Hunt v. Hunt, 2:20-cv-00160-JAW

Decision Date29 December 2020
Docket Number2:20-cv-00160-JAW
Citation512 F.Supp.3d 39
Parties Thomas W. HUNT, Sr., Plaintiff, v. Thomas W. HUNT, Jr., et al., Defendants.
CourtU.S. District Court — District of Maine

Abigail C. Varga, Anna Polko Clark, Cyrus E. Cheslak, John F. Lambert, Jr., Lambert Coffin, Portland, ME, for Plaintiff.

Elizabeth G. Stouder, Heidi J. Eddy, Richardson, Whitman, Large & Badger, Portland, ME, for Defendants.

ORDER ON DEFENDANT JANE A. TRUDEAU'S AND DEFENDANT THOMAS W. HUNT, JR.S MOTIONS TO DISMISS

JOHN A. WOODCOCK, JR., UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

A Massachusetts man died without a will, without a spouse or children, leaving behind a substantial estate. His father is a Mainer. The son's estate is going through probate in Massachusetts. After renouncing his claim to the estate and his role as personal representative, the decedent's father brought suit in Maine against his other son, a Rhode Island resident, and against a Massachusetts attorney, the father's former sister-in-law, alleging they wrongfully induced him to renounce his claim to the estate.

Both defendants move to dismiss the case claiming (1) the Court lacks personal jurisdiction over them and (2) the lack of subject matter jurisdiction and federal abstention doctrines counsel in favor of dismissing or staying this case. The Court concludes that it lacks personal jurisdiction over the Massachusetts attorney and dismisses the plaintiff's claims against her, but it also concludes that it has personal jurisdiction over the Rhode Island son. The Court also concludes it is without subject matter jurisdiction over some of the plaintiff's claims against the Rhode Island son because adjudication would require the Court to interfere with the Massachusetts probate court's custody over the estate. The Court dismisses those claims but concludes it has jurisdiction over the plaintiff's remaining claims against his son.

I. PROCEDURAL HISTORY

On March 6, 2020, Thomas W. Hunt, Sr. filed a complaint against Thomas W. Hunt, Jr. and Jane A. Trudeau in Cumberland County Superior Court in Portland, Maine.1 Aff. of Elizabeth G. Stouder , Attach. 2, Compl. (ECF No. 13). On March 16, 2020, Plaintiff Hunt amended his Complaint. Id. , Attach. 5, First Am. Compl. (Am. Compl. ). Service of the process took time but was eventually completed. See generally id. , Attachs. 8-16.

On May 7, 2020 Defendant Hunt removed the case to the federal district court for the District of Maine pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1441, citing the Court's diversity jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C § 1332. Notice of Removal (ECF No. 1). Defendant Hunt filed his answer to the amended complaint on May 12, 2020. Answer (ECF No. 4) (Hunt Answer ). On June 1, 2020 Jane Trudeau moved to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction and on the basis of federal abstention doctrines. Def. Trudeau's Mot. to Dismiss Pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(1) (ECF No. 14) (Trudeau Mot. ). On June 16, 2020, Defendant Hunt filed his own motion to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction and abstention, incorporating Ms. Trudeau's motion by reference. Mot. to Dismiss by Def. Thomas W. Hunt, Jr. (ECF No. 26) (Hunt Mot. ). The Magistrate Judge authorized jurisdictional discovery later that day. Procedural Order (ECF No. 27).

On September 3, 2020, Thomas Hunt, Sr. filed his opposition to the Defendants’ motions. Pl. Thomas W. Hunt, Sr.’s Opp'n to Def. Jane A. Trudeau's and Def. Thomas W. Hunt, Jr.’s Mots. to Dismiss for Lack of Personal and Subject Matter Jurisdiction (ECF No. 36) (Pl.’s Opp'n ). On September 17, 2020, the Defendants filed separate replies. Def. Trudeau's Reply to Pl.’s Opp'n to Mot. to Dismiss Pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(1) (ECF No. 39) (Trudeau Reply ); Reply to Pl.’s Resp. to Mot. to Dismiss by Def. Thomas W. Hunt, Jr. (ECF No. 40) (Hunt Jr. Reply ).

II. MOTION TO DISMISS: ANALYTIC APPROACHES
A. The Motion to Dismiss for Lack of Personal Jurisdiction

The Defendants have moved this Court to dismiss the Plaintiff's Amended Complaint for lack of personal jurisdiction under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(2). "To hear a case, the court must have personal jurisdiction over the parties, ‘that is the power to require the parties to obey its decrees.’ " Astro-Med, Inc. v. Nihon Kohden Am., Inc. , 591 F.3d 1, 8 (1st Cir. 2009) (quoting United States v. Swiss Am. Bank, Ltd. , 191 F.3d 30, 35 (1st Cir. 1999) ). "On a motion to dismiss for want of personal jurisdiction, the plaintiff ultimately bears the burden of persuading the court that jurisdiction exists." Id. (citing McNutt v. Gen. Motors Acceptance Corp. , 298 U.S. 178, 189, 56 S.Ct. 780, 80 L.Ed. 1135 (1936) ). "Faced with a motion to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction, a district court may choose from among several methods for determining whether the plaintiff has met [its] burden." Id. (quoting Adelson v. Hananel , 510 F.3d 43, 48 (1st Cir. 2007) (internal quotation marks omitted) (quoting Daynard v. Ness, Motley, Loadholt, Richardson & Poole, P.A. , 290 F.3d 42, 50-51 (1st Cir. 2002) )). "The different methods involve application by the district court of different legal standards." Boit v. Gar-Tec Prods., Inc. , 967 F.2d 671, 674-79 (1st Cir. 1992) (discussing the different methods and standards); see Foster-Miller, Inc. v. Babcock & Wilcox , 46 F.3d 138, 145-47 (1st Cir. 1995) (describing the prima facie, preponderance and likelihood standards).

