Meersman v. Regions Morgan Keegan Tr., NO. 3:20-cv-00154

CourtUnited States District Courts. 6th Circuit. United States District Court of Middle District of Tennessee
PartiesJOSEPH PETER MEERSMAN, JR., Plaintiff, v. REGIONS MORGAN KEEGAN TRUST, et al., Defendants.
Decision Date11 May 2020
Docket NumberNO. 3:20-cv-00154


NO. 3:20-cv-00154


May 11, 2020


Joseph Peter Meersman, Jr., a pro se Kentucky resident, filed a civil complaint (Doc. No. 1), along with a supporting brief (Doc. No. 1-1) and two supplemental exhibits (Doc. Nos. 5 and 6). Plaintiff also filed an application to proceed in this Court without prepaying fees and costs. (Doc. No. 4.) The Court will grant Plaintiff's request to proceed as a pauper and conduct an initial review. See 28 U.S.C. § 1915(2)(2)(B). And for the following reasons, this action will be dismissed.

I. Application to Proceed as a Pauper

The Court may authorize a person to file a civil suit without paying the $400.00 filing fee. 28 U.S.C. § 1915(a). Plaintiff's application to proceed as a pauper reflects that he does not have sufficient financial resources to pay the full filing fee in advance without undue hardship. Accordingly, Plaintiff's application (Doc. No. 4) will be granted.

II. Initial Review

The Court must dismiss any action filed in forma pauperis if it is frivolous or malicious, fails to state a claim, or seeks monetary relief against a defendant who is immune from such relief. 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B). The Court must also construe pro se filings liberally, Erickson v.

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Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007) (citing Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 106 (1976)), and accept factual allegations as true unless they are entirely without credibility. Thomas v. Eby, 481 F.3d 434, 437 (6th Cir. 2007) (citing Denton v. Hernandez, 504 U.S. 25, 33 (1992)).

A. Background and Factual Allegations

The original pleading in this case is a document titled "Complaint; Breach of Fiduciary Duty, Regions Morgan Keagan Trust/Regions Bank." (Doc. No. 1 at 1.) It is essentially broken into two sections—a 30-page introductory section titled "Statement of the Case" (id. at 2-31), and a 64-page section repurposed from a pleading filed in state court in 2017, as explained below (id. at 33-96).

In the Statement of the Case, Plaintiff explains that this case is the "refiling of [a] prior suit" originally filed in Tennessee state court. (Id. at 3.) Because Plaintiff explicitly references the state court suit, the Court will take judicial notice1 of the Tennessee Court of Appeals ("TCA") opinion from the related state court litigation. See Meersman v. Regions Morgan Keegan Trust, No. M2017-02043-COA-R3-CV, 2018 WL 4896660 (Tenn. Ct. App. Oct. 9, 2018).2

As the TCA explained, Plaintiff alleges that he "was a beneficiary of two trusts," and "Regions Morgan Keegan Trust ('Regions') was the trustee for the trusts until an order approving its resignation was entered on October 11, 2010. Michael M. Castellarin was subsequently appointed as the successor trustee on February 9, 2011." Meersman, 2018 WL 4896660, at *1;

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(see Doc. No. 1 at 2, 33, 35, 37-38, 63). Both trusts were terminated in 2015. Meersman, 2018 WL 4896660, at *1 (footnote omitted); (see Doc. No. 1 at 3, 26).

On May 12, 2015, Plaintiff filed a complaint against Regions Morgan Keegan Trust in the Davidson County Circuit Court "alleging a breach of fiduciary duty." Meersman, 2018 WL 4896660, at *1; (see Doc. No. 1 at 2-3, 7, 31, 33). On March 1, 2016, Plaintiff "filed a document entitled 'Adde[n]dum to Complaint,'" adding "three former employees of Regions as additional defendants in the lawsuit—Judy Stenson, Melanie Cail, and Paul Gaddis. The 'adde[n]dum' also added [Michael] Castellarin as an additional defendant." Meersman, 2018 WL 4896660, at *1; (see Doc. No. 1 at 2-3, 7, 31, 33). And on June 14, 2017, Plaintiff filed a document titled "Motion for Acceptance of Final Amen[d]ment to Complaint: Regions Morgan Keegan Trust." Meersman, 2018 WL 4896660, at *1; (see Doc. No. 1 at 3, 19, 31, 33).

