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Christensen v. Wall

United States District Court, W.D. Washington, Seattle

March 21, 2014

SCOTT E CHRISTENSEN, Plaintiff,
v.
MARTHA J WALL, et al., Defendants.

ORDER GRANTING MOTIONS TO DISMISS AND DISMISSING CASE

MARSHA J. PECHMAN, Chief District Judge.

This matter is before the Court on two motions to dismiss. The first motion is brought by Defendants Keller-Rohrback LLP, Thompson & Howle LLP, Carol Vaughn, and Diana Zottman ("Attorney Defendants"). (Dkt. No. 9.) The second motion is brought by Defendants S. Merle Christensen and Martha J. Wall, and is joined by Dale H. Christensen ("Moving Family Defendants"). (Dkt. Nos. 14 and 22.) The only non-moving Defendant is the Estate of Orland M. Christensen, who recently appeared in the case. (Dkt. No. 28.) Plaintiff Scott E. Christensen responded to the two motions in one response (Dkt. No. 20), and the moving Parties each filed replies (Dkt. Nos. 21 and 22.) Plaintiff submitted "supplemental opposition" (Dkt. No. 24) which all moving Defendants move to strike. (Dkt. Nos. 26 and 27.) Upon consideration of the pleadings and all relevant documents, the Court GRANTS both motions and DISMISSES this case in its entirety for lack of subject matter jurisdiction.

Background

Plaintiff Scott E. Christensen alleges Defendants have unduly influenced his mother into changing her will and violated orders from his Chapter 12 bankruptcy. Plaintiff's siblings are Martha Wall and Dale Christensen, and S. Merle Christensen and Orland Christensen are there now deceased parents. (Dkt. No. 1 at 4.) Diana Zottman, law firm Keller-Rohrback, Carol Vaughn, and law firm Thompson & Howle represented Martha Wall as personal representative in probate and trustee cases prior to this suit. (Dkt. No 10-1.)

Plaintiff alleges Martha Wall "vilified" him to his family and friends and alienated him from his mother and his brother. (Dkt. No. 1 at 4.) He also maintains Martha Wall caused their mother to file a criminal complaint against him. (Id.) Plaintiff contends he is the proper beneficiary of his parents' estates but that Defendants unduly influenced his mother to execute a new durable power of attorney and will that named "Martha attorney-in-fact and... as personal representative and [cut him] out of her Will shortly before [his] mother's death." (Id.) Plaintiff alleges Defendants are also "re-characterizing" his mother's "investment monies" and have tried to launder trust funds used to purchase S. Merle's residence. (Dkt. No. 1 at 4-5.) Plaintiff alleges he owns "2500 Stonebridge, [the] mortgage on 14555 Mc Lean Road, garage shelving, money accounts at various banks, business books[, ] and records." (Id. at 9.)

Plaintiff also maintains he and his mother "entered into a contract agreement for the farm loans, the same two loans discharged in Plaintiff's Chapter 12." (Dkt. No. 1 at 10.) He contends he was to "succeed to all capital assets of the farming operations upon termination" because the contract stated, "The property and assets of the business shall be owned by Scott and [his wife]." (Id.) He states the decisions of how to handle the farm sale proceeds were his to make, not the Defendants, under his bankruptcy order. (Id. at 11.)

A. Judicial Notice of Documents Attached to Motions to Dismiss

On a motion to dismiss, "a court may generally consider only allegations contained in the pleadings, exhibits attached to the complaint, and matters properly subject to judicial notice." Swartz v. KPMG LLP , 476 F.3d 756, 763 (9th Cir. 2007). A court may take notice of proceedings in state courts if they are directly related to the matters at issue. U.S. ex rel. Robinson Rancheria Citizens Council v. Borneo, Inc. , 971 F.2d 244, 248 (9th Cir. 1992). This Court takes notice of S. Merle Christensen's will, documents provided from the probate proceedings and trustee proceedings, S. Merle Christensen's statement to Mt. Vernon police, and the warranty deed showing the Stonebridge property belonged to S. Merle Christensen. (Dkt. Nos. 10-1, 15-1.)

B. Probate and Trustee Proceedings

S. Merle Christensen drafted the will that went to probate on July 17, 2012. (Dkt. No. 10-1 at 4.) In the will Martha Wall was appointed as personal representative. (Id. at 3.) The will stated Plaintiff may not become personal representative at any time. (Id.) As personal representative, Martha Wall was directed to distribute property of the estate, and the residue of the estate was left to the S. Merle Christensen Declaration of Trust. (Id.) The state court found on May 6, 2013, S. Merle was legally competent to execute the will naming Martha as the personal representative. (Id. at 8.)

The state court removed Plaintiff as trustee of the Orland M. Christensen Trust on August 23, 2013, because of a conflict of interest. (Dkt. No. 10-1 at 47.) In Plaintiff's answer to the petition to remove him as trustee, he argued petitioner's claims were barred by federal bankruptcy law and by bankruptcy court decree. (Id. at 36.) He also requested the court issue an order declaring the petitioner, Martha Wall, unduly influenced S. Merle Christensen, "rendering the estate planning documents she executed in the last five years to be null and void." (Id.) The state court concluded Plaintiff was to be removed as Trustee of the trust because of loans secured by a mortgage he had in favor of the trust. (Id. at 47.) The court did not decide the validity or enforceability of the debts, and did not address Plaintiff's claims of undue influence. (Id.) The state court also did not address the issues of whether Plaintiff's bankruptcy order or bankruptcy law impacted the proceedings. (Id.)

Analysis

A. Statements of Attorneys in Prior Judicial Proceedings are Privileged

"Allegedly libelous statements, spoken or written by a party or counsel in the course of a judicial proceeding, are absolutely privileged if they are pertinent or material to the redress or relief sought, whether or not the statements are legally sufficient to obtain that relief." McNeal v. Allen , 95 Wn.2d 265, 267 (1980). To the extent Plaintiff is bringing allegations of defamation against Attorney Defendants for ...


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