United States District Court, S.D. Florida, Miami Division
ORDER DISMISSING CASE FOR LACK OF SUBJECT MATTER
FEDERICO A. MORENO, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
CAUSE came before the Court upon a sua sponte review
of the record. Previously, this Court entered an Order to
Show Cause directing the Plaintiff to explain why the probate
exception did not apply to strip the Court of subject matter
jurisdiction. Both the Plaintiff and Defendants filed
responses to the Court's show cause order. Upon review of
the responses, the pertinent portions of the record, and
being otherwise fully advised in the premises, it is
ADJUDGED that the instant case is dismissed
for lack of subject matter jurisdiction.
case arises out of Plaintiff Diane Fisher's claims that
Defendant PNC Bank, NA. allegedly mishandled her mother's
bank account. The gravamen of Plaintiff s complaint is that
PNC Bank either knowingly or negligently allowed Plaintiffs
brother to steal from her mother's bank account.
Plaintiff recounts that before the mother had an account at
PNC Bank, she had an account at Royal Bank of Canada
("RBC"), in which she and the Plaintiff were
co-owners. Plaintiff alleges that back in the 1980s, she
entrusted her mother with $150, 000, which was supposedly in
the RBC account. Her mother then transferred all her money,
including the $150, 000 Plaintiff owned, to the PNC Bank
account. Once the money was transferred, Plaintiff learned
that her mother was the sole owner of the PNC Bank account.
courts are courts of limited jurisdiction, which possess only
the power authorized by the United States Constitution and
federal statute. Kokkonen v. Guardian Life Ins. Co. of
Am., 511 U.S. 375, 377 (1994). Federal statute provides
for original jurisdiction over civil cases wherein the amount
in controversy exceeds $75, 000 and the parties are citizens
of different states. 28 U.S.C. § 1332. "Federal
courts, however, have recognized an exception to federal
diversity jurisdiction in cases involving state probate
matters." Stuart v. Hatcher, 757 F.App'x
807, 809 (11th Cir. 2018). The probate exception to subject
matter jurisdiction is narrow, applying only to cases that
would require a federal court to (1) probate a will, (2)
administer an estate, or (3) "dispose of property that
is in the custody of a state probate court."
Id. (quoting Marshall v. Marshall, 547 U.S.
293, 311-12 (2006)). Federal courts are free to adjudicate
probate or estate-related cases that do not fall within the
bounds of those three categories. Id; see also Goodstein
v. Goodstein, No. 18-80497, 2019 WL 1383656, *2 (S.D.
Fla. Feb. 5, 2019) (similar).
lodestar in determining whether a claim falls under the
probate exception is whether a particular claim and the
relief it seeks interfere with the property that is
in the possession of a state probate court."
Goodstein, 2019 WL 1383656, at *3 (citing
Markham v. Allen, 326 U.S. 490, 494 (1946)). Stated
differently, district courts have no jurisdiction over
actions seeking a valuation of estate assets, a transfer of
property that is under probate, or "a premature
accounting of an estate still in probate." Turton v.
Turton, 644 F.2d 344, 348 (5th Cir. 1981); see also
Mich. Tech Fund v. Century Nat'l Bank of Broward,
680 F.2d 736, 741 (11th Cir. 1982) (similar).
in determining whether a suit would interfere with property
controlled by the probate court, federal courts "look
past the plaintiffs theory of relief and consider the
'effect a judgment would have on the jurisdiction of the
probate court.'" Stuart, 757 F.App'x at
809 (quoting Turton, 644 F.2d at 348). The central
inquiry is whether a district court, "as a court of
equity, can fashion the relief granted so that the relief
would be within [the court's] jurisdiction and would not
interfere with the jurisdiction of the probate court."
Goodstein, 2019 WL 1383656, at *3 (quoting
Hudson v. Abercrombie, 682 F.Supp. 1218, 1220
looking past the Plaintiffs theory of relief and considering
the effect that judgment would have in this case, it is
evident that Plaintiff is ultimately attempting to circumvent
the normal probate process by bringing an individual claim
against PNC Bank. As Plaintiff recognizes in her complaint,
the brother's alleged theft occurred in a bank account
that was owned by Plaintiffs mother-not the Plaintiff.
However, Plaintiff does not allege that the brother
completely depleted the funds from the mother's account,
nor allege that PNC Bank stole or enabled the brother to
steal all of the $150, 000 from the mother's account. As
the Supreme Court held in Marshall, "the
general principle [is] that when one court is exercising
in rem jurisdiction over a res, a second
court will not assume in rem jurisdiction over the
same res." Marshall, 547 U.S. at 311.
Applicable here, "the probate exception reserves to
state probate courts the probate or annulment of a will and
the administration of a decedent's estate; it also
precludes federal courts from endeavoring to dispose of
property that is in the custody of a state probate
court." Id. at 311-12.
addition, since, as Plaintiff contends in her complaint, the
brother's alleged theft occurred in a bank account that
was owned by the Plaintiffs mother-not the Plaintiff-claims
relating to those accounts passed on to the estate
upon the mother's passing. Thus, Plaintiff, who is not
the personal representative of the estate, has no standing to
bring claims on behalf of the estate against the Defendants.
See Tennyson v. ASCAP, 477 F.App'x 608, 610-11
(11th Cir. 2012). Indeed, in her complaint, the Plaintiff
recognizes that "Ms. Charlap's estate is already
seeking relief against PNC for its malfeasance and
omissions." If what Plaintiff writes is true, any ruling
by this Court in this case would in fact implicate the
ultimate accounting of the estate, as any funds recovered
from the litigation between the estate and PNC Bank would be
subject to distribution among the beneficiaries of the
estate. This, too, would implicate the probate exception.
because the probate exception applies, the instant case is
DISMISSED for lack of subject matter ...