Tilley v. Anixter Inc., CIVA3-02-CV-1312 (JCH).

Citation283 F.Supp.2d 729
Decision Date19 September 2003
Docket NumberNo. CIVA3-02-CV-1312 (JCH).,CIVA3-02-CV-1312 (JCH).
PartiesSusan C. TILLEY, Plaintiff, v. ANIXTER INCORPORATED, Pacer/Anixter, Inc. and David G. Tilley, Defendants.
CourtUnited States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. United States District Court (Connecticut)
283 F.Supp.2d 729
Susan C. TILLEY, Plaintiff,
ANIXTER INCORPORATED, Pacer/Anixter, Inc. and David G. Tilley, Defendants.
No. CIVA3-02-CV-1312 (JCH).
United States District Court, D. Connecticut.
September 19, 2003.

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Robert B. Muchinsky, Hartford, CT, for Plaintiff.

Steven David Ecker, James Ross Smart, Cowdery, Ecker & Murphy, Hartford, CT, William M. Bloss, Jacobs, Grudberg, Belt & Dow, P.C., New Haven, CT, for Defendants.


HALL, District Judge.

The plaintiff, Susan Tilley, filed this tort action alleging that the defendants, Anixter, Inc., Pacer/Anixter, Inc. and her former husband, David G. Tilley, conspired to alter the reporting of Mr. Tilley's income during the Tilley's 1994 divorce proceedings. The plaintiff alleges federal jurisdiction based on diversity, pursuant to section 1332 of title 28 of the United States Code. Defendants Anixter Incorporated and Pacer/Anixter, Inc. ("defendants") moved to dismiss the plaintiff's complaint pursuant to Rule 12(b)(1) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, arguing that the case is a domestic relations matter over which the court has no jurisdiction. [Dkt No. 10]. Defendant Tilley has joined in this motion to dismiss. [Dkt. No. 12]. The court dismisses the first two counts for fraud and conspiracy for failure to state a claim. With respect to the third count for intentional infliction of emotional distress, the court rejects the defendants' arguments concerning the applicability of the domestic relations exception and abstention and concludes that federal jurisdiction is proper.


The plaintiff's complaint alleges that on October 18, 1994, the plaintiff and David G. Tilley ("Mr. Tilley") were divorced in the State of Connecticut, Superior Court, in the Judicial District of Hartford. The plaintiff alleges that, at the time of the divorce, the court and the plaintiff were deceived as to the actual earnings of Mr. Tilley, and that as a result the plaintiff was awarded an amount of child support substantially less than she should have been awarded if the court and the plaintiff had not been so deceived. Compl. ¶ 11 [Dkt. No. 1]. The plaintiff alleges that the court was deceived by the testimony of Mr. Tilley and Michael Rosa, then president of Pacer/Anixter, Inc. Id.

The plaintiff further alleges that the defendants, Pacer/Anixter, Inc., and Anixter Incorporated, altered the payroll records of the company and caused Mr. Tilley's income to be attributed to his then girl-friend, Terri Stephenson. Id. ¶ 12. The plaintiff alleges that the defendants' purpose was to deceive the plaintiff and the court in order to provide Mr. Tilley with a record of a lower income in order to minimize the amount in child support payments that he would have to pay to the plaintiff. Id. ¶ 13.

The complaint alleges three causes of action. The first claim is that Mr. Tilley and Michael Rosa made purposely fraudulent

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statements to the court to induce the plaintiff to accept a lower amount of money for child support. Id. ¶¶ 16, 17. This cause of action states that in reliance upon those statements, the court awarded the plaintiff less child support that it should, or would, have had the false representations not been made. Id. ¶ 18.

The second cause of action alleges that the defendants conspired to conceal the true earnings of Mr. Tilley by altering the payroll records. Id. ¶ 21. The complaint alleges that the defendants conspired to hide the true earnings of Mr. Tilley, so that he could represent to the court that he earned less than he actually did, and thereby reduce the amount of his liability for child support payments to the plaintiff. Id. ¶ 23. The plaintiff alleges that, as a result of the defendants' actions, she received less child support and suffered substantial damage.

The third count in the complaint alleges intentional infliction of emotional distress. The complaint alleges that the defendants have "willfully and or intentionally and or wantonly conspired to defraud the plaintiff so that she would receive less money in child support than she was entitled to under the law." Id. ¶ 26. The plaintiff alleges that the actions of the defendants were extremely outrageous and intentionally or recklessly caused severe emotional distress to the plaintiff.


