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Ullrich v. Ullrich

United States District Court, D. New Mexico

January 11, 2019




         THIS MATTER comes before the Court on Defendants Adda Moldt and David River's Motion for Summary Judgment, filed on March 6, 2018 (the “Motion”). [Doc. 33]. The undersigned has reviewed the Motion and attached exhibits, Plaintiff's responsive brief to the Motion, filed on April 2, 2018 (the “Response”), [Doc. 35], and Defendant's Reply in Support of their Motion for Summary Judgment, filed on April 16, 2018 (the “Reply”) [Doc. 37]. Having thoroughly considered and analyzed the parties' submissions and the relevant law, the undersigned recommends that the Court find that the Motion is well taken and should be granted.


         On January 30, 2017, Plaintiff Stephen Ullrich (“Mr. Ullrich”) filed a Complaint with this Court, pro se, alleging that he was not properly notified of his parent's deaths, having learned of the deaths in an obituary, and that Defendants Adda Moldt and David River improperly acted as agents in his parent's estates by failing to properly distribute property. [Doc. 1 at 2-3]. Mr. Ullrich admits in his complaint that there was a prior state court case addressing these issues, but claims the state court “did not liberally construe the action of SU and did not deem the issues as true as, (sic) was affirmed under oath;…that [Mr. Ullrich] was not able to cite state, (sic) case law, statu[t]e, rule, and in admonishment against [Mr. Ullrich, ]…the State Court did not rule on all pleadings placed by [Mr. Ullrich], and did not make a knowledgeable, or otherwise, merits ruling.” [Id.] Mr. Ullrich's complaint is unclear as to his actual claims, but appears to allege violations of the Fourth and Fifth Amendments of the United States Constitution, along with “malfeasance, nonfeasance, in general, and malum in se.” [Id. at 3-4].

         Mr. Ullrich filed an amended complaint after his motion to amend was granted. [Doc. 6; 7; 10]. His allegations remained essentially the same: that Defendants Adda Moldt and David River were negligent in the administration of his parent's will by improperly distributing property that should have been transferred to him. [Doc. 10 at 4-5]. Ms. Moldt and Mr. River filed their answer to the Amended Complaint on January 17, 2018. [Doc. 24]. Mr. Ullrich filed a Motion for Summary Judgment and Lien [Doc. 25] and a Motion for Order for Partial Settlement [Doc. 26] on January 22, 2018. The Court denied his motions on February 2, 2018. [Doc. 29]. After an Initial Scheduling Order was entered, [Doc. 31], on March 6, 2018, Defendants filed a Motion for Summary Judgment. [Doc. 33].

         Defendants argue that: (1) the Court lacks subject-matter jurisdiction over Plaintiff's probate claims; (2) the claims are barred under the doctrines of collateral estoppel and/or res judicata; and (3) the claims are time barred under the New Mexico Trust Code, NMSA 1978, Section 46A-6-604(A). [Doc. 33 at 4-9]. On April 2, 2018, Mr. Ullrich filed his Response, in which he argues that the entire record from the state court has not been provided, and that the state court decision “did not dispose of all issues raised in this case.” [Doc. 35 at 5-6]. He also asserts that the case is based on contractual claims, not in probate, so the Court may exercise its jurisdiction. [Id. at 7-8]. He also argues that the “state proceeding was filed 7 weeks after father[']s passing, ” but that “state law does not apply to this case.”

         Defendants argue in their Reply that Mr. Ullrich's interpretation of his claim as a breach of contract claim instead of one based on probate is inaccurate and implausible, since he has presented no evidence of any actual contract, Defendants were not parties to the alleged contract, and even if Mr. Ullrich had brought a breach of contract claim, the statute of limitations would have expired long ago. [Doc. 37 at 3-4]. Mr. Ullrich also filed a Surreply [Doc. 43] and a Motion for Leave to Supplement Response to the Motion for Summary Judgment [Doc. 44].[1]

         Legal Standard

         Under Fed.R.Civ.P. 56, a party may move for summary judgment on a claim or defense, which shall be granted “if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” “Summary judgment is appropriate if the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law.” Sealock v. Colorado, 218 F.3d 1205, 1209 (10th Cir. 2000). For purposes of summary judgment, a verified complaint is treated as an affidavit. Mark v. Jackson, No. CIV-11-426-M, 2012 WL 1035879, at *8 n. 11 (W.D. Okla. Mar. 12, 2012), report and recommendation adopted, No. CIV-11-426-M, 2012 WL 1035761 (W.D. Okla. Mar. 28, 2012) (citing Conaway v. Smith, 853 F.2d 789, 792 (10th Cir.1988) (per curiam)).

         When reviewing a motion for summary judgment, the Court views “‘the evidence and draw[s] reasonable inferences therefrom in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party.'” Beers v. Ballard, 248 Fed.Appx. 988, 990 (10th Cir. 2007) (quoting Lawmaster v. Ward, 125 F.3d 1341, 1346 (10th Cir.1997)). However, a non-moving party who bears the burden of proof at trial on a dispositive issue “must go beyond the pleadings and designate specific facts so as to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case in order to survive summary judgment.” Sealock, 218 F.3d at 1209 (citing McKnight v. Kimberly Clark Corp., 149 F.3d 1125, 1128 (10th Cir.1998)).


         I. The Court has jurisdiction over the issues in Plaintiff's Complaint.

         Defendants first argue that the Court should grant summary judgment in their favor because the federal court lacks subject matter jurisdiction over the matter under the “probate exception” as delineated in Markham v. Allen, 326 U.S. 490 (1946). [Doc. 33 at 4]. Defendants argue that “[a] fair interpretation of [Plaintiff's] allegations is that Plaintiff is asking the Court to order that his deceased parents' property be distributed to him, to invalidate the Trust and Wills, and/or to intervene in the administration of his parents' estates.” [Doc. 33 at 5]. However, construing Plaintiff's Complaint liberally, as the Court must, the Court finds that Plaintiff's claims are broader than interpreted by Defendants.

         Mr. Ullrich alleges that Defendants “invoke[d] the Living Trust in a wrongful or unlawful [manner], and dispos[ed] of property of [Plaintiff] in a wrongful or unlawful [manner].” Although it is unclear from the Complaint what particular claims Plaintiff's allegations fall under, this Court must afford Plaintiff's complaint a liberal construction. Trackwell v. U.S. Gov't, 472 F.3d 1242, 1243 (10th Cir. 2007) (citing Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520 (1972), and Hall v. Bellmon, 935 F.2d 1106, 1110 & n. 3 (10th Cir. 1991). Whatever ...

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