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Anthony v. Murdock

United States District Court, W.D. Kentucky, Louisville Division

February 8, 2019

JANICE ANTHONY, ET AL. Plaintiffs
v.
CAROLYN MURDOCK Defendant

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          REBECCA GRADY JENNINGS UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT.

         Plaintiffs Janice Anthony and Evette Clemons bring this action against Defendant Carolyn Murdock alleging that Murdock has wrongfully refused to accept that her powers over Laura Mae Bryant's assets have been terminated and has wrongfully refused to turn over Bryant's assets to Clemons. [DE 1, Compl. at ¶¶ 10-11]. Murdock now moves to dismiss Plaintiffs' Complaint under Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1), 12(b)(2), and 12(b)(3). [DE 21]. The matter is fully briefed and ripe for judgment. [See DE 24, Response; DE 26, Reply]. Having considered the parties' filings and the applicable law, the Court DENIES Murdock's Motion to Dismiss.

         BACKGROUND

         Bryant is Anthony's and Murdock's mother. [DE 1, Compl. at ¶ 4]. Bryant suffers from progressive Alzheimer's dementia, which requires care at a dementia facility in Louisville, Kentucky. [DE 1-6, Baptist Health Doc.]. On August 16, 2012, Bryant, while a resident of Elk Grove, California, executed a Declaration of Revocable Living Trust and Assignment of Personal Property to the Laura M. Bryant Revocable Trust of 2012, for which Murdock was a successor co-trustee. [DE 1-4, Trust]. But on June 2, 2014, Bryant terminated Murdock's power of attorney, durable power of attorney for health care decisions, and the Declaration of Revocable Living Trust, among other documents. [DE 1-5, Revocation Documents]. On October 15, 2014, Bryant appointed Anthony and two non-parties to this action as her health-care surrogates. [DE 1-2, Surrogate Order]. Then, on December 11, 2014, the Jefferson District Court appointed Anthony as Bryant's guardian. [DE 1-1, Guardianship Order]. In the same proceeding, the court adjudged Bryant a resident of Kentucky. Id. On March 10, 2016, the same court appointed Clemons as conservator of Bryant's property. [DE 1-3, Conservator Order].

         Plaintiffs initiated this suit on August 26, 2016, alleging that Murdock refuses to accept that her powers over Bryant's assets have been terminated; has wrongfully refused to turn over Bryant's assets to Clemons; has wrongfully refused to pay the necessary bills for Bryant's care; and continues to waste Bryant's assets on unnecessary legal proceedings in California. [DE 1 at ¶¶ 10-12, 15]. Plaintiffs ask the Court to rule that Bryant's assets must be transferred from Murdock to Clemons. Id. at ¶ 16. On December 15, 2017, Murdock moved to dismiss Plaintiffs' claims under Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1), 12(b)(2), and 12(b)(3). The matter is fully briefed and ripe for judgment. [See DE 24, Response; DE 26, Reply].

         DISCUSSION

         A. Subject-Matter Jurisdiction (Rule 12(b)(1))

         1. Legal Standard

         First, Murdock moves to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(1) for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction. “Subject matter jurisdiction is always a threshold determination.” Am. Telecom Co. v. Republic of Leb., 501 F.3d 534, 537 (6th Cir. 2007) (citation omitted). Where subject-matter jurisdiction is challenged, the plaintiff has the burden of proving jurisdiction to survive a 12(b)(1) motion. Moir v. Greater Cleveland Reg'l Transit Auth., 895 F.2d 266, 269 (6th Cir. 1990) (citation omitted). “If the court determines at any time that it lacks subject-matter jurisdiction, the court must dismiss the action.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(h)(3); see also Bauer v. RBX Indus. Inc., 368 F.3d 569 (6th Cir. 2004), overruled on other grounds by Winnett v. Caterpillar, Inc., 553 F.3d 1000 (6th Cir. 2009).

         2. Analysis

         Murdock argues that the Court lacks subject-matter jurisdiction because Plaintiffs lack standing. A federal court may only adjudicate “cases” and “controversies.” U.S. Const. art. III, § 2, cl. 1. The standing doctrine is derived from this cases-or-controversy requirement and obligates plaintiffs to show a “personal stake in the outcome of the controversy as to … justify [the] exercise of the court's remedial powers on [their] behalf.” Town of Chester, N.Y. v. Laroe Estates, Inc., 137 S.Ct. 1645, 1650 (2017) (quoting Simon v. E. Ky. Welfare Rights Org., 426 U.S. 26, 38 (1976)). To establish standing, a litigant must show: (1) that she has suffered an injury in fact; (2) that the defendant's conduct caused her injury; and (3) that a favorable decision will likely redress the injury. Lujan v. Defs. of Wildlife, 504 U.S. 555, 560-61 (1992). The plaintiff must “demonstrate standing for each claim [s]he seeks to press.” Town of Chester, 137 S.Ct. at 1650 (quoting Davis v. Fed. Election Comm'n, 554 U.S. 724, 734 (2008)). The Supreme Court has also identified three prudential standing principles, which require a party to: 1) generally assert only his or her own rights, not claims of third parties; 2) not allege generalized grievances more suitable for legislative or executive resolution; and 3) raise a claim within the zone of interest protected by the statute or constitutional provision in question. Warth v. Seldin, 422 U.S. 490, 499 (1975). The determination of a party's standing requires consideration of the facts of each individual case. Rose v. Council for BetterEducation, Inc., 790 S.W.2d 186, 202 (Ky. 1989).

