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Alexander v. Kirkpatrick

United States District Court, D. New Mexico

December 3, 2019

CARLA ALEXANDER, Plaintiff/Counter-defendant,
v.
DENA KIRKPATRICK and TERI GEORGE, Defendants/Counterclaimants.

          MAGISTRATE JUDGE'S PROPOSED FINDINGS AND RECOMMENDED DISPOSITION

          STEPHAN M. VIDMAR, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         THIS MATTER is before me on Defendants' Motion to Dismiss [Docs. 22, 25], filed on September 6, 2019. Plaintiff never responded, and the time for doing so has passed. The Honorable James O. Browning, United States District Judge, referred the case to me for proposed findings and a recommended disposition. [Doc. 16]. I have considered the briefing, the relevant portions of the record, and the relevant law. Being otherwise fully advised in the premises, I recommend that Defendants' Motion be GRANTED and that Plaintiff be given 30 days to move to amend her Complaint.

         BACKGROUND

         The instant dispute arises over a series of transfer-on-death deeds that allegedly deprived Plaintiff of an expectation in her father's estate. Plaintiff's father, Ronald Dal Alexander (“Ronald”), owned a farm in Lea County, New Mexico. [Doc. 1] at 5. Plaintiff worked at the farm for at least 20 years. Id. Plaintiff's sisters-Defendants Dena Kirkpatrick and Teri George- had not worked on the farm. Id. at 6. Ronald executed a will on December 13, 2017, specifying that Plaintiff, Kirkpatrick, and George would share equally in his estate after he died. Id.

         Plaintiff alleges that on or about April 16, 2018, Defendants, “exercising undue and improper influence over Ronald Dal Alexander[, ] cause[d] him to execute two Transfer on Death deeds.” Id. These deeds “conveyed the bulk of the estate to [Defendants] and exclude[ed] Plaintiff . . . from any interest in the farm.” Id. Ronald also executed transfer-on-death deeds transferring other property to Plaintiff. [Doc. 6] at 3-4. Ronald died two days later. [Doc. 1] at 6.

         PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         Plaintiff filed her Complaint in New Mexico state court on March 29, 2019. [Doc. 1] at 5. She brings three causes of action against Defendants. First, she requests that the Court declare the transfer-on-death deeds transferring property to her sisters invalid because her father “may not have been competent to execute the deeds” or, alternatively, because “the acts of Defendant[s] were intended to override the will of [her father] and Defendants induced him by improper means to execute the deeds.” Id. at 6. Second, she claims that by depriving her of an interest in the farm, Defendants were unjustly enriched. Id. at 7-8. Third, she claims that by “intentionally attempt[ing] to void the express wishes of [her father] to distribute his estate in a manner . . . allow[ing] Plaintiff to continue to operate the family farming business, ” Defendants committed a prima facie tort. Id. at 8.

         Defendants removed the case to federal court on June 4, 2019, based on diversity jurisdiction. [Doc. 1]. They filed their Amended Answer and Counterclaim on November 24, 2019. [Doc. 28]. In their Amended Counterclaim, Defendants seek a declaratory judgment validating all transfer-on-death deeds signed by Ronald on or about April 16, 2018. [Doc. 28] at 4-5.

         LEGAL STANDARD

         To survive a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, a complaint “must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to ‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). Plausibility requires that the plaintiff plead facts that allow “the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant[s] [are] liable for the misconduct alleged.” Id. The factual allegations in the complaint “must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level.” Christy Sports, LLC v. Deer Valley Resort Co., 555 F.3d 1188, 1191 (10th Cir. 2009). The complaint must provide “more than labels and conclusions” or merely “a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action” because “courts are not bound to accept as true a legal conclusion couched as a factual allegation.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555 (quoting Papasan v. Allain, 478 U.S. 265, 286 (1986)). “The court must view all reasonable inferences in favor of the plaintiff . . . .” Ruiz v. McDonnell, 299 F.3d 1173, 1181 (10th Cir. 2002). “[I]n analyzing the sufficiency of the plaintiff's complaint, the court need accept as true only the plaintiff's well-pleaded factual contentions, not his conclusory allegations.” Hall v. Bellmon, 935 F.2d 1106, 1110 (10th Cir. 1991).

         The Rule 12(b)(6) analysis requires two inquiries. First, courts identify “the allegations in the complaint that are not entitled to the assumption of truth, ” that is, those allegations that are legal conclusions, bare assertions, or merely conclusory. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. Second, courts consider the factual allegations “to determine if they plausibly suggest an entitlement to relief.” Id. at 680-81. If the allegations state a plausible claim for relief, such claim survives the motion to dismiss. See Id. at 682-83. However, “[t]hreadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, ” are insufficient. Id. at 678.

         Plaintiff proceeds pro se. Pro se pleadings are interpreted liberally, see Swoboda v. Dubach, 992 F.2d 286, 289 (10th Cir. 1993), though they must comply with the basic requirements of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, see Yang v. Archuleta, 525 F.3d 925, 927 n.1 (10th Cir. 2008) (quoting Ogden v. San Juan Cty., 32 F.3d 452, 455 (10th Cir. 1994)).

         ANALYSIS

         Defendants move to dismiss Plaintiff's unjust-enrichment claim and prima facie tort claim.[1] They contend that the Court should dismiss Plaintiff's unjust-enrichment claim because Plaintiff fails to allege facts regarding the manner in which Defendants deprived her of her expectation in her father's estate. Id. at 3. They argue that Plaintiff's prima facie tort claim should be dismissed ...


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