Here, the Court elects to use " ‘the prima facie method’ or the ‘prima facie evidentiary standard,’ rather than adjudicating the jurisdictional facts." Astro-Med , 591 F.3d at 8. Under the prima facie standard, "the inquiry is whether the plaintiff has proffered evidence which, if credited, is sufficient to support findings of all facts essential to personal jurisdiction." Bluetarp Fin., Inc. v. Matrix Constr. Co. , 709 F.3d 72, 79 (1st Cir. 2013) (quoting Phillips v. Prairie Eye Ctr. , 530 F.3d 22, 26 (1st Cir. 2008) ). The court accepts "[t]he plaintiff's properly documented evidentiary proffers ... as true for purposes of making the prima facie showing, and ... construe[s] these proffers in a light most favorable to plaintiff's jurisdictional claim." Id. "To the extent that they are uncontradicted, [the court] add[s] into the mix the facts put forward by the defendant." Id. (citing Cossaboon v. Maine Med. Ctr. , 600 F.3d 25, 31 (1st Cir. 2010) ); Baskin-Robbins Franchising LLC v. Alpenrose Dairy, Inc. , 825 F.3d 28, 34 (1st Cir. 2016). At this stage, the Court "is not acting as a factfinder." Boit , 967 F.2d at 675. However, the Court does not credit "conclusory allegations or draw farfetched inferences." Ticketmaster-New York, Inc. v. Alioto , 26 F.3d 201, 203 (1st Cir. 1994).

B. The Motion to Dismiss for Lack of Subject Matter Jurisdiction

Once the Court chooses the prima facie method of proceeding with personal jurisdiction, the analytic method is similar for the companion asserted lack of subject matter jurisdiction. When a defendant moves to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction, the plaintiff must show that federal jurisdiction exists. Acosta-Ramírez v. Banco Popular de Puerto Rico , 712 F.3d 14, 20 (1st Cir. 2013). Just as with personal jurisdiction, Plaintiff Hunt bears the "burden to prove the existence of subject matter jurisdiction." Aversa v. United States , 99 F.3d 1200, 1209-10 (1st Cir. 1996). "At the pleading stage, [an order of dismissal] is appropriate only when the facts alleged in the complaint, taken as true, do not justify the exercise of subject matter jurisdiction." Sáchez ex rel. D.R.-S. v. United States , 671 F.3d 86, 106 (1st Cir. 2012) (quoting Muñiz-Rivera v. United States , 326 F.3d 8, 11 (1st Cir. 2003) ). "In assessing whether the plaintiff has put forward an adequate basis for jurisdiction, ‘the court must credit the plaintiff's well-pleaded factual allegations (usually taken from the complaint, but sometimes augmented by an explanatory affidavit or other repository of uncontested facts), draw all reasonable inference from them in [the plaintiff's] favor, and dispose of the challenge accordingly.’ " Id. (quoting Valentin v. Hosp. Bella Vista , 254 F.3d 358, 363 (1st Cir. 2001) ); see Merlonghi v. United States , 620 F.3d 50, 54 (1st Cir. 2010) ; Aversa , 99 F.3d at 1210 (The district court may also "consider whatever evidence has been submitted, such as the depositions and exhibits submitted").

Employing the prima facie approach for personal jurisdiction and the standard approach for subject matter jurisdiction, the Court recites the factual background presented by the parties.

III. FACTUAL BACKGROUND
A. The Parties

Andrew Hunt died on or around June 5, 2019. Pl.’s Opp'n , Attach. 1, Decl. of Thomas W. Hunt Sr. ¶ 4 (Hunt Sr. Decl. ). Andrew Hunt was unmarried and had no children, and he died without a will. Am. Compl. ¶¶ 5, 16. His estate is currently going through probate in Suffolk Probate Court in the commonwealth of Massachusetts. Hunt Sr. Decl. ¶ 3. Andrew Hunt's father, Thomas W. Hunt, Sr., is eighty-seven years old and lives in Bridgton, Maine. Id. ¶¶ 1-4. Thomas W. Hunt, Sr. was previously married to Elaine Hunt, but they were divorced many years ago. Am. Compl. ¶ 8. They have two living children—Thomas W. Hunt, Jr. and Jennifer Hunt. Id. ¶ 7. Jennifer Hunt and Thomas Hunt, Sr. have been estranged for decades. Id. ¶ 17. Thomas Hunt, Jr. is a defendant in this case. Id. ¶ 2.

The present dispute arises from actions that Defendant Hunt and Elaine Hunt's sister, a Massachusetts attorney named Jane A. Trudeau, allegedly took regarding Andrew Hunt's estate. According to Plaintiff Hunt, the pair unlawfully procured his consent to (1) appoint Attorney Trudeau as the estate's personal representative and (2) renounce his share of the estate's proceeds. Am. Compl. ¶¶ 75-116. Plaintiff Hunt seeks relief under several different causes of action. Id.

Defendant Hunt has lived in Narragansett, Rhode Island since 2015. Pl.’s Opp'n , Attach. 11, ...

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