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Sandgathe v. Landrum

United States District Court, D. Oregon, Eugene Division

April 4, 2019

KAY LANDRUM, Defendant.



         Pro se plaintiff Joseph Sandgathe seeks leave to proceed in forma pauperis (IFP) and moves the court to appoint pro bono counsel. For the reasons stated below, the court recommends Plaintiff's IFP application (ECF 2) and motion for appointment of pro bono counsel (ECF 3) be denied and his complaint dismissed.


         Generally, all parties instituting any civil action in a United States District Court must pay a statutory filing fee. 28 U.S.C. § 1914(a). However, the federal IFP statute, 28 U.S.C. § 1915(a)(1), provides indigent litigants an opportunity for meaningful access to the federal courts despite their inability to pay the costs and fees associated with that access. To authorize a litigant to proceed IFP, a court must make two determinations: first, whether the litigant is unable to pay the costs of commencing the action, 28 U.S.C. § 1915(a)(1); and second, whether the action is “frivolous, malicious, or fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted; or ... seeks monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief.” 28 U.S.C.1915(e)(2)(B).

         In regard to the second of these determinations, district courts have the power under 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B) to screen complaints even before the service of the complaint on the defendants, and must dismiss a complaint if it fails to state a claim. Courts apply the same standard under 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B) as when addressing a motion to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). Watison v. Carter, 668 F.3d 1108, 1112 (9th Cir. 2012). To survive a motion to dismiss under the federal pleading standards, the complaint must state a short and plain statement of the claim and “contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to ‘state a claim for relief that is plausible on its face.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 664 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp., v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). “A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Id. (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556)


         Plaintiff alleges that this court has jurisdiction over his claim, which alleges fiduciary malfeasance, based on federal question jurisdiction.[1] The facts of this dispute arise out of the distribution of property, or proceeds from the sale of property, following the death of Plaintiff's father. By will, Plaintiff's father bequeathed land and other property equally to Plaintiff and his four siblings, all named as defendants. Plaintiff's sister, defendant Kay Landrum, was named executrix of the estate. Plaintiff alleges that Ms. Landrum failed to keep him apprised of estate and probate matters, and failed to treat him fairly and equally. The estate was in probate for about five years. After about two years, Plaintiff was convicted of a crime and sentenced to prison. While he was incarcerated, Ms. Landrum arranged for all probate related correspondence from the court to be sent to the office of her attorney, Merwin Logan. Plaintiff, thereafter, only received information regarding the case from Mr. Logan. Plaintiff also alleges that the value of the property was purposely appraised at under market value in order to cheat Plaintiff of his property.

         It appears that the probate matter, which lasted about five years, closed in 2005 and was reopened in 2013 after Ms. Landrum's death when her husband was named as the new executor. Two of Plaintiff's other siblings, defendants Thomas Sandgathe and Glenna Clemens, are also deceased. Plaintiff brings this claim now because Ms. Landrum's husband, the current executor, has died and Plaintiff wishes to re-assert his claims before any property is distributed to Ms. Landrum's family. Plaintiff makes a demand for $2 million and 100 acres.

         1. Federal Question Jurisdiction

         “Federal courts are courts of limited jurisdiction. They possess only that power authorized by Constitution and statute.” Kokken v. Gauardian Life Ins. Co. of America, 511 U.S. 375, 377 (1994). Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1331, federal courts have original jurisdiction over “all civil actions arising under the Constitution, laws, or treaties of the United States.” Cases “arise under” federal law either when federal law creates the cause of action or where the vindication of a right under state law necessarily turns on the construction of federal law. Republican Party of Guam v. Gutierrez, 277 F.3d 1086, 1088-89 (9th Cir. 2002). Whether federal-question jurisdiction exists is based on the “well-pleaded complaint rule, ” which provides that “federal jurisdiction exists only when a federal question is presented on the face of the plaintiff's properly pleaded complaint.” Caterpillar, Inc. v. Williams, 482 U.S. 386, 392 (1987).

         Here, Plaintiff's claims clearly sound in state law which governs probate and fiduciary duties of estate executors. See ORS § 114.395. This Court does not decide whether Plaintiff has alleged sufficient facts to bring a claim in state court, nor whether Plaintiff's claims fall within one of the applicable statute of limitations. However, the Court finds that the facts alleged do not raise questions of federal law and therefore fails to establish federal question jurisdiction.

         2. Diversity Jurisdiction

         Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1332, federal district courts have original jurisdiction over civil actions in diversity cases “where the matter in controversy exceeds the sum or value of $75, 000” and where the matter is between “citizens of different states.” 28 U.S.C. § 1332. In the instant case, all the named defendants appear to be citizens of Oregon, the property at issue is in Oregon, and all the alleged conduct took place in Oregon. Accordingly, Plaintiff failed to demonstrate that the Court has subject matter jurisdiction based on diversity.

         Reco ...

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