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Neville v. McCaghren

United States District Court, S.D. Georgia, Statesboro Division

May 1, 2018




         Before the Court is Defendant's Motion to Dismiss. (Doc. 10.) For the reasons stated herein, Defendant's Motion to Dismiss is GRANTED for lack of personal jurisdiction over Defendant.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff and Defendant are half-siblings and the children of Jessica Stafford Neville ("Decedent"). Plaintiff alleges that, in 2006, Decedent executed a new will (the "Will") and trust agreement (the "Trust Agreement") that was "engineered" by-Defendant to favor herself and which appointed her as personal representative of Decedent's estate (the "Estate") and as successor trustee of the trust created thereby (the "Trust"). (Doc. 1, at 2; see also Doc. 14-1, at 10-30 (the Trust Agreement).[1]) The Trust Agreement also established a special needs trust for the benefit of Plaintiff (the * Special Needs Trust"). (Id. at 3.)

         On January 31, 2008, Decedent died in a house-fire at her residence in Gainesville, Florida (the "Residence"). (Id. at 2.) Though Plaintiff lived at the Residence "for about 25 years, " he alleges that he was not present during this fire. (Id.) Defendant subsequently razed the Residence and two outbuildings thereon. (Id. at 2-3.) Plaintiff allegedly "had hundreds of thousands of dollars [sic] worth of property" in the Residence and outbuildings that Defendant either converted to her own use, destroyed, or otherwise disposed. (Id. at 3.) Defendant allegedly refused to compensate Plaintiff for this aforementioned personal property. (Id.)

         Plaintiff also complains about Defendant's management of the Estate and her interactions therewith. For example, Plaintiff alleges that, prior to Decedent's death, Defendant "looted" the Residence of "antique and rare furniture and other items" and "has failed to account for these items or restore them to the [E]state." (Id.) Similarly, Defendant allegedly "looted" Decedent's safe deposit box and took all valuables therein. (Id.) Plaintiff further alleges that Defendant received a disproportionate share of the Estate. (Id.) Finally, Plaintiff also alleges that Defendant "effected a 'straw sale7 of" the Estate's interest in real property located in Bulloch County, Georgia (the "Bulloch Property"), whereby Defendant "sold the [Bulloch P]roperty from the [E]state to a third party and then bought it back to [sic] for herself . . . to deny [Plaintiff] his property interest in this real property." (Id.)

         On May 8, 2017, Plaintiff, proceeding pro se and residing in Louisiana, filed the instant complaint against Defendant.[2] (See Neville v. McCaghren, Case No. 6:17-mc-001 (S.D. Ga. filed May 8, 2017), Doc. 2.) In his complaint, Plaintiff asserts state law claims of "gross negligence, " "breach of fiduciary duty, " "simple negligence, " "exploitation of the elderly/disabled, " and "tolling of statutes of limitations, " and seeks compensatory/punitive damages and injunctive relief thereon. (See Doc. 1, at 4-6.) Contemporaneously with the filing of his complaint, Plaintiff filed a motion for leave to proceed in forma pauperis. (Doc. 2.) On August 23, 2017, the United States Magistrate Judge conducted an initial review of Plaintiff's pleadings and other filings and entered an Order wherein he granted Plaintiff's motion for leave to proceed in forma pauperis and concluded that, at least "at the screening stage, " Plaintiff had alleged "facts sufficient to support diversity [subject-matter] jurisdiction." (See Doc. 7, at 2-3, n.l.)

         On November 6, 2017, Defendant moved to dismiss this action for lack of personal jurisdiction and/or failure to state a claim or, in the alternative, to transfer this case to the Northern District of Florida (the "Motion to Dismiss"). (Docs. 10, 11.) Plaintiff subsequently filed a response in opposition - as well as several other papers ostensibly responsive - to the Motion to Dismiss. (See Docs. 12, 13, 20-2, 22, 31.)


