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Addison v. Cesca

United States District Court, D. Maryland

November 9, 2017

EDWIN R. ADDISON, Plaintiff,
KATHLEEN CESCA et al., Defendants.


          Ellen Lipton Hollander, United States District Judge.

         Edwin R. Addison, the self-represented plaintiff, asks the Court to resolve a family dispute that is rooted in a potential inheritance. Addison alleges that his cousins, defendants Kathleen Cesca and Douglas Brown, have taken advantage of the parties' wealthy, elderly uncle, Vincent L. Vinella, Jr.[1] ECF 15 (Complaint) at 9.[2] According to plaintiff, Cesca and Brown have “‘pillage[d]' Vinella's bank accounts, without his knowledge” (id. at 7), fraudulently obtained a power of attorney, and have diminished plaintiff's anticipated inheritance from Vinella. Id. ¶¶ 6-7. Therefore, plaintiff has filed suit to recover his uncle's stolen wealth and to report defendants' malfeasance to the Court. See Id. at 7. Plaintiff has attached numerous exhibits to his Complaint.

         Addison asserts five claims against defendants, all under Maryland law, three of which are civil and two of which are criminal. Id. at 24-26.[3] Claim 1 is a claim for civil conversion, in which plaintiff alleges that defendants have “exploited [Vinella's] estate” and caused damage to Vinella as well as his heirs and remaindermen, including plaintiff. Id. at 24. In Claim 2, for detinue and replevin, plaintiff alleges that defendants, “using fraudulent powers of attorney . . . . unjustly detain” Vinella's property. Id. at 25. Claim 3 is for intentional interference with economic relations. Plaintiff alleges that defendants “willfully and wantonly and unlawfully exploited Vinella's estate causing damage to Vinella, his heirs and his remaindermen, including the Plaintiff.” Id. In particular, plaintiff asserts that Vinella validly executed a Deed Transfer on June 5, 2007, granting himself a life estate in his own home and transferring the remaining interest to his relatives, including plaintiff, as remaindermen. Id. ¶ 19. According to plaintiff, defendants subsequently manipulated Vinella into signing a “Corrective Deed, ” which removed the remaindermen, including plaintiff, from the deed. Id. ¶ 22. Plaintiff maintains that this new deed is invalid. Id. Claim 4 alleges “a general theft claim against Defendants, ” under Md. Code, § 7-104 of the Criminal Law Article (“C.L.”). Id. at 26. Claim 5 is another allegation of criminal conduct against the defendants, for elder abuse, under C.L. §§ 3-604, 3-605, and for false imprisonment. Id.

         Defendants have moved to dismiss. ECF 7 (“Motion”). In support of the Motion, they have submitted several exhibits. Defendants argue that because Mr. Vinella is alive, plaintiff lacks any legal authority or standing to assert the claims in the Complaint on Vinella's behalf. Id. at 1, 2. In addition, defendants address the legal deficiencies of each claim. Plaintiff opposes the Motion. ECF 9 (“Opposition”). Defendants have replied. ECF 12.

         The Court is mindful that a self-represented litigant is generally “held to a ‘less stringent standard[]' than is a lawyer, and the Court must liberally construe his claims, no matter how ‘inartfully' pled.” Morrison v. United States, RDB-12-3607, 2014 WL 979201, at *2 (D. Md. Mar. 12, 2014) (internal citations omitted); see Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007); Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520 (1972) (stating that claims of self-represented litigants are held “to less stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers”); Bala v. Commonwealth of Va. Dep't of Conservation & Recreation, 532 F. App'x 332, 334 (4th Cir. 2013) (per curiam) (same).[4]

         No hearing is necessary to resolve the Motion. See Local Rule 105.6. For the reasons that follow, I shall grant the Motion.

         I. Standards of Review

         Defendants have moved to dismiss the Complaint under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(1), for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, and under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6), for failure to state a claim.

         A. Rule 12(b)(1) Standard

         A federal court's subject matter jurisdiction depends upon a plaintiff's standing. The question of standing concerns whether the litigant is “entitled to have the court decide the merits of the dispute.” Warth v. Seldin, 422 U.S. 490, 498 (1975). In federal court, standing refers to both “the jurisdictional requirements of Article III and the prudential limits on its exercise.” United States v. Windsor, ___U.S. ___, 133 S.Ct. 2675, 2687 (2013); see also, e.g., Elk Grove Unified Sch. Dist. v. Newdow, 542 U.S. 1, 11 (2004), abrogated in part by Lexmark Int'l, Inc. v. Static Control Components, Inc., ___U.S.___, 134 S.Ct. 1377, 1387-88 (2014).

