. ¶ 13.) He also claims that at the time of the accident, Defendant was representing Plaintiff and his wife in case number 07NW-CV02181, Beshears, et al. v. Clark & Sons Constr., in the Circuit Court of Newton County, Missouri, and continued to represent Plaintiff in that civil case until judgment on July 19, 2012. (Id. ¶ 14-15.)

         In support of both counts, Plaintiff makes several factual allegations regarding Defendant's actions and/or failures to act in the proceedings before the probate court. (Id. ¶¶ 20, 25.) Plaintiff seeks actual damages from Defendant for loss of assets, damage to assets, and emotional stress, along with punitive damages.

         Discussion

         I. Subject Matter Jurisdiction under Rule 12(b)(1)

         Subject matter jurisdiction “is a threshold requirement which must be assured in every federal case.” Turner v. Armontrout, 922 F.2d 492, 493 (8th Cir. 1991). If the court determines at any time that it lacks subject-matter jurisdiction, the court must dismiss the action. Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(h)(3). Subject matter jurisdiction may be based on a federal question pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1331 or diversity of citizenship under 28 U.S.C. § 1332. Diversity jurisdiction requires complete diversity of citizenship among the parties and an amount in controversy exceeding $75, 000. 28 U.S.C. § 1332(a).

         Defendant concedes that the amended complaint meets the pleading requirements for diversity of citizenship under Section 1332. (Doc. 11 at 2 n.2.) Despite this, Defendant contends the amended complaint fails to establish subject matter jurisdiction for two reasons. First, Defendant asserts the action is an impermissible collateral attack on the orders and judgments of the probate court. Second, Defendant argues the Rooker-Feldman and Younger abstention doctrines preclude subject matter jurisdiction.

         a. Impermissible Collateral Attack

         Defendant first proposes that the amended complaint is an impermissible collateral attack on the orders and judgments rendered in the underlying probate matter. Defendant argues that Plaintiff is challenging:

the Probate Court's jurisdiction over him, whether the Reynolds were qualified to perform the duties of guardian and conservator, whether a bond should have been filed, whether an appraisal of assets was necessary, the correctness of the inventory and appraisement of the estate, when an annual settlement of the estate was properly filed, whether an annual guardian report should have been filed, and whether the Reynolds misappropriated money from the estate.

         (Doc. 11 at 4.) According to Defendant, these are matters that should ...


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