         Murdock argues that Plaintiffs lack standing because, based on Plaintiffs' Complaint, they have not alleged that Murdock's conduct caused either named plaintiff to suffer a concrete or particularized injury. [DE 21-1, Memo. Mot. Dismiss at 124]. Instead, Murdock asserts that “[t]he only party that might have conceivably suffered an injury, if the allegations contained in the Complaint are taken as true, is the Estate of Laura Bryant, ” which is not a party to this action. Id. While not formally filing a motion to amend their complaint, Plaintiffs assert that they bring this action as Bryant's guardian and conservator, respectively, and attach an amended complaint indicating that they sue on behalf of Bryant, not themselves as individuals. [DE 24, Resp. Mot. Dismiss at 136]. Murdock responds that even if the Court considers Plaintiffs as guardian and conservator, Plaintiffs still fail to allege that they suffered an injury that affects them in a personal and individual way.

         As an initial matter, the Court will liberally construe Plaintiffs' inclusion of its Amended Complaint with its Response as a Motion for Leave to File an Amended Complaint.[1] Under Rule 15, a party may amend a pleading before trial with the opposing party's written consent or the court's leave. Fed.R.Civ.P. 15(a)(2). “The court should freely give leave when justice so requires.” Id. The determination of whether the circumstances of a case are such that justice would require the allowance of an amendment is committed to the sound discretion of the district court. Hayden v. Ford Motor Co., 497 F.2d 1292, 1294 (6th Cir. 1974). When determining whether to permit an amendment, the court may consider a variety of factors, including “[u]ndue delay in filing, lack of notice to the opposing party, bad faith by the moving party, repeated failure to cure deficiencies by previous amendments, undue prejudice to the opposing party, and futility of amendment.” Hageman v. Signal L.P. Gas, Inc., 486 F.2d 479, 484 (6th Cir. 1973). Some of these factors carry more weight than others. For example, the presence of delay, without more, “is not [a] sufficient reason to deny a motion to amend.” Id. But “[n]otice and substantial prejudice to the opposing party are critical factors.” Id.

         In this case, the relevant factors weigh in favor of allowing Plaintiffs to amend their Complaint. First, there was no undue delay in filing the amendment. Plaintiffs attached their Amended Complaint to their timely-filed Response to Murdock's Motion to Dismiss. Second, and relatedly, this provided Murdock with adequate notice of the amendment and permitted Murdock to respond to Plaintiffs' Amended Complaint as part of Murdock's Reply. In her Reply, Murdock argues that Plaintiffs' lack standing whether their claims are brought individually or in their roles as guardian and conservator of Bryant's property because, either way, Plaintiffs are not injured in a “personal and individual way.” [DE 26 at 148]. Murdock thus had an adequate opportunity to respond, and notice is not as issue. Finally, there is no evidence that Plaintiffs submitted the Amended Complaint in bad faith or that consideration of the amendment would substantially prejudice Murdock. Indeed, even before the amendment, the Complaint suggested that Plaintiffs brought their claims as guardian and conservator of Bryant and her estate. [See DE 1, Compl. at ¶¶ 5-7]. The Amended Complaint simply clarifies this point. Accordingly, Plaintiffs' Motion for Leave to File an Amended Complaint [DE 24-2] is granted.

         Generally, an individual's duly appointed representatives have standing to sue on that individual's behalf. See, e.g., Carespring Healthcare Mgmt., LLC v. Dungey, No. 16-CV-1051, 2018 WL 1138428, at *7 (S.D. Ohio Mar. 2, 2018) (finding that representatives have standing to sue in the Medicaid context); Diversicare v. Glisson, No. 16-CV-141-HRW, 2017 WL 4873510, at *4 (E.D. Ky. Oct. 27, 2017) (noting that, under Kentucky law, representatives have standing to sue in the Section 1983, America with Disabilities Act, and the Rehabilitation Act contexts). Here, the Jefferson County District Court appointed Anthony as Bryant's guardian and Clemons as conservator of Bryant's property [DE 1-1; DE 1-3]. Because Plaintiffs bring their claims as Bryant's representatives, the relevant inquiry is whether Murdock's alleged behavior injured Bryant and her estate, not Plaintiffs individually. The Complaint thus does not violate the prudential standing principle requiring a party to generally assert only his or her own rights, not claims of third parties. Warth, 422 U.S. at 499.

         The facts of the case show that standing is proper. Rose, 790 S.W.2d at 202. Specifically, the Complaint sufficiently pleads standing to survive a motion to dismiss. Plaintiffs allege that Murdock refuses to accept that her powers over Bryant's assets have been terminated; has wrongfully refused to turn over Bryant's assets to Clemons; has wrongfully refused to pay the necessary bills for Bryant's care; and continues to waste Bryant's assets on unnecessary legal proceedings in California. [DE 1 at ¶¶ 10-12, 15]. These allegations, accepted as true, amount to 1) an injury in fact to Bryant and her estate, 2) caused by Murdock's conduct, 3) that ...


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