The defendants have moved to dismiss the complaint under Rule 12(b)(1) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure for lack of federal subject matter jurisdiction. The defendants argue that this court lacks jurisdiction over this matter because it is a domestic relations matter. Mem. in Supp. of Mot. to Dismiss [Dkt. No. 11] at 6. The plaintiff argues that, because the action involves fairly traditional areas of tort law1 and names a defendant that was never part of the marital relationship, the domestic relations exception to federal diversity jurisdiction does not apply.

A case is properly dismissed for lack of subject matter jurisdiction under Rule 12(b)(1) when the district court lacks the statutory or constitutional power to adjudicate it. Makarova v. United States, 201 F.3d 110, 113 (2d Cir.2000). A plaintiff asserting subject matter jurisdiction generally has the burden, once challenged, of proving by a preponderance of the evidence that jurisdiction exists. Id. In resolving a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(1), a court is not limited to the face of the complaint, but may consider evidence, including affidavits submitted by the parties. Robinson v. Government of Malaysia, 269 F.3d 133, 141 (2d Cir.2001). When a court reviews a complaint under a factual attack for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, it must determine whether or not the factual predicate for subject matter exists. United Transp. Unions 385 & 77 v. Metro-North Commuter, 862 F.Supp. 55, 57 (S.D.N.Y.1994).

The domestic relations exception to federal jurisdiction dates from 1859, when the Supreme Court announced that the federal courts have no jurisdiction over suits for divorce or the allowance of alimony. Barber v. Barber, 62 U.S. 582, 21 How. 582, 16 L.Ed. 226 (1858). The Court in Barber wrote, "[w]e disclaim altogether any jurisdiction in the courts of the United States upon the subject of divorce, or for

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the allowance of alimony, either as an original proceeding in chancery or as an incident to divorce a vinculo, or to one from bed and board." Id. at 584, 21 How. 582. The exception is based on an understanding that "[t]he whole subject of the domestic relations of husband and wife, parent and child, belongs to the laws of the states, and not to the laws of the United States." In re Burrus, 136 U.S. 586, 593-94, 10 S.Ct. 850, 34 L.Ed. 500 (1890). The exception is grounded, not in the Constitution, but as a matter of "statutory construction" of the federal diversity statute. Ankenbrandt v. Richards, 504 U.S. 689, 700, 112 S.Ct. 2206, 119 L.Ed.2d 468 (1992).

Recently the Supreme Court clarified the limits of the domestic relations exception. In Ankenbrandt v. Richards, the Court overturned a lower court decision in which the domestic relations exception was invoked in a case involving tort allegations brought by the mother of two young children, in which she charged her ex-husband with sexually abusing the two girls. The court found that the domestic relations exception should not apply in such a case because the status of the domestic relationship had already been determined as a matter of state law, and the status of the relationship had "no bearing on the underlying torts alleged." Id. at 706, 112 S.Ct. 2206. Thus, the Court reasoned, "[b]ecause the allegations in the complaint d[id] not request the District Court to issue a divorce, alimony, or child custody decree," federal jurisdiction was proper. Id. The Court concluded that "the domestic relations exception encompasse[d] only cases involving the issuance of a divorce, alimony, or child custody decree." Ankenbrandt, 504 U.S. at 704, 112 S.Ct. 2206.

In this case, the defendants argue that the plaintiff's complaint is an effort to obtain new, retroactive child support payment orders, and therefore fits squarely within the domestic relations exception. The defendants characterize the claims in the complaint as asking the court to "revisit the dissolution action by (1) determining that the dissolution judgment was tainted by fraud, and (2) calculating what the order for support payments should have been, absent the alleged fraud, and awarding the difference to plaintiff." Reply Brief [Dkt. No. 18] at 3. The plaintiff argues, however, that the action does not seek to deal with or intend to obtain, alter or end the divorce alimony or child custody decree, but rather is a tort action based on the fraud and conspiracy of the defendants. Pl.'s Mem. in Opp. [Dkt. No. 16] at 2.

A. Fraud Claims

In Connecticut, common law fraud has four essential elements: "`(1) a false representation was made as a statement of fact; (2) it was untrue and known to be untrue by the party making it; (3) it was made to induce the other party to act upon it; and (4) the other party did so act upon that false representation to his injury.'" Suffield Development Associates Limited Partnership v. National Loan Investors, L.P., 260 Conn. 766, 777, 802 A.2d 44 (2002) (quoting, Barbara Weisman v. Kaspar, 233 Conn. 531, 539, 661 A.2d 530 (1995)). Here, the plaintiff alleges that the defendants made knowingly false representations to the Superior Court, and that Superior Court relied upon the false statements and awarded the plaintiff less child support than she would have otherwise been awarded. In a case such as this, where one party has made fraudulent representations to the court, or caused the court to be misled, it can be said that the party has committed a fraud upon the court. Id.

In Connecticut, however, the Connecticut Supreme...

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