United States District Court, D. Oregon, Eugene Division
JOSEPH D. SANDGATHE, Plaintiff,
KAY LANDRUM, Defendant.
FINDINGS AND RECOMMENDATION
MUSTAFA T. KASUBHAI UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
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.
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
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)
alleges that this court has jurisdiction over his claim,
which alleges fiduciary malfeasance, based on federal
question jurisdiction. 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.
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.
Federal Question Jurisdiction
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).
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
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.