United States District Court, S.D. Florida
ORDER ON DEFENDANT'S MOTION TO DISMISS OR
N. SCOLA, JR. UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
matter is before the Court on Defendant Sarah Diane
Maruk's motion to dismiss the Plaintiff's complaint.
(ECF No. 22.) The Plaintiff responded (ECF No. 34) and the
Defendant timely replied (ECF No. 38). Having considered the
record, the parties' submissions, and the applicable law,
the Court grants the Defendant's motion
in part and stays this case. (ECF No. 22.)
Joseph Patrick Michael Decourcy (“Decourcy”) and
Defendant Sarah Diane Maruk (“Maruk”) are
currently embroiled in divorce proceedings in the Superior
Court of the Virgin Islands. (ECF No. 1 at ¶ 1.)
According to the complaint, Maruk, along with her divorce
attorney, Defendant Teeluck Persad of CPLS, P.A., hacked
Decourcy's email accounts and used those emails “to
gain a tactical advantage in the divorce action.”
(Id. at ¶ 1.) According to the Plaintiff, the
Defendant read attorney-client communications in his email
and accessed architectural drawings of a development project
called Wharfside Village. (ECF No. 1 at 12.) Wharfside
Village is a project proposed for property owned by Decourcy,
so it may be considered a marital asset in the divorce
proceedings. (Id.) Decourcy also accuses the
Defendant of using her access to his email to sabotage the
sale of another property, the Waterfront Bistro, and
intimidate the potential purchaser. (Id. at 10-11.)
The Defendant's alleged conduct was discussed during a
hearing in the Virgin Islands. (ECF Nos. 12-1 and 12-2.) The
transcripts from the two-day hearing are attached to the
Defendant's motion to dismiss.
is now suing Maruk, her attorney, and her attorney's firm
for violations of the Stored Communications Act, the Federal
Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, and for tortious interference
with a business relationship. (Id. at 14-19.) Maruk
has moved to dismiss or stay the case pending the resolution
of the parties' divorce proceedings. (ECF No. 22.)
Defendant moves to stay this case under the Colorado
River and Younger abstention doctrines. (ECF
No. 22 at 8-9.) Under the abstention doctrine of Younger
v. Harris, 401 U.S. 37 (1971), the court must consider:
(1) whether the state proceedings constitute an ongoing state
judicial proceeding; (2) whether they implicate important
state interests; and (3) whether there is an adequate
opportunity in the state proceedings to raise constitutional
challenges. Richard v. Fisher & Bendeck, P.A.,
No. 10-14110, 2011 WL 284455, at *2 (S.D. Fla. Jan. 25, 2011)
(Martinez, J.) (quoting 31 Foster Children v. Bush,
329 F.3d 1255, 1274 (11th Cir. 2003)). Because the Court
finds that Younger abstention applies, it will not
address the Colorado River factors.
Eleventh Circuit has held that an essential part of the first
 factor in Younger abstention analysis is whether
the federal proceeding will interfere with an ongoing state
court proceeding.” Id. (quoting 31 Foster
Children, 329 F.3d at 1276). In order to determine
whether a federal case would “interfere” with the
state proceeding, courts look to the relief requested and the
effect it would have on the state case. Id. Here,
each count of Plaintiff's complaint seeks damages related
to the “sabotaged sale of the Waterfront Bistro”
and the Defendant's “unfair advantage in the
divorce proceedings.” (ECF No. 1 at ¶¶ 72,
84, 93, 99.) The issues raised in this lawsuit were raised at
a hearing in the Virgin Islands on a motion to show cause for
Decourcy's failure to abide by the interim alimony
agreement. (ECF No. 22-2.) At the conclusion of the two-day
hearing, the court entered an interim order for alimony and
attorneys' fees and found Decourcy in willful contempt of
court for failing to comply with the court's previous
orders. (ECF No. 22-3 at 8.) Decourcy is now seeking an order
from this Court awarding him damages related to a property
that may be considered a marital assert, the Waterfront
Bistro, and for conduct which has already been brought to the
court's attention in the Virgin Islands. An award of
damages in this case would presumably offset the alimony
payments entered in the divorce proceedings, therefore
“interfering” with the state case. See
Richard, 2011 WL 284455 at *3. Notwithstanding the
Plaintiff's arguments, the Court finds that a more
appropriate way to address Maruk's alleged conduct is to
move for sanctions in the Virgin Islands proceedings, rather
than seek relief from this Court.
respect to the second factor, the division of marital assets
and one spouse's access to certain email accounts during
the course of a divorce implicate important state interests.
See Metha v. Maddox, 296 F.Supp.3d 60, 65 (D.D.C.
2017) (“the [state] has a significant interest in
divorce proceedings taking place in the District and the
division of marital assets.”); Richard, 2011
WL 284455 at *3 (“[T]he assignment of marital assets
during a divorce implicate important state
interests.”). The Virgin Islands court is in a much
better position to determine whether the Defendant's
conduct has given her a “tactical advantage” in
the divorce proceedings and whether she has somehow used that
advantage to manipulate the value of a marital asset.
Accordingly, this factor weighs in favor of abstention.
respect to the third factor, “Plaintiff bears the
burden of showing that the state proceedings do not provide
an adequate forum for his federal claim.”
Richard, 2011 WL 284455 at *3 (citing Butler v.
Ala. Judicial Inquiry Comm'n, 261 F.3d 1154, 1159
(11th Cir. 2001). “Plaintiff can overcome the
presumption that state proceedings are adequate only by
demonstrating that the state court remedies are
inadequate.” Id. Here, the Plaintiff simply
asserts, without a single citation, that the Virgin Islands
proceedings will not afford him an adequate opportunity to
raise his claims. (ECF No. 34 at 18.) The Court disagrees.
The Plaintiff's claims for damages are based on alleged
hacking of the Plaintiff's email to gain an advantage in
the divorce proceedings by reviewing confidential documents.
The Virgin Islands court can exclude any evidence improperly
obtained or impose sanctions against Maruk and her counsel
for the misconduct alleged here. “Although Plaintiff
asserts he has brought claims against individuals, such as
his wife's divorce attorneys . . . who are not currently
parties to the divorce proceedings, he has not demonstrated
that he cannot seek relief against them in the state
proceedings.” Richard, 2011 WL 284455 at *3.
It would be difficult to imagine the divorce proceedings
concluding without resolving the allegations made in the
Plaintiff's complaint given that they have already been
brought to the court's attention in the Virgin Islands.
Therefore, the Plaintiff has not met his burden and
Younger abstention is appropriate.
the Court grants the Defendant's motion
to stay the proceedings pending the outcome of the
Virgin Islands divorce proceedings. (ECF No.
22.) The Clerk is directed to
administratively close this case. Upon
completion of the Virgin Islands proceedings, either party
may file a motion asking the Court to reopen the case and
request affirmative relief from the Court. All pending
motions are denied as moot.