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Mandell v. Dollof

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

July 24, 2018

DONNA DOLLOF, individually and as Executrix of the Estate of BARBARA GOYETTE, deceased; RAYMOND GOYETTE; THE ESTATE OF BARABRA U. GOYETTE; JOHN DOES #1-100, and JOHN DOE #102, Deceased, the true names of same being unknown to Plaintiff, Defendants.


          MICHAEL P. SHEA, U.S.D.J.

         I. Introduction

         Plaintiff Heftziba Mandell filed this action against Defendants Donna Dollof, individually and as executrix of the estate of Barbara Goyette, Raymond Goyette, [1] the Estate of Barbara Goyette (“the Estate”), and John Does (collectively, “Defendants”), claiming that Defendants Dollof and Goyette breached a contract (“the Contract”) they entered into with Mandell for the purchase of real property in East Windsor, Connecticut (“the Property”), by authorizing the sale of that property to a John Doe defendant. (See Revised Complaint, ECF No. 2.) Mandell seeks specific performance of the Contract (Count One), a declaratory judgment that the Contract is superior to and bars any rights under any subsequent contract with the John Doe defendant (Count Two), damages for tortious interference with the Contract (Count Three), and a constructive trust over the Property (Count Four). (Id.)

         Defendants and Intervenor-Defendant 93 Prospect Hill Road, LLC (“Intervenor”), the current owner of the Property, moved to dismiss this action on the grounds that the Court lacks subject-matter jurisdiction under the probate exception to diversity jurisdiction, or, alternatively, that the doctrine of res judicata warrants dismissal. (ECF Nos. 15 and 16.) For the following reasons, Defendants' Motion to Dismiss is GRANTED as to Counts One, Two, and Four and DENIED as to Count Three.

         II. Background

         Before she passed away, Barbara Goyette owned the Property located at 93 Prospect Hill Road, in East Windsor, Connecticut. (ECF No. 2 ¶ 5, ECF No. 15-3, ECF No. 15-5.) Ms. Goyette died on March 20, 2006, and Dollof was appointed the executrix of her estate. (Id. ¶ 5, ECF No. 15-3.) The Estate filed an application for probate of Ms. Goyette's will in Probate Court for the Greater Windsor District on June 21, 2012. (ECF No. 15-3.) Ms. Goyette's Last Will and Testament was admitted by the Probate Court on July 24, 2014, and the Probate Court determined that Dollof was the sole beneficiary of the Estate under Ms. Goyette's will. (ECF No. 15-5.)

         In April, 2017, the Property was the subject of a foreclosure action by the Town of East Windsor and notice of an impending foreclosure sale was published. (ECF No. 2 ¶ 8.)[2] Mandell made an offer to Dollof and Raymond Goyette to buy the Property for $75, 000. (Id. ¶ 10.) Dollof and Mr. Goyette accepted the offer and on April 28, 2017, the parties executed the Contract for the purchase and sale of the Property. (Id. ¶¶ 10-12.) Under the Contract, Dollof and Mr. Goyette agreed to deliver marketable title to the Property at closing. (Id. ¶ 12.)

         As a result of the execution of the Contract, counsel for Dollof and Mr. Goyette, Derek Donnelly, Esq., requested in Connecticut Superior Court a stay of the foreclosure sale, which was scheduled to take place the next day, April 29, 2017. (Id. ¶ 15.) The Superior Court granted the request and canceled the foreclosure sale. (Id. ¶ 15.) Mr. Donnelly told Mandell, through her attorney, that the foreclosure sale was canceled and that he would be in touch with her regarding the sale of the Property to Mandell. (Id. ¶ 17.)

         Mandell ordered a title report for the Property, but in June 2017, Mr. Donnelly told Mandell that a “title issue ha[d] come up that [would] require the delay of the purchase at least a week.” (Id. ¶ 20.) A week later, Mr. Donnelly told Mandell that the parties had “run into issues with the closing” because “there was a title issue involving the deed” to Dollof and Mr. Goyette, and that title remained vested in the Estate. (Id. ¶ 21.) Mr. Donnelly then told Mandell that she would have to pay additional charges on the Property, which she agreed to do. (Id. ¶¶ 23-24.) Still, Mr. Donnelly later informed Mandell that he was “having some difficulty” arranging the closing. (Id. ¶ 25.) In July 2017, Mr. Donnelly informed Mandell that the “file” for the sale of the Property was transferred to Robert Curzan, an attorney for the Estate. (Id. ¶ 26.) After further inquiry by her attorney, Mandell learned that the Property was in the process of being sold by the Estate to another buyer. (Id. ¶ 27.)

         On July 17, 2017, Dollof and Frank Fitzgerald entered into a contract for the purchase and sale of the Property for $250, 000, and the Estate filed an application in Probate Court for permission to sell the Property to Fitzgerald. (ECF No. 15-6.) The law firm Wiggin and Dana, LLP (“Wiggin and Dana”) made a second offer to purchase the Property for $275, 000. (ECF No. 15-8.) Mandell filed this action in federal court on July 31, 2017. (ECF No. 1.)

         During a hearing in Probate Court on August 17, 2017, both Fitzgerald and Wiggin and Dana notified the court of their intentions to submit higher bids for the Property. (ECF No. 15 at 4.) The Probate Court also acknowledged receipt of a lis pendens providing notice that the Property was the subject of this lawsuit. (Id. at 5.) After the hearing, both Fitzgerald and Wiggin and Dana submitted higher bids for the Property. (Id.) The Probate Court subsequently found on August 22, 2017, that it was in the best interest of the Estate to sell the property to Wiggin and Dana or its nominee for $555, 000 and granted the Estate's application to do so. (ECF No. 15-10.) As a result of the Probate Court's order, title to the Property transferred to 93 Prospect Hill Road, LLC at closing on August 29, 2017. (ECF No. 15-11.) There is no indication in the probate court documents attached to the parties' filings that the plaintiff participated in the proceedings in the Probate Court.

         Invoking diversity jurisdiction, the operative complaint alleges that Mandell is a citizen of New Jersey, Defendants Dollof and Goyette are citizens of Connecticut, and the John Doe defendants are citizens of states other than New Jersey. (ECF No. 2 ¶ 1.)

         III. Legal Standard

         A “case is properly dismissed for lack of subject matter jurisdiction under Rule 12(b)(1) when the district court lacks the statutory or constitutional power to adjudicate it.” Nike, Inc. v. Already, LLC, 663 F.3d 89, 94 (2d Cir. 2011) (internal quotation marks omitted). The party “asserting subject matter jurisdiction has the burden of proving by a preponderance of the evidence that it exists.” Luckett v. Bure,290 F.3d 493, 497 (2d Cir. 2002). “In resolving a motion to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction under Rule 12(b)(1), a district court . . . may refer to evidence outside the pleadings.” Makarova v. United States, 201 F.3d ...

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