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Wilkerson v. Brown

July 8, 2009

ERNEST KEITH WILKERSON, PLAINTIFF,
v.
RASHIDA BROWN, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



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

OPINION

I. INTRODUCTION

This matter is before the Court upon Defendant Steve Hallett's motion to dismiss Plaintiff's Complaint pursuant to Rule 41(b), Fed. R. Civ. P. [Docket Item 135]. Plaintiff Ernest Keith Wilkerson, proceeding pro se, filed this diversity action against his ex-girlfriend, Rashida Brown, and numerous individuals, including Defendant Hallett, whom Plaintiff alleges were instrumental in enabling Ms. Brown to steal money from him. In 1999, after substantial discovery and motion practice, this case was "temporarily stayed and administratively terminated upon the docket of the Court without prejudice to reopening by any party" because, owing to Plaintiff's incarceration, the dispute could not be brought to trial. (Docket Item 119 at 1.) Upon his release from prison, Plaintiff moved to reopen this case, and, after the Court granted Plaintiff's motion, Defendant Hallett filed the motion to dismiss presently before the Court. For the reasons set forth below, Defendant Hallett's motion will be denied.

II. BACKGROUND

The facts underlying Plaintiff's claims were reviewed in detail in the Court's June 22, 1998 Opinion [Docket Item 105], and are reviewed herein only to the extent necessary to resolve the motion presently under consideration. Plaintiff was incarcerated between 1994 and July 26, 2008. (Docket Item 105 at 3; Wilkerson Cert. ¶ 3.) While he was incarcerated, Plaintiff asked his then-girlfriend, Ms. Brown, to take possession of his automobile for the duration of his imprisonment. (Docket Item 105 at 3.) According to Plaintiff's allegations, Ms. Brown did more than simply take possession of the vehicle; Ms. Brown, Plaintiff alleges, forged alterations to the automobile's certificate of title papers to falsely indicate that Plaintiff had sold the vehicle to Ms. Brown for $1,000. (Id.)

Plaintiff further alleges that Ms. Brown intended to steal money from his bank account, and in pursuit of this end, approached Defendant Hallett, an attorney, about obtaining a Power of Attorney ("POA") to access Plaintiff's account. (Id. at 4.) On September 26, 1994, Defendant Hallett prepared a POA for Brown, witnessed by his secretary, Marion Jefferson. (Id.) Although Plaintiff's signature appears on the POA, (id.), Plaintiff maintains that Hallett never visited him in prison in order to have Plaintiff execute the POA, and that the signature on the document is a forgery. (Wilkerson Cert. ¶ 8.) According to Plaintiff, Ms. Brown used the forged POA to steal money from Plaintiff's bank account. (Docket Item 105 at 4.) Defendant Hallett maintains that he did visit Plaintiff in prison in order to obtain Plaintiff's signature on the POA and denies that the signature was forged.

Plaintiff filed the Complaint [Docket Item 1] in this case on October 21, 1996, naming Ms. Brown, Mr. Hallett, and numerous other individuals as Defendants and alleging that Ms. Brown and Mr. Hallett, among others, had a role in the theft of his vehicle and money. On June 17, 1997, Defendant Hallett filed a motion to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction [Docket Item 51], which this Court denied in its July 10, 1997 Memorandum Opinion and Order [Docket Items 57 and 58]. After the parties had conducted discovery, Defendant Hallett, as well as Defendants Rodney Thompson, Esq., Randy Lebowitz, and Northeast Auto, each filed motions for summary judgment, which the Court addressed in its June 22, 1998 Opinion and Order [Docket Items 105 and 106]. As to Defendant Hallett's motion, the Court found that disputed questions of fact existed as to whether Defendant Hallett created a POA with a forged signature, making summary judgment inappropriate. (Docket Item 105 at 9.) As to Defendants Thompson, Lebowitz, and Northeast Auto, the Court determined that no dispute existed as to any material fact regarding Plaintiff's claims against these Defendants, and that these Defendants were entitled to judgment as a matter of law. (Id. at 9-12.)

On December 30, 1999, the Court entered an Order for Administrative Termination, wherein it observed that "the case is essentially ready for trial but . . . it is a private tort action unrelated to conditions of confinement that cannot be prosecuted at trial by plaintiff at this time due to plaintiff's incarceration." (Docket Item 119 at 1.) The Court accordingly concluded that "the case should therefore be temporarily stayed and administratively terminated upon the docket of the Court . . . . without prejudice to the right of any party to reopen for further proceedings consistent with law, including upon plaintiff's release from incarceration[.]" (Id. at 1-2) (emphasis added).

Plaintiff was released from prison on July 26, 2008. (Wilkerson Cert. ¶ 3.) Approximately two months after his release, Plaintiff filed a motion seeking to reopen this case [Docket Item 120] in order to pursue his claim against Defendant Hallett exclusively. Defendant Hallett opposed Plaintiff's motion, stating in a November 5, 2008 letter [Docket Item 123] that he believed that Plaintiff's claims against him had been dismissed with prejudice. Hallett also contested the merits of Plaintiff's claims, explaining:

Yes, I was his attorney prior to his request that I execute the Power of Attorney (in question) to his girlfriend (one of the original defendants in his case). I did not ask him why he wanted a Full Power of Attorney executed. I had my suspicions that he was attempting to give his girlfriend the right to Full Power of Attorney to:

1. He wanted her to place his assets in her name to hide them from the Feds who arrested him.

2. To place his automobile in her name to store it or sell it.

3. She was the only one he trusted to handle his affairs.

Power of Attorney was explained to him in detail; both Limited and ...


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