United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania
JAMES A. GORDON, Plaintiff,
WILLIE MEANA CANADA, et al, Defendants.
James A. Gordon, proceeding pro se, has filed this
civil action against Willie Meana Canada and Patricia A.
Conway, raising claims related to the probate of Gordon's
father's estate. (ECF No. 2.) He has also filed a Motion
for Leave to Proceed In Forma Pauperis. (ECF No. 1.)
For the following reasons, the Court will grant Gordon leave
to proceed in forma pauperis and will dismiss his
is the son of Hollis C. Gordon, Sr. (Compl. at
Gordon alleges that Hollis Gordon was admitted to Hahnemann
University Hospital's emergency room on May 29, 2014 due
to "symptoms and diagnosis of a severe stroke."
(Id.) He required "around-the-clock supervisory
care in the Hospital's Critical Care Unit...
necessitating breathing with the assistance of a life-support
machine." (Id.) Subsequently, Hollis Gordon was
classified "for immediate placement for hospice as a
terminally ill patient." (Id. at 10.) After
that, he suffered three (3) cardiopulmonary arrests which
required resuscitation. (Id.) Because of this, the
hospital staff concluded that Hollis Gordon's
"mental and physical capacity was severely diminishing
long before his May 29, 2014 hospital admission."
(Id.) Hollis Gordon passed away on November 27,
2014. (Id. at 9.)
Gordon's last will and testament, dated May 20, 2014, was
admitted to probate by the "Register of Willis of
Philadelphia County on August 14, 2015 whereby Willie Meana
Canada... was appointed Executrix of the Estate."
(Id.) According to Gordon, Meana, along with
Patricia Conway, also admitted "a 'Petition To
Probate Will In Solemn Form' in the Probate Court, County
of Screven, State of Georgia," on June 25, 2015.
(Id. at 10.) Subsequently, on August 14, 2015,
Canada submitted a second petition for probate to the
Register of Wills for Philadelphia. (Id.)
states that on April 25, 2016, he appealed the decree
appointing Canada as Executrix to the Court of Common Pleas,
Philadelphia Orphans' Division. (Id. at 11.) On
December 23, 2016, he appealed to the Superior Court of
Pennsylvania. (Id.) On December 5, 2017, Gordon
filed a Petition for Allowance of Appeal with the Supreme
Court of Pennsylvania. (Id. at 12.) On May 30, 2018,
the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania denied the Petition.
See In re Estate of Hollis C. Gordon, Sr., Deceased,
551 EAL 2017 (Pa.).
contends that the will admitted for probate in Philadelphia
should be revoked because his father "lacked mental
capacity procured by undue influence, duress and/or
constraint to execute a [w]ill on May 20, 2014."
(Id. at 10.) He also asserts that "the Order
appointing Willie Meana Canada Executrix of the Estate of Mr.
Gordon should be vacated with an Order entered by this
Honorable Court directing the Estate to adhere to 20 Pa.
Code, Ch. 21, Pennsylvania Laws of Intestate
Succession." (Id.) To this end, Gordon requests
that the Court order Canada and Conway to appear and show
cause "why the Last Will And Testament Of Hollis C.
Gordon, Sr., dated May 20, 2014 and the Grant of Letters
Testamentary appointing Willie Meana Canada Executrix ...
should not be revoked and vacated, respectively, on grounds
including, but not limited to, decedent's lack of mental
capacity and undue influence." (Id. at 12.)
STANDARD OF REVIEW
Court will grant Gordon leave to proceed in forma
pauperis because it appears that he is not capable of
paying the fees necessary to commence this action.
Accordingly, 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B)(ii) requires the
Court to dismiss the Complaint if it fails to state a claim.
Whether a complaint fails to state a claim under §
1915(e)(2)(B)(ii) is governed by the same standard applicable
to motions to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure
12(b)(6), see Tourscher v. McCullough, 184 F.3d 236,
240 (3d Cir. 1999), which requires the Court to determine
whether the complaint contains "sufficient factual
matter, accepted as true, to state a claim to relief that is
plausible on its face." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556
U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quotations omitted). Conclusory
statements and naked assertions will not suffice.
Id. Moreover, "if 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). As
Gordon is proceeding pro se, the Court construes his
allegations liberally. Higgs v. Att'y Gen., 655
F.3d 333, 339 (3d Cir. 2011).
noted above, Gordon requests that this Court review and
vacate the order that appointed Willie Meana Canada as
Exectrix of Hollis Gordon's estate. Pursuant to the
Rooker-Feldman doctrine, however, "federal
district courts lack jurisdiction over suits that are
essentially appeals from state-court judgments."
Great W. Mining & Mineral Co. v. Fox Rothschild
LLP, 615 F.3d 159, 165 (3d Cir. 2010). Based on that
principle, the Rooker-Feldman doctrine deprives a
federal district court of jurisdiction over "cases
brought by state-court losers complaining of injuries caused
by state-court judgments rendered before the district court
proceedings commenced and inviting district court review and
rejection of those judgments." Id. at 166
(quotations omitted). Accordingly, the Court lacks
jurisdiction to review and overturn the order in question.
extent that Gordon asserts claims that are not barred by the
Rooker-Feldman doctrine, the Court lacks subject
matter jurisdiction over such claims. The only basis for
Gordon's claims regarding his father's estate is
diversity jurisdiction. Under 28 U.S.C. § 1332, a
district court can exercise subject-matter jurisdiction over
a case in which "the matter in controversy exceeds the
sum or value of $75, 000, exclusive of interest and costs,
and is between .. . citizens of different States."
Id. Section 1332(a) requires '"complete
diversity between all plaintiffs and all defendants,'
even though only minimal diversity is constitutionally
required. This means that, unless there is some other basis
for jurisdiction, 'no plaintiff [may] be a citizen of the
same state as any defendant.'" Lincoln Ben. Life
Co. v. AEI Life, LLC, 800 F.3d 99, 104 (3d Cir. 2015)
(quoting Lincoln Prop. Co. v. Roche, 546 U.S. 81, 89
(2005) and Zambelli Fireworks Mfg. Co. v. Wood, 592
F.3d 412, 419 (3d Cir. 2010) (internal footnotes omitted)).
Here, Gordon provides Philadelphia addresses for both Canada
and Conway (Compl. at 2), but also asserts that they are
citizens of "Georgia and Pennsylvania"
(id. at 6). Given this, the Complaint fails to
establish the complete diversity required to exercise
jurisdiction under § 1332(a).
event, "[t]he probate exception is a jurisdictional
limitation on the federal courts originating from the
original grant of jurisdiction in the Judiciary Act of
1789." Three Keys Ltd. V. SR Util. Holding Co.,
540 F.3d 220, 226 (3d Cir. 2008). Under this exception,
federal courts lack jurisdiction over "the probate or
annulment of a will [or] the administration of a
decedent's estate." Marshall v. Marshall,
547 U.S. 293, 311 (2006). In courts within the Third Circuit,
this exception only applies if the "federal court is
endeavoring to (1) probate or annul a will, (2) administer a
decedent's estate, or (3) assume in rem
jurisdiction over property that is in the custody of the
probate court." Three Keys Ltd., 540 F.3d at
227. Here, Gordon clearly wants this Court to revoke the will
admitted to probate in Philadelphia and direct that his
father's estate be probated according to the laws of
intestate succession. (See Compl. at 10.)
Accordingly, even if Gordon could come back and establish
complete diversity between the parties, the probate exception
applies to deprive this Court of jurisdiction over this