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Bangasser v. Bangasser

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

June 7, 2019

THOMAS F. BANGASSER, an individual, and derivatively on behalf of Nominal Defendants MIDTOWN LIMITED PARTNERSHIP and MIDTOWN COMMUNITY LAND TRUST, Plaintiffs,
v.
HUGH F. BANGASSER, an individual, K&L GATES, STEPHEN J. SIRIANNI, an individual, ANN E. MERRYFIELD, an individual, CHRIS R. YOUTZ, an individual, RICHARD E. SPOONEMORE, an individual, SIRIANNI YOUTZ SPOONEMORE HAMBURGER, DAVIS WRIGHT TREMAINE LLP, and GREGORY FRANKLIN ADAMS, an individual, Defendants,

          ORDER

          HONORABLE RICHARD A. JONES JUDGE

         This matter comes before the Court upon the Defendants' Joint Motion to Dismiss. Dkt. # 12. Plaintiffs have opposed, and Defendants have filed a Reply. Dkt. ## 15, 16.[1]For the reasons set forth below, the Court GRANTS Defendants' Motion to Dismiss.

         I. BACKGROUND

         This lawsuit arises from a family dispute over real property located in the heart of Seattle's Central District. Plaintiff Midtown Limited Partnership, comprised of five sibling partners which include Plaintiff Thomas Bangasser and his brother Hugh Bangasser, owned real property in Seattle's Central District, which it sold in May 2017. Dkt. # 13, Exs. A, C. Plaintiff's Complaint alleges the following facts, in full:

On December 22, 2014, the Union Street Business Association made a $30 million offer to purchase the real estate owned by MidTown Limited Partnership. The subject property is the entire south-east corner city block (2.44 acres) in Seattle's historically black neighborhood at 23rd & East Union. Plaintiff MidTown Community Land Trust (“MCLT”) is the successor organization of Union Street Business Association and AfricaTown Community Land Trust. Plaintiff Thomas F. Bangasser sold/gifted 6 of his 12 MidTown Partnership units to MCLT (a 10.7% ownership in MidTown). Defendants have refused to recognize MCLT as an owner and have withheld from [sic] more than $1.5 million for more than a year while paying themselves excessive legal and consulting fees from MidTown.

Dkt. # 4 at 5. This lawsuit, filed January 2019, represents the latest in a long legal battle dating back to September 2015, spanning two cases in King County Superior Court, a case in this District before Judge Coughenour, and a case before the Washington Court of Appeals. See Dkt. # 13, Exs. B-L. Plaintiffs' current lawsuit is directed at his brother and the attorneys who have previously advocated against him. Dkt. # 4. Plaintiffs seek to recover “losses suffered as a result of Defendants breaches of the Rules of Professional Conduct and their fiduciary duties to Plaintiff and the nominal Defendants.” Dkt # 4 at 8.

         II. DISCUSSION

         Defendants have moved to dismiss this case for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(1). When considering a motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(1), the court is not restricted to the face of the pleadings, but may review any evidence to resolve factual disputes concerning the existence of jurisdiction. McCarthy v. United States, 850 F.2d 558, 560 (9th Cir. 1988), cert. denied, 489 U.S. 1052 (1989); Biotics Research Corp. v. Heckler, 710 F.2d 1375, 1379 (9th Cir. 1983). A federal court is presumed to lack subject matter jurisdiction until the plaintiff establishes otherwise. Kokkonen v. Guardian Life Ins. Co. of America, 511 U.S. 375 (1994); Stock West, Inc. v. Confederated Tribes, 873 F.2d 1221, 1225 (9th Cir. 1989). Therefore, plaintiff bears the burden of proving the existence of subject matter jurisdiction. Stock West, 873 F.2d at 1225; Thornhill Publishing Co., Inc. v. Gen'l Tel & Elect. Corp., 594 F.2d 730, 733 (9th Cir. 1979).

         Because Plaintiff is proceeding pro se, the Court must construe his pleading liberally, and the pleading, “however inartfully pleaded, must be held to less stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers[.]” Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007) (citation omitted). Nonetheless, pro se litigants are still “bound by the rules of procedure.” Ghazali v. Moran, 46 F.3d 52, 54 (9th Cir. 1995).

         A. Plaintiffs Fail to Show Subject Matter Jurisdiction

         Original jurisdiction may be based on diversity or the existence of a federal question, as set forth in 28 U.S.C. §§ 1331 and 1332. Plaintiffs allege that the jurisdictional basis for this lawsuit is federal question jurisdiction. Dkt. # 4 at 3. Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1331, federal district courts have original jurisdiction over “all civil actions arising under the Constitution, laws, or treaties of the United States.” “A case ‘arises under' federal law either where federal law creates the cause of action or ‘where the vindication of a right under state law necessarily turn[s] on some construction of federal law.'” Republican Party of Guam v. Gutierrez, 277 F.3d 1086, 1088-89 (9th Cir. 2002) (quotation omitted). The presence or absence of federal question jurisdiction is governed by the “well-pleaded complaint rule, which provides that federal question jurisdiction exists only when a federal question is presented on the face of the plaintiff's properly pleaded complaint.” Smallwood v. Allied Van Lines, Inc., 660 F.3d 1115, 1120 (9th Cir. 2011) (citing Caterpillar Inc. v. Williams, 482 U.S. 386, 392 (1987)).

         Plaintiffs list the following as bases for federal question jurisdiction: “Segregation towards Seattle's African American community and historic black neighborhood; Lawyer conflict of Interest; abuse of due process rights; violation of contract right to arbitration. Judicial bias and prejudice.” Dkt. # 4 at 3. None of these listed reasons are sufficient to confer federal question jurisdiction. Plaintiffs fail to identify any federal statute, constitutional provision, or other authority that would confer subject matter jurisdiction in this case. Moreover, even accepting the allegations of Plaintiffs' Complaint as true, there is no apparent jurisdictional basis for what appear to be primarily state law breach of contract or breach of fiduciary duty claims.[2] Aside from a vague reference to unidentified “due process rights, ” there is no indication that any of these claims, which are not alleged against any governmental entity, would necessarily turn on some construction of federal law.

         Accordingly, this Court lacks subject matter jurisdiction over Plaintiff's claims. Defendants' Motion to Dismiss is GRANTED.

         B. The Court Grants ...


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