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Jenkins v. Seifert

United States District Court, E.D. Missouri, Eastern Division

June 12, 2017

BRAD JENKINS, Plaintiff,
v.
JILL JENKINS SEIFERT, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          AUDREY G. FLEISSIG UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         This matter is before the Court on Defendant Jill Jenkins Seifert's motion to dismiss (ECF No. 5) pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b). For reasons set forth below, this motion shall be denied.

         BACKGROUND

         This matter arises out of a dispute between siblings regarding the disposition of their mother's assets and whether such disposition was the result of Defendant's exercise of undue influence over their mother. Plaintiff alleges in his Complaint that Gene Jenkins (“Father”) initiated divorce proceedings against Ruth Jenkins (“Mother”) on or about March 2, 2012 (“Divorce Proceedings”). During the course of the Divorce Proceedings, Mother executed a Durable Power of Attorney granting “attorney general powers” to Defendant, including the power to take complete charge of Mother's assets and affairs and to sell, assign, or convey real or personal property owned by Mother. ECF. No. 1-2. On January 22, 2013, Defendant was appointed Mother's guardian ad litem and, following the Divorce Proceedings, Defendant was reappointed as Mother's guardian ad litem. In the affidavits in support of her appointment and reappointment as guardian ad litem, [1] Defendant represented that “[Mother] is currently incapacitated to act in her own best interest and to participate as a party in the pending cause of action because of the effects of depression, alcoholism, multiple medications.” ECF Nos. 1-3, 1-4. Defendant also represented that Mother contacted her directly and requested that Defendant act as Mother's guardian ad litem. Id. After Defendant was reappointed Mother's guardian ad litem, Mother moved from St. Louis County, Missouri to Harris County, Texas to reside with Defendant.

         Plaintiff claims that at the time the Divorce Proceedings were finalized, Mother possessed assets valued at approximately $750, 000.00, including bank accounts, investment accounts, proceeds from the sale of real property, personal property, retirement, disability, and death benefit payments, and social security payments (collectively, “Assets”). Plaintiff alleges in his Complaint that a vast majority of Mother's assets were in investment accounts with Edward Jones (“Edward Jones Accounts”). Mother designated Defendant as the sole beneficiary of the Edwards Jones Accounts on February 15, 2013, three years before Mother's death. Plaintiff alleges in his Complaint that from “at least January 2, 2013 until the date of her death on February 21, 2016, [Mother] was incapacitated and incompetent to handle her own affairs.” ECF No. 1 at ¶ 10.

         On February 21, 2016, Mother died without a will as a resident of Harris County, Texas. Plaintiff filed the instant lawsuit asserting five counts against Defendant for: (1) a declaration that the lifetime transfers of property are void or invalid due to undue influence and ordering Defendant to repay the amounts received; (2) declaratory relief to void or invalidate the Edward Jones Account transfers and order Defendant to repay the amount received; (3) discovery of assets under Missouri law; (4) breach of fiduciary duty; and (5) conversion. Plaintiff asserts diversity jurisdiction as Plaintiff resides in Missouri, Defendant resides in Texas, and the Assets challenged in the Complaint exceed $75, 000.00. In response, Defendant filed this motion to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b).

         ARGUMENTS OF THE PARTIES

         Defendant argues in her motion that venue is improper and that, therefore, the action should be dismissed pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(3). Specifically, Defendant argues under the so-called “probate exception” to federal jurisdiction that purely probate matters cannot be adjudicated in federal courts based upon diversity of citizenship, and that this action must be adjudicated in the probate court in Harris County, Texas, which has exclusive jurisdiction over Plaintiff's claims. Defendant further contends that Plaintiff's claims should be dismissed pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) because Plaintiff lacks standing to assert his claims as an “heir” of Mother's estate because no proceeding to determine heirship has taken place and, as a result, there has been no judicial determination of the “heirs” of Mother's estate, as required by the Texas Estates Code. ECF No. 5.

         In response, Plaintiff argues his claims do not fall within the probate exception because the assets at issue are not and were never part of Mother's estate and he is seeking redress from Defendant personally for acts undertaken in her individual capacity, not in her capacity as the administrator of Mother's estate. Plaintiff further argues that it is undisputed that he is an heir to Mother's estate because Defendant, in her Application for Letters of Administration, represented to the Texas probate court that she and Plaintiff were the only heirs. ECF No. 6.

         LEGAL STANDARD

         To survive a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim, a plaintiff's allegations must contain “sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to ‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). The reviewing court must accept the plaintiff's factual allegations as true and construe them in plaintiff's favor, but it is not required to accept the legal conclusions the plaintiff draws from the facts alleged. Id. at 678; Retro Television Network, Inc. v. Luken Commc'ns, LLC, 696 F.3d 766, 768-69 (8th Cir. 2012). A court must “draw on its judicial experience and common sense, ” and consider the plausibility of the plaintiff's claim as a whole, not the plausibility of each individual allegation. Zoltek Corp. v. Structural Polymer Grp., 592 F.3d 893, 896 n.4 (8th Cir. 2010) (quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679).

         DISCUSSION

         1. Motion to Dismiss for Improper Venue Pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(3)

         Although Defendant filed her motion pursuant to Rule 12(b)(3) for improper venue, her argument is really a challenge to this Court's subject matter jurisdiction. Defendant argues in her motion to dismiss that the Assets referenced in Plaintiff's Complaint are within the jurisdiction of the probate court and concern purely probate matters. ECF No. 5 at ¶ 14. In response, Plaintiff argues that because the Assets challenged in the Complaint were either transferred during Mother's lifetime or were transferred upon death, they are not subject to the jurisdiction of the probate court and instead may be adjudicated in this ...


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