United States District Court, W.D. Virginia, Charlottesville Division
Gregory D. Sobin, Plaintiff,
Nancy Kay Mchenry, et. al., Defendant.
K. MOON UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
Gregory D. Sobin (“Plaintiff”), proceeding
pro se and in forma pauperis, brings the
instant action under 28 U.S.C. § 1332 seeking injunctive
relief and damages against defendants Nancy Kay Mchenry and
Ryan Charles Mchenry (“Defendants”). Under
Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(h)(3), this Court finds
that it lacks subject-matter jurisdiction and the complaint
will accordingly be dismissed without prejudice.
Factual and Procedural Background
brings various claims against Defendants, seeking a partial
administration of his deceased father's estate,
injunctive relief, and monetary damages. (Compl. at 4, 9). In
sum, Plaintiff alleges that Defendants are currently
preventing him from receiving his inheritance promised by his
father, Mr. Donald W. Sobin. Plaintiff claims that he is
entitled to half of the money in both his father's will
and living trust. (Compl. at 5-6). Plaintiff further alleges
that Defendants are hiding money that is rightly his, as
promised by his father, and are preventing him from receiving
the money out of retribution. (Compl. at 7). Plaintiff now
seeks an accounting of the estate and the production of both
his father's will and trust documents. (Compl. at 9-10).
after filing his complaint, Plaintiff wrote a letter to the
Court inquiring about “emergency injunctive
relief.” (Dkt. 8 at 2). Pro se pleadings are
held to a less stringent standard than those drafted by
attorneys. Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94
(2007). The Court must liberally construe a pleading filed by
a pro se litigant in an effort to find the
“litigants essential grievance.” Sinclair v.
Mobile 360, Inc., 417 Fed.Appx. 235, 243 (4th Cir.
2011); King v. Rubenstein, 825 F.3d 206, 214 (4th
Cir. 2016). However, even construing Plaintiff's attempt
to seek “emergency injunctive relief” as a motion
for a temporary restraining order, the Court cannot reach the
merits of the case because it lacks subject-matter
Standard of Review
Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(h)(3), “[i]f 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). A defect in subject-matter
jurisdiction cannot be waived by the parties, nor can it be
conferred upon the court by the parties. Brickwood
Contractors, Inc. v. Datanet Eng'g, Inc., 369 F.3d
385, 390 (4th Cir. 2004). “Accordingly, questions of
subject-matter jurisdiction may be raised at any point during
the proceedings and may (or, more precisely, must) be raised
sua sponte by the court.” Id.
Subject-Matter Jurisdiction and the Probate
Court lacks subject-matter jurisdiction over Plaintiff's
claims under the “probate exception” to federal
jurisdiction. Marshall v. Marshall, 547 U.S. 293
(2006); Lee Graham Shopping Ctr., LLC v. Estate of
Kirsch, 777 F.3d 678, 680 (4th Cir. 2015).
Subject-matter jurisdiction operates as a limit on judicial
authority and courts are obliged to consider sua
sponte whether subject-matter jurisdiction is proper.
United States v. Wilson, 699 F.3d 789, 793 (4th Cir.
2012) (citing Gonzalez v. Thaler, 565 U.S. 134, 140
(2012); Butler v. Kosin, No. CIV.A. 5:07CV00003,
2009 WL 210721, at *1 (W.D. Va. Jan. 28, 2009) (raising the
issue of subject-matter jurisdiction sua sponte when
probate exception was implicated by the facts). “[T]he
probate exception reserves to state probate courts the
probate or annulment of a will and the administration of a
decedent's estate; it also precludes federal courts from
endeavoring to dispose of property that is in the custody of
a state probate court.” Marshall, 547 U.S. at
311-12. “[A]fter Marshall, the probate
exception is limited to two categories of cases: (1) those
that require the court to probate or annul a will or to
administer a decedent's estate, and (2) those that
require the court to dispose of property in the custody of a
state probate court.” Estate of Kirsch, 777
F.3d at 680-81. The probate exception “applies only if
a case actually requires a federal court to perform one of
the acts specifically enumerated in Marshall: to
probate a will, to annul a will, to administer a
decedent's estate; or to dispose of property in the
custody of a state probate court.” Id. at 681.
Estate of Kirsch, the Fourth Circuit analyzed the
probate exception in addressing the issue of whether a
transfer of interest was forbidden under the terms of a
trust. Id. at 679. The court held that the probate
exception did not apply when the district court was only
required to interpret the terms of the trust, and “not
the terms of [the decedent's] will.” Id.
at 679, 681. The court reasoned through the two categories of
cases post-Marshall that are subject to the probate
exception. First, regarding those cases that require a court
to administer a decedent's estate, the Fourth Circuit
found that the declaratory judgment requested by the
plaintiff would not have required the court to make “a
distribution of property out of the assets of [the
decedent's] estate.” Id. at 681. Second,
regarding those cases that require the disposal of property
in custody of the state, the Fourth Circuit found that the
property was held solely in trust, and was not in the custody
of or subject to the state probate court. Id. at
instant claim falls directly under the first category of
post-Marshall cases subject to the probate
exception. Plaintiff asks this Court to “order the
Defendant Nancy Kay Mchenry to provide this Plaintiff with
all monies entitled him per the will an [sic] living trust of
Mr. Donald W. Sorbin.” (Compl. at 9-10). While
Plaintiff seeks an accounting of the estate, Plaintiff's
clear intention is to have this Court “probate the
will” and “administer [the] decedent's
estate.” Estate of Kirsch, 777 F.3d at 680-81.
Plaintiff impliedly admits that he does not have copies of
the will and trust documents, but rather asks this Court to
compel production of the testamentary instruments and
subsequently determine the amount he is entitled to receive.
(Compl. at 9). This is markedly different from Estate of
Kirsch, where the court dealt only with a trust and not
a will. In this case, the Court would have to obtain the
will, determine its terms, and issue an order accordingly to
compel payment out of the assets of the estate. The probate
exception precludes this Court from exercising jurisdiction
to carry out a role clearly reserved for the probate courts.
true that the probate exception “does not bar federal
courts from adjudicating matters outside [the]
confines” of probating a will, administering an estate,
or disposing of property in the custody of a state probate
court. Marshall, 547 U.S. at 311-312. However,
Plaintiff's instant case presents no such peripheral
matter. Thus, the Court will dismiss Plaintiff's
complaint since it lacks subject-matter jurisdiction under
the probate exception.
reasons stated above, this Court lacks subject-matter
jurisdiction over Plaintiff's case under the probate
exception to federal jurisdiction. Therefore, pursuant to
Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(h)(3), Plaintiff's
complaint will be dismissed without prejudice for lack of
subject-matter jurisdiction. Accordingly, ...