United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Northwestern Division
N. JOHNSON, JR. UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
civil action for a partition and sale of property proceeds
before the court on Plaintiffs' Motion to Remand. (Doc.
2). In their Motion, Plaintiffs argue that the federal court
does not have subject matter jurisdiction to sustain removal
because this case proceeds as an in rem or quasi
in rem action. Because the Defendant's removal
terminated the state court's quasi in rem jurisdiction
over this action, the court DENIES the
Joel Reagin, Susan Ann Morris Gardner, and Carol Massey, and
Defendant Norman French, assumed ownership of an undivided,
one fourth interest, “each in and to [particular]
property by separate deeds, ” from the Wendell and
Martha French Revocable Trust. Plaintiff filed this action in
the Circuit Court of Lawrence County, Alabama, on February
14, 2017, seeking a “divide or partition, or sell for
partition, ” of the jointly-owned property pursuant to
1975 Ala. Code §§35-6-20 through 35-6-25 (1975).
Defendant French, who avers he is a citizen of Texas, removed
the action on March 17, 2017, alleging diversity
jurisdiction. See 28 U.S.C. §1441(a) (allowing
removal of civil actions over which the district courts have
original jurisdiction); 28 U.S.C. §1332 (providing that
federal courts “have original jurisdiction of all civil
actions where the matter in controversy exceeds the sums or
value of $75, 000 . . . and is between . . . citizens of
different states.”). The Plaintiffs timely filed
motions to remand this case to the state court.
courts are courts of limited jurisdiction, and there is a
presumption against the exercise of federal jurisdiction,
such that all uncertainties as to removal jurisdiction are to
be resolved in favor of remand.” Russell Corp. v.
American Home Assurance Co., 264 F.3d 1040, 1050
(11th Cir. 2001) (citation omitted). Therefore,
courts should construe “removal statutes . . .
narrowly, with doubts resolved against removal.”
Allen v. Christenberry, 327 F.3d 1290, 1293
(11th Cir.), cert. denied, 540 U.S. 877
(2003); University of South Alabama v. American Tobacco
Co., 168 F.3d 405, 411 (11th Cir.
1999)(“Because removal jurisdiction raises significant
federalism concerns, federal courts are directed to construe
removal statutes strictly. . . . Indeed, all doubts about
jurisdiction should be resolved in favor of remand to state
removing defendant “bears the burden of proving proper
federal jurisdiction.” Adventure Outdoors, Inc. v.
Blomberg, 552 F.3d 1290, 1294 (11th Cir.
2008) (internal quotes omitted). Where jurisdiction is based
on diversity of citizenship pursuant to § 1332, French,
as the removing party invoking this court's jurisdiction,
must establish diversity jurisdiction by a preponderance of
the evidence. McCormick v. Aderholt, 293 F.3d 1254,
1257 (11th Cir. 2002). The court assesses the
basis for federal jurisdiction at the time of removal.
Whitt v. Sherman Int'l Corp, 147 F.3d 1325, 1332
(11th Cir. 1998).
Supreme Court proclaims, federal courts “‘have no
more right to decline the exercise of jurisdiction which is
given, than to usurp that which is not given.'”
Marshall v. Marshall, 547 U.S. 293, 298-99 (2006)
(quoting Cohens v. Virginia, 6 Wheat. 264, 404
(1821)). In the matter at bar, the case ostensibly falls
under the Court's diversity subject matter jurisdiction:
there exists complete diversity between the Plaintiffs and
Defendant, and the amount in controversy exceeds $75, 000 for
each Plaintiff. Therefore, if such analysis holds, then
the defendant properly removed this case because the Court
possessed original jurisdiction over the action. However,
there exist several common law exceptions to the exercise of
otherwise proper subject matter jurisdiction, one of which
arises in this case: the probate exception.
probate exception serves as a longstanding limitation on
otherwise properly exercised federal jurisdiction. See
Markham v. Allen, 326 U.S. 490, 494 (1946); Sutton
v. English, 246 U.S. 199 (1918). This exception stemmed
from a general understanding that the equity jurisdiction
conferred by the Judiciary Act of 1789 did not extend to
probate matters. See Sutton, 246 U.S. at 205;
O'Callaghan v. O'Brien, 199 U.S. 89, 105
(1905). The Supreme Court clarified the exception's scope
in Marshall and delineated three circumstances where
the probate exception limits federal court jurisdiction: (1)
the probate or annulment of a will; (2) the administration of
a decedent's estate; and (3) where the federal court
endeavors to dispose of property that is in the custody of a
state probate court. Marshall, 547 U.S. at 311-12.
Federal courts may adjudicate matters “outside those
confines and otherwise within federal jurisdiction.”
Id. at 312.
action involves a sale for partition under Alabama law, and
thus the request falls outside the first two categories of
the probate exception: it does not involve the probate or
annulment of a will, and it does not involve the
administration of a decedent's estate. The issue remains
whether a state probate court maintains custody of the
subject property, a circumstances which incites the general
principle that “when one court is exercising in
rem jurisdiction over a res, a second court
will not assume in rem jurisdiction over the same
res.” 547 U.S. at 311.
third category of the probate exception actually comprises
the prior exclusive jurisdiction doctrine. Goncalves By
and Through Goncalves v. Rady Children's Hospital San
Diego, 865 F.3d 1237, 1253 (9th Cir. 2017)
(This aspect of Marshall “has little to do
with probate; rather, it is an application of the prior
exclusive jurisdiction doctrine.”) (citation
omitted). Pursuant to the doctrine, when litigants
advance separate in rem or quasi in rem cases in
federal and state courts regarding the same property, the
court first assuming jurisdiction over the res at issue
maintains control over the property to the exclusion of the
other court. Princess Lida of Thurn and Taxis v.
Thompson, 305 U.S. 456, 466 (1939); see United
States v. $270, 000 in U.S. Currency, Plus Interest, 1
F.3d 1146, 1147 (11th Cir. 1993) (“A state
court and a federal court cannot simultaneously exercise in
rem jurisdiction over the same
parties do not dispute that this case constitutes a quasi
in rem action. The plaintiffs advance this cause to
determine the status and disposition of property over which
the parties have ownership interests. See Ex Parte
Bruner, 749 So.2d 437, 440 (Ala. 1999)(“a
quasi in rem action is an action ‘against the
person in respect of the res, where, for example, it has for
its object partition, or the sale or other disposition of
[the] defendant's property.'”)(quoting Gill
v. More, 76 So. 453, 459 (Ala. 1917)).
Plaintiffs argue primarily that the Lawrence County Circuit
Court's assumption of quasi in rem jurisdiction, upon the
initial filing in this case, precludes a federal court from
exercising jurisdiction over the subject property.
Implicitly, the Plaintiffs argue that the Lawrence County
Circuit Court's assumption of quasi in rem jurisdiction
should preclude jurisdiction in this Court, yet the
Plaintiffs fail to acknowledge that this finding rests upon a
missing premise: the existence of parallel proceedings in the
Lawrence County Circuit Court and this federal court. As
discerned previously, the prior ...