United States District Court, D. New Mexico
DUANE J. BROWN, Plaintiff,
DARIEN D. BROWN, et al., Defendants.
ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANTS' MOTION TO LIFT
MATTER is before the Court on Defendants' Motion
to Lift Stay. Doc. 45. On April 27, 2015, the Court
determined that it lacked subject-matter jurisdiction over
Plaintiff Duane Brown's claims regarding the validity of
his mother's will under the probate exception to federal
jurisdiction. Doc. 24. As the Court explained in its ruling,
the probate exception provides that claims seeking to (1)
probate or annul a will, (2) administer a decedent's
estate, or (3) “dispose of property that is in the
custody of a state probate court” are within the
exclusive jurisdiction of the state courts. Doc. 21 at 5
(citing Marshall v. Marshall, 547 U.S. 293, 311-12
(2006)). The probate exception does not, however, “bar
federal courts from adjudicating matters outside these
confines and otherwise within federal jurisdiction.”
Id. at 312. Having determined that it lacked
jurisdiction over Plaintiff's claims concerning the
validity of his mother's will, the Court stayed all
proceedings as to Plaintiff's remaining claims pending
the filing and resolution of a probate proceeding in state
court regarding the validity of his mother's will.
See Doc. 24. at 21.
proceeded to file a petition for adjudication of intestacy in
the Eighth Judicial District Court for the State of New
Mexico. See In the Matter of Darline S. Brown, No.
D-818-PB-2015-00005. On June 6, 2017, the state court entered
an order granting Plaintiff's petition, finding that
Plaintiff's mother died intestate because she was subject
to undue influence at the time she signed her will. Doc.
42-1. The state court judge ordered the parties to provide
lists of possible personal representatives and indicated that
the directive to any appointed personal representative
“will not include an equal split of the ranch, but a
more fair an[d] equitable distribution with the majority of
the estate going to [Defendant] Darien Brown for his years of
service on the ranch, accumulated debt, care taking of
Darline Brown, and other considerations.” Id.
at 9. On August 10, 2017, the state court entered an order
appointing a special administrator and an assistant special
administrator for the purpose of distributing the assets of
the estate of Darline Brown. Doc. 49-1. The parties have
since filed cross-appeals of the state court's ruling to
the New Mexico Court of Appeals. Doc. 47.
now seek to lift the stay in this matter. Doc. 45. Plaintiff
opposes lifting of the stay, arguing that the state court
judge in the probate proceeding has jurisdiction over
“all probate matters, including whether the property
transfers of the ranch property are voidable and whether the
revocation of trust is voidable . . . [and] whether the
[mother's] Estate is liable for damages resulting from
the assignment of Plaintiff's interest in the [s]tate
[l]and [l]ease.” Doc. 47 at 4. Given the overlap
between the inter vivos transfers at issue in federal court
and the probate matters at issue in state court, the Court
recognizes the inefficiency in having these matters
adjudicated in separate forums. The Supreme Court, however,
has made it clear that, aside from the areas that fall within
the probate exception, the federal court must resolve matters
before it over which it retains jurisdiction:
[T]he 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. But it does not bar federal courts
from adjudicating matters outside these confines and
otherwise within federal jurisdiction.
Marshall, 547 U.S. at 311-12 (emphasis added);
SeeMata v. Lynch, 135 S.Ct. 2150, 2156 (2015)
("[W]hen a federal court has jurisdiction, it also has a
'virtually unflagging obligation ... to exercise'
that authority." (internal citation omitted)). The Court
disagrees with Plaintiff that his remaining claims are before
the state court. It is clear that the only matters before the
state court concern the validity of Darline Brown's will
and the administration of her estate now that the will has
been found void. Plaintiffs remaining claims, including the
validity of the inter vivos transfers, are not currently
before the state court because these claims were
first presented to this Court, months before
Plaintiff instituted the probate action. Thus,
Marshall requires the Court to retain jurisdiction
over non-probate matters such as the inter vivos transfers at
argues that a personal representative has the authority to
void transfers of property under NMSA 1978, § 45-3-710
(1953). This statutory provision applies only "so far as
necessary for the payment of unsecured debts of the
decedent." See § 45-3-710. Thus, it does
not provide a mechanism through which the inter vivos
transfers at issue can be resolved as part of the state
Plaintiff chose not to move to remand this matter to state
court and cannot now obtain the equivalent of
remand by classifying non-probate matters as probate matters.
Because Plaintiffs remaining claims are not subject to the
probate exception and were properly before this Court before
the probate proceeding was instituted, it is appropriate for
this Court to lift the stay and adjudicate the merits of
those claims. The Court will therefore grant Defendants'
motion (Doc. 45). IT IS HEREBY ORDERED that
the stay is lifted in this matter.
See Doc. 24 at n. 2.