         "In the context of a motion to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction in which no evidentiary hearing is held, the plaintiff bears the burden of establishing a prima facie case of jurisdiction over the movant, nonresident defendant." Morris v. SSE, Inc., 843 F.2d 489, 492 (11th Cir. 1988). The plaintiff establishes a prima facie case by presentingwenough evidence to withstand a motion for directed verdict." Madera v. Hall, 916 F.2d 1510, 1514 (11th Cir. 1990). A party presents enough evidence to withstand a motion or directed verdict by putting forthw substantial evidence . . .of such quality and weight that reasonable and fair-minded persons in the exercise of impartial judgment might reach different conclusions." Walker v. Nations Bank of Florida, 53 F.3d 1548, 1554 (11th Cir. 1995).

         In assessing a motion to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction, the facts presented in the plaintiff's complaint are taken as true to the extent they are uncontroverted. Cable/Home Commc'n Corp. v. Network Prods., Inc., 902 F.2d 829, 855 (11th Cir. 1990) (citations omitted). If the defendant submits affidavits challenging the allegations in the complaint, however, the burden shifts back to the plaintiff to produce evidence supporting jurisdiction. Diamond Crystal Brands, Inc. v. Food Movers Intern., Inc., 593 F.3d 1249, 1257 (11th Cir. 2010). If the plaintiff's supporting evidence conflicts with the defendant's affidavits, the court must construe all reasonable inferences in favor of the plaintiff. Id. (citing Meier v. Sun Int'l Hotels, Ltd., 288 F.3d 1264, 1269 (11th Cir. 2002)) .


         In his Complaint, Plaintiff acknowledges that Defendant is not a resident of Georgia.[3] Nevertheless, in his response to the Motion to Dismiss, Plaintiff asserts that Defendant is subject to personal jurisdiction in Georgia because she *committed massive fraud and self-dealing in secret in Bulloch County, Georgia concerning real property located immediately south of Statesboro, Georgia" (i.e., the Bulloch Property). (See Doc. 12, at 1-2.) Yet Plaintiff has not actually pled any facts -nor has he introduced any evidence - in support of his bald conclusion that Defendant's alleged tortious acts or omissions actually occurred in Georgia.[4] (See Doc. 1.) Further, Defendant has filed affidavits and other evidence demonstrating that all relevant transactions with relation to Decedent, the Estate, and their respective assets (including the Bulloch Property) occurred outside of Georgia. (See Doc. 11, at 2-9 (citing Neville v. McCaghren, Case No. 6:15-cv-28 (S.D. Ga. dismissed May 20, 2016) (the ("2015 Action"), Doc. 27-1); Doc. 14-1; 2015 Action, Doc. 27-1, at 1-6.) Defendant and her sister, non-party Marguerite McMillan Jackson Dill, also attest that Defendant did not sell - and then repurchase - the Bui loch Property to/from a third party, but rather that Defendant and Ms. Dill: (i) received interests in the Bulloch Property as distributions from the Estate pursuant to the explicit terms of the Trust Agreement; and (ii) exercised their rights under the Trust Agreement to purchase the Estate's interest in the Bulloch Property that was otherwise apportioned to the Special Needs Trust established on behalf of Plaintiff.[5] (See Doc. 11, at 5 (citing 2015 Action, Doc. 27-1); Doc. 14-1, at 1-6; 2015 Action, Doc. 27-1; see also Doc. 14-1, at 10-30.) Defendant admits, however, that she does presently own an interest in the Bulloch Property. (See 2015 Action, Doc. 27-1, at 4.) Nevertheless, Defendant contends that this Court lacks personal jurisdiction over her for any and all of Plaintiff's claims.

         To determine whether a nonresident defendant is subject to personal jurisdiction, the Court must perform a two-part analysis. United Techs. Corp. v. Mazer, 556 F.3d 1260, 1274 (11th Cir. 2009). First, the Court must determine whether the exercise of personal jurisdiction is proper under the forum state's long-arm statute as that statute would be interpreted by the state's Supreme Court. Id. Next, the Court must determine whether there are sufficient "minimum contacts" with the forum state to satisfy the Due Process ...

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