Easter v. City of Dall. Prob. Div.

Decision Date27 June 2022
Docket Number3:21-CV-0860-D (BH)
PartiesJOHN E. EASTER #1759669, Plaintiff, v. CITY OF DALLAS PROBATE DIVISION, et al., Defendants.
CourtU.S. District Court — Northern District of Texas

JOHN E. EASTER #1759669, Plaintiff,


No. 3:21-CV-0860-D (BH)

United States District Court, N.D. Texas, Dallas Division

June 27, 2022



Based on the relevant filings and applicable law, the plaintiff's complaint should be DISMISSED.


John E. Easter (Plaintiff), a pro se Texas prisoner proceeding in forma pauperis, sues a former state-court probate judge (Judge) and his half-sister (Sister)[2] based on the award of his aunt's (Aunt) estate to Sister while he was incarcerated. (doc. 3 at 3-4.)[3]

According to Plaintiff, Aunt was his father's sister; Sister had a different father and was not a blood relative of Aunt. (Id. at 4, 8.) Aunt was married and had a son (Son), but both her husband and Son predeceased her. (Id. at 8-9.) Before his death, Son hired Sister to care for her and handle her business affairs through a power of attorney. (Id. at 9-10.) Sister moved Aunt to a nursing home, moved her own daughter into Aunt's home, and “misappropriated” Aunt's social security retirement


checks after Son died. (doc. 7 at 3.)

Aunt had a will at the time of her death that named her sole grandchild as the heir to her estate, but the grandchild signed a disclaimer disavowing any interest in it. (Id. at 4.) Sister knew that Plaintiff was incarcerated, but she did not tell him about the death of Son or Aunt. (Id. at 5.) She opened probate proceedings for Aunt's estate in the Dallas County probate court, signed documents in the probate proceedings as her “niece,” and was awarded Aunt's estate by Judge. (doc. 3 at 3-5, 10.) Four years after Aunt's death, a relative sent Plaintiff a letter in prison advising that Aunt had died, and that Sister “had gotten all of Aunt's stuff.” (Id. at 9.)

Plaintiff filed a pro se “legal petition” with the probate court, explaining that he was entitled to the estate as the only remaining blood relative who had not disclaimed an interest in the estate, and that Sister, as a non-relative, had no right to submit Aunt's will for probate because a power of attorney designation ends at death. (Id. at 10.) He also alleged that Sister committed larceny, embezzlement, and theft; falsely filed documents indicating that she was Aunt's “niece” to improperly obtain the estate; and that she never told him about the deaths of Aunt or Son. (See, e.g., doc. 3 at 10; doc. 7 at 5.) Instead of fixing the error by holding an evidentiary hearing, Judge gave Plaintiff a cause number and sent him a “letter” stating that he could not maintain care, custody, and control over the estate because of his incarceration, “hindering [his] pursuit.” (doc. 7 at 1, 5.) Plaintiff claims that this letter showed that Judge realized she had improperly awarded the estate to Sister. (Id.) Judge's failure to stop Sister from possessing the estate despite her criminal conduct allegedly amounts to reckless disregard, displays malice, and shows that she “colluded” with Sister, who may have worked at the courthouse at the same time as Judge and has a daughter with the same first name as Judge. (doc. 3 at 11-13; doc. 7 at 5.) Plaintiff continued to pursue the estate after


receiving Judge's letter, and he “wrote the probate division for years without a response” since he received the first letter from the court “almost 15 years ago.” (doc. 7 at 5, 6.)

Plaintiff's lawsuit appears to contend that Judge: (1) violated her “fiduciary duties” and Texas probate law by awarding the property to Sister and not holding an evidentiary hearing when presented with Plaintiff's claim to the estate; (2) “colluded” with Sister to “defraud” him of his interest in the estate; (3) violated his due process rights by “hindering” his pursuit of the estate by failing to award it to him or hold an evidentiary hearing; and (4) acted with deliberate indifference in awarding the estate to Sister. (See, e.g., doc. 3 at 3, 4, 10, 11; doc. 7 at 1, 3, 6, 9, 10.) It also appears to claim that Sister: (1) filed a false statement, i.e., that she was Aunt's niece, in the probate proceeding; (2) conspired with Judge to defraud Plaintiff of his interest in the estate; (3) discriminated against him with deliberate indifference; (4) employed cruel and unusual punishment against him; (5) committed criminal acts such as embezzlement and/or larceny; (6) converted the property; and (7) committed fraud by withholding the fact that Aunt had died. (See, e.g., doc. 3 at 3, 4, 9, 10, 12; doc.7 at 3, 5, 6, 8, 9, 10, 11.) He seeks the return of funds that Sister misappropriated, including social security benefit checks that Aunt received after Son's death, funds in Aunt's bank account (including those that were used to purchase property in Paris, Texas), and proceeds from Aunt's life insurance policies; the return of two houses to the estate, as well as rental income that those properties generated; an order awarding the estate to him; $100,000 in compensatory damages; $175,000 in mental anguish damages; unspecified punitive damages; criminal prosecution of Sister; and the return of black-and-white photos from the 1800's. (doc. 3 at 11; doc. 7 at 11.)