         The jurisdictional standing requirements derive from the “case or controversy” limitation in § 2 of Article III of the Constitution. See, e.g., Hollingsworth v. Perry, ___U.S.___, 133 S.Ct. 2652, 2662 (2013). Only a plaintiff who has standing to sue has a case or controversy under Article III. Steel Co. v. Citizens For A Better Env't., 523 U.S. 83, 102 (1998). “Three inter-related judicial doctrines-standing, mootness, and ripeness-ensure that federal courts assert jurisdiction only over ‘Cases' and ‘Controversies.'” Worth v. Jackson, 451 F.3d 854, 855 (D.C. Cir. 2006) (citing U.S. Const. art. III, § 2.).

         The case or controversy limitation “requires the litigant to prove that he has suffered a concrete and particularized injury that is fairly traceable to the challenged conduct, and is likely to be redressed by a favorable judicial decision.” Hollingsworth, 133 S.Ct. at 2662 (citing Lujan v. Defenders of Wildlife, 504 U.S. 555, 560-61 (1992)). “In other words, for a federal court to have authority under the Constitution to settle a dispute, the party before it must seek a remedy for a personal and tangible harm.” Id. In Hollingsworth, the Supreme Court explained, id. at 2667: “The Article III requirement that a party invoking the jurisdiction of a federal court seek relief for a particularized injury serves vital interests going to the role of the judiciary in our system of separated powers.”

         Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(1) governs motions to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. See Khoury v. Meserve, 628 F.Supp.2d 600, 606 (D. Md. 2003), aff'd, 85 F. App'x 960 (4th Cir. 2004). Under Rule 12(b)(1), the plaintiff bears the burden of proving, by a preponderance of evidence, the existence of subject matter jurisdiction. See Demetres v. East West Const., Inc., 776 F.3d 271, 272 (4th Cir. 2015); see also Evans v. B.F. Perkins Co., 166 F.3d 642, 647 (4th Cir. 1999). A challenge to subject matter jurisdiction under Rule 12(b)(1) may proceed “in one of two ways”: either a facial challenge, asserting that the allegations pleaded in the complaint are insufficient to establish subject matter jurisdiction, or a factual challenge, asserting “‘that the jurisdictional allegations of the complaint [are] not true.'” Kerns v. United States, 585 F.3d 187, 192 (4th Cir. 2009) (citation omitted) (alteration in original); see also Buchanan v. Consol. Stores Corp., 125 F.Supp.2d 730, 736 (D. Md. 2001).

         In a facial challenge, “the facts alleged in the complaint are taken as true, and the motion must be denied if the complaint alleges sufficient facts to invoke subject matter jurisdiction.” Kerns, 585 F.3d at 192; accord Clear Channel Outdoor, Inc. v. Mayor & City Council of Baltimore, 22 F.Supp.3d 519, 524 (D. Md. 2014). In a factual challenge, on the other hand, “the district court is entitled to decide disputed issues of fact with respect to subject matter jurisdiction.” Kerns, 585 F.3d at 192. In that circumstance, the court “may regard the pleadings as mere evidence on the issue and may consider evidence outside the pleadings without converting the proceeding to one for summary judgment.” Velasco v. Gov't of Indonesia, 370 F.3d 392, 398 (4th Cir. 2004); see also Richmond, Fredericksburg & Potomac R.R. Co. v. United States, 945 F.2d 765, 768 (4th Cir. 1991).

         Defendants in this case raise a facial challenge to the Court's subject matter jurisdiction, based on the four corners of the Complaint.

         B. Rule 12(b)(6) Standard

         A defendant may test the legal sufficiency of a complaint by way of a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6). In re Birmingham, 846 F.3d 88, 92 (4th Cir. 2017); Goines v. Valley Cmty. Servs. Bd., 822 F.3d 159, 165-66 (4th Cir. 2016); McBurney v. Cuccinelli, 616 F.3d 393, 408 (4th Cir. 2010), aff'd sub nom. McBurney v. Young, 569 U.S. 221 (2013); Edwards v. City ofGoldsboro,178 F.3d 231, 243 (4th Cir. 1999). A Rule 12(b)(6) motion constitutes an assertion by a defendant that, even if the facts ...

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