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Harris v. Brody

June 5, 2007

ALAN HARRIS, PLAINTIFF,
v.
ELI BRODY, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Wigenton, District Judge.

OPINION AND ORDER

Before the Court is Defendant Eli Brody's ("Defendant") motion to dismiss pro se plaintiff Alan Harris' ("Plaintiff") Complaint filed with this Court ("Motion to Dismiss"). For the reasons set forth below, Defendant's Motion to Dismiss the Complaint for lack of subject matter jurisdiction is granted.

Background

Doris Brody died on September 20, 2003. Thereafter, her husband, Defendant, was informed that decedent had a will dated January 14, 1992, which designated decedent's son, Plaintiff, as the executor and left Plaintiff the majority of decedent's estate. (Decision and Opinion filed Oct. 25, 2005, Cert. of M. Scrupski, Ex. C.) A state matter arose when Plaintiff submitted the will for probate and Defendant filed a caveat. On October 6, 2004, the parties reached a settlement agreement at a case management conference before the Honorable Alexander D. Lehrer in the New Jersey Superior Court. In part, the settlement removed the caveat and permitted the will to be probated. The terms of the settlement were incorporated into an Order of Judgment dated October 27, 2004. (Def. Br. at 2.) On or about December 31, 2004, Plaintiff filed a motion to vacate the judgment, and in response Defendant filed a cross motion to enforce judgment. On January 28, 2005, a hearing on Plaintiff's motion was held and the judgment was affirmed. (See Order filed Jan. 28, 2005, Cert. of M. Scrupski, Ex. A.)

Plaintiff did not abide by the Order of Judgment, and on March 11, 2005 Plaintiff was removed as executor and costs were assessed against him. (See Order dated Mar. 11, 2005, Cert. of M. Scrupski, Ex. B.) The Appellate Division affirmed the judgment in the Opinion of the New Jersey Appellate Division dated October 25, 2005. (See Decision and Opinion filed Oct. 25, 2005, Cert. of M. Scrupski, Ex. C.) The New Jersey Supreme Court denied Plaintiff's petition for certification in an Order filed January 26, 2006. (See Order filed Jan. 26, 2006, Cert. of M. Scrupski, Ex. D.) Subsequently, Plaintiff made a motion for reconsideration and clarification before the New Jersey Supreme Court, which was denied on March 30, 2006. (See Order filed Mar. 30, 2006, Cert. of M. Scrupski, Ex. E.) Thereafter, Plaintiff commenced the instant action in federal court in New York. As the matter stems from the probate of the decedent's will in New Jersey and disputed real property is located in New Jersey, the Honorable Victor Marrero of the Southern District of New York ordered the transfer of this matter to the District Court for the District of New Jersey. (See Order filed Feb. 28, 2007.)

Plaintiff alleges this Court has federal question jurisdiction based on violations of his constitutional rights as a result of the state court decision. Plaintiff also asserts that this Court has an alternative basis for jurisdiction based on diversity. Plaintiff is a resident of New York and Defendant is a resident of New Jersey.

Legal Standard

Motion to Dismiss

Unlike a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim pursuant to the Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), in a motion to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction pursuant to Rule 12(b)(1), no presumption of truthfulness attaches to the allegations in the complaint and the court may consider matters outside the pleadings such as affidavits and other material properly before the court. Anjelino v. New York Times Co., 200 F.3d 73, 87 (3d Cir. 1999). In a Rule 12(b)(1) motion, "the Court is free to weigh the evidence and satisfy itself whether it has the power to hear the case." Carpet Group Int'l v. Oriental Rug Importers Ass'n, Inc., 227 F.3d 62, 69 (3d Cir. 2000) (citing Mortensen v. First Federal Savings & Loan Ass'n, 549 F.2d 884, 891 (3d Cir. 1977)). "[T]he existence of disputed material facts will not preclude the trial court from evaluating for itself the merits of jurisdictional claims. Moreover, the plaintiff will have the burden of proof that jurisdiction does in fact exist." Mortensen, 549 F.2d at 891; see also Kehr Packages, Inc. v. Fidelcor, Inc., 926 F.2d 1406, 1409 (3d Cir. 1991).

A claim may be dismissed under Rule 12(b)(1) if it "clearly appears to be immaterial and made solely for the purpose of obtaining jurisdiction or . . . is wholly insubstantial and frivolous." Gould Electronics Inc. v. U.S., 220 F.3d 169, 178 (3d Cir. 2000) (quoting Kehr Packages, Inc. v. Fidelcor, Inc., 926 F.2d at 1408-9). The plaintiff must not only demonstrate that a controversy existed at the time it filed suit, but that it continues to exist throughout the litigation. Lusardi v. Xerox Corp., 975 F.2d 964, 974 (3d Cir. 1992).

Jurisdiction

Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1331, regarding federal question, the district courts "shall have original jurisdiction of all civil actions arising under the Constitution, laws, or treaties of the United States." The district courts also have original jurisdiction of all civil actions where the matter in controversy exceeds the sum or value of $75,000, exclusive of interest and costs, and is between citizens of different States. 28 U.S.C. § 1332(a)(1).

Discussion

On a motion to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, plaintiff bears the burden of persuading the court that subject matter jurisdiction exists. Fed. R. Civ. P.12(b)(1); see also Stehney v. Perry, 907 F. Supp. 806 (1995). Defendant sets forth the following arguments in support of the present motion to dismiss: (1) this Court lacks subject matter jurisdiction over the instant action under the Rooker-Feldman doctrine; and ...


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