Plaintiff is a prisoner who has been permitted to proceed in forma paueris. As a prisoner


seeking redress from an officer or employee of a governmental entity, his complaint is subject to preliminary screening under 28 U.S.C. 1915A. See Martin v. Scott, 156 F.3d 578, 579-80 (5th Cir. 1998) (per curium). Because he is proceeding in forma pauperis, his complaint is also subject to screening under 1915(e)(2). Both 1915(e)(2)(B) and 1915(A)(b) provide for sua sponte dismissal of the complaint, or of any part of it, if it is frivolous or malicious, fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, or seeks monetary relief against a defendant who is immune from such relief. A claim is frivolous when it “lacks an arguable basis either in law or in fact.” Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 325 (1989). A claim lacks an arguable basis in law when it is “based on an indisputably meritless legal theory.” Id. at 327. A claim fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted when it fails to plead “enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007); accord Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009).


Federal courts are courts of limited jurisdiction. They possess only that power authorized by Constitution and statute, which is not to be expanded by judicial decree. Kokkonen v. Guardian Life Ins. Co. of Am., 511 U.S. 375, 377 (1994) (citations omitted). They “must presume that a suit lies outside this limited jurisdiction, and the burden of establishing federal jurisdiction rests on the party seeking the federal forum.” Howery v. Allstate Ins. Co., 243 F.3d 912, 916 (5th Cir. 2001). Courts have “a continuing obligation to examine the basis of their jurisdiction.” See MCG, Inc. v. Great W. Energy Corp., 896 F.2d 170, 173 (5th Cir. 1990). They may sua sponte raise the jurisdictional issue at any time. Id.; Burge v. Parish of St. Tammany, 187 F.3d 452, 465-66 (5th Cir. 1999).


A. Rooker-Feldman Doctrine

The Rooker-Feldman doctrine occupies “narrow ground” and divests federal district courts of jurisdiction over “cases brought by state-court losers complaining of injuries caused by state-court judgments rendered before the district court proceedings commenced and inviting district court review and rejection of those judgments.”[4] Exxon Mobil Corp., 544 U.S. at 284; see also Behr v. Campbell, 8 F.4th 1206, 1209 (11th Cir. 2021) (noting that the doctrine occupies “narrow ground”) (further citations omitted). “[F]ederal district courts, as courts of original jurisdiction, lack appellate jurisdiction to review, modify, or nullify final orders of state courts.” See Weekly v. Morrow, 204 F.3d 613, 615 (5th Cir. 2000) (quoting Liedtke v. State Bar, 18 F.3d 315, 317 (5th Cir. 1994)). Only the United States Supreme Court has exclusive jurisdiction to review final judgments or decrees entered by the highest court of a state. 28 U.S.C. 1257. The Rooker-Feldman doctrine has four elements: (1) a state-court loser; (2) alleging harm caused by a state-court judgment; (3) that was rendered before the federal suit began; and (4) the federal suit requests review and reversal of the state-court judgment. Houston v. Venneta Queen, 606 Fed.Appx. 725, 730 (5th Cir. 2015) (citing Exxon Mobil Corp., 544 U.S. at 284).

The Rooker-Feldman doctrine bars consideration of direct attacks on a state court judgment, as well as all claims that are inextricably intertwined with the state court proceedings. See AEP Energy Services Gas Holding Co. v. Bank of Am., N.A., No. CIV.H-03- 4973, 2004 WL 2278770, at *11 (S.D. Tex. Sept. 14, 2004) (“In other words, when claims asserted at the state and federal


levels are so interwoven that the federal court is ‘in essence being called upon to review the statecourt decision,' the Rooker-Feldman doctrine divests the federal court of subject matter jurisdiction to conduct such a review.”) (citing Davis v. Bayless, 70 F.3d 367, 375-76 (5th Cir. 1995); United States v. Shepard, 23 F.3d 923, 924 (5th Cir. 1994)); see also Roland v. Texas, CIVIL ACTION NO. 4:21-CV-415-SDJ-CAN, 2022 WL 1192781, at *7, n.10 (E.D. Tex. Jan. 26, 2022), rec. accepted 2022 WL 622320 (E.D. Tex. Mar. 3, 2022); Illinios Cent. R.R. Co. v. Guy, 682 F.3d 381, 390-91 (5th Cir. 2012) (noting that, while “the doctrine usually applies only where a plaintiff explicitly attacks the validity of a state court's judgment, it can also apply if the plaintiff's claims are so inextricably intertwined with a state court judgment that the federal court is in essnce being called upon to review a state court decision”) (internal...

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