Soon thereafter, all five state court Defendants made special appearances to file motions to dismiss. Meersman, 2018 WL 4896660, at *2. They argued, among other things, that the case should be dismissed for insufficient service of process under the Tennessee Rules of Civil Procedure. Id. The trial court granted the motions and "dismissed the lawsuit based on Rules 12.02(2), (4), and (5) of the Tennessee Rules of Civil Procedure for lack of personal jurisdiction, insufficient process, and insufficient service of process." Meersman, 2018 WL 4896660, at *2; (see Doc. No. 1 at 3). Plaintiff appealed, the TCA affirmed, and the Tennessee Supreme Court denied his application for permission to appeal on February 20, 2019. Meersman, 2018 WL 4896660, perm. app. denied Feb. 20, 2019; (see Doc. No. 1 at 4).

On February 21, 2020, Plaintiff filed a case in this Court against all five state court Defendants and one additional Defendant.3 (Doc. No. 1 at 1.) The section of the original pleading

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following the "Statement of the Case" appears very closely based on the second amended complaint filed in state court in 2017. For instance, these two pleadings assert the same twelve unique causes of action, word for word.4 And while a small part of the federal filing seems to have been updated to account for the change in forum (Doc. No. 1 at 33 ("The United States District Court has diversity jurisdiction in this case")), other parts are unchanged from the 2017 state court filing (id. (referring to "this final filing of a complaint in 2017"); id. at 44 ("As of June 2017 the plaintiff is now sixty four years of age.")). Indeed, the federal filing includes a signature page dated February 20, 2017, listing an old address for Plaintiff. (Id. at 94.)

B. Standard of Review

To determine whether a complaint "fails to state a claim on which relief may be granted" under 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B), the Court applies the same standard as under Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Hill v. Lappin, 630 F.3d 468, 470-71 (6th Cir. 2010). The Court therefore accepts "all well-pleaded allegations in the complaint as true, [and] 'consider[s] the factual allegations in [the] complaint to determine if they plausibly suggest an entitlement to relief.'" Williams v. Curtin, 631 F.3d 380, 383 (6th Cir. 2011) (quoting Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 681 (2009)). An assumption of truth does not extend to allegations that consist of legal conclusions or "'naked assertion[s]' devoid of 'further factual enhancement.'" Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 557 (2007)). A pro se pleading must be liberally construed and "held to less stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers." Erickson, 551 U.S. at 94 (citing Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 106 (1976)).

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C. Discussion

Plaintiff asserts that the Court has diversity jurisdiction (Doc. No. 1 at 33), and the Court accepts this assertion as true for the purpose of conducting an initial review. Nonetheless, this case is subject to dismissal for two reasons. First, the Rooker-Feldman doctrine bars this Court from considering Plaintiff's arguments that the state court erred in dismissing his case. And second, Plaintiff's refiled state law claims are untimely under Tennessee's savings statute.

1. Rooker-Feldman

The "Rooker-Feldman doctrine" is a principle of law "generally provid[ing] that lower federal courts may not engage in appellate review of state-court decisions." In re Isaacs, 895 F.3d 904, 912 (6th Cir. 2018) (discussing Rooker v. Fidelity Trust Co., 263 U.S. 413 (1923) and D.C. Court of Appeals v. Feldman, 460 U.S. 462 (1983)). That is because "appellate jurisdiction to reverse or modify a state-court judgment is lodged . . . exclusively in" the United States Supreme Court—not a federal district court. Exxon Mobil Corp. v. Saudi Basic Indus. Corp., 544 U.S. 280, 283 (2005) (citations omitted). It is a narrow doctrine, "confined to those cases exemplified by Rooker and Feldman themselves: when a plaintiff asserts before a federal district court that a state court judgment itself was...

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