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Kam v. Dallas County

United States District Court, N.D. Texas, Dallas Division

May 29, 2018

CAROL M. KAM, Plaintiff,
v.
DALLAS COUNTY, et al., Defendants.

          FINDINGS, CONCLUSIONS AND RECOMMENDATION OF THE UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

          RENEE HARRIS TOLIVER, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         Pursuant to Special Order 3 and 28 U.S.C. § 636(b), State of Texas' Motion to Dismiss, Doc. 24, and Dallas County's Motion to Dismiss, Doc. 29, have been referred to the undersigned for a recommended disposition. For the reasons stated herein, Dallas County's motion should be GRANTED IN PART, resulting in the dismissal of all of Plaintiff's claims, and the State of Texas' motion should be DENIED AS MOOT.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff Carol Kam brings this pro se action against the State of Texas and Dallas County (the “County”) (collectively “Defendants”) arising from the probate litigation that ensued after the deaths of her brother, Robert Kam, and father, Charles Kam (the “Probate Proceedings”).[1]

         A. Litigation Regarding Robert Kam's Estate

         Plaintiff alleges that in February 2011, after being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, Robert created a trust for his estate, over which Plaintiff's brother, David Kam, was named trustee (the “Original Trust”). Doc. 3 at 6, 37. Under the terms of the Original Trust, Plaintiff was to receive a $10, 000.00 inheritance. Doc. 3 at 7. Plaintiff further alleges that in March 2011, Robert's girlfriend, with the aid of her attorney, David Pyke (“Attorney Pyke”), made changes to the Original Trust that were approved by David and Robert (the “Amended Trust”). Doc. 3 at 8-9. When it was discovered that the provision providing for Plaintiff's inheritance had been removed, Attorney Pyke drafted an amendment restoring Plaintiff's inheritance, which was subsequently signed by Robert (the “Second Amendment”). Doc. 3 at 10-11. However, following Robert's death, David refused to distribute to Plaintiff the sum she inherited. Doc. 3 at 11.

         Consequently, Plaintiff and her nephew, Justin Kam, who was also dissatisfied with his inheritance under the Amended Trust, filed a will contest in Dallas Probate Court No. 3, seeking to void the Amended Trust and uphold the Original Trust (the “First Will Contest”). Doc. 3 at 11. The case was assigned to Judge Michael Miller and subsequently transferred to Judge John Peyton for trial in July 2013, during which Robert's testamentary capacity at the time he executed the Amended Trust was contested. Doc. 3 at 11-13. Judge Peyton found, inter alia, that (1) Plaintiff and Justin failed to meet their burden of proof on all counts, (2) the Original Trust was unenforceable, and (3) the contest was maintained in bad faith and without probable cause. Doc. 3 at 48-49. Thus, pursuant to the Amended Trust's “no contest” provision, Judge Peyton found that Plaintiff and Justin revoked all benefits to which they would have been entitled under the terms of the Amended Trust and Second Amendment. Doc. 3 at 49. Judge Peyton also ordered Plaintiff and Justin to pay attorneys' fees and litigation expenses totaling $226, 242.88. Doc. 3 at 49-51. Judge Peyton's ruling was affirmed on rehearing and in November 2015, Judge Margaret Jones Johnson denied Plaintiff's bill of review.[2] Doc. 3 at 14- 16. The Fifth Court of Appeals affirmed Judge Johnson's denial. Doc. 3 at 16; see In re Estate of Kam, No. 05-16-00126-CV, 2016 WL 7473905 (Tex. App.--Dallas 2016, pet. denied). Finally, in March 2017, the Supreme Court of Texas denied Plaintiff's petition for review. Doc. 3 at 16.

         B. Litigation Regarding Charles Kam's Estate

         Plaintiff alleges that in April 2012, during the pendency of the First Will Contest, Charles amended his will to remove David as an heir. Doc. 3 at 18. After Charles died in August 2012, Plaintiff filed the amended will for probate. Doc. 3 at 18-19. Thereafter, David, represented by Attorney Pyke, contested the will (the “Second Will Contest”). Doc. 3 at 19. Plaintiff alleges that David did so “to destroy the entire amount of the Estate” through costly litigation. Doc. 3 at 20. In September 2013, trial was held in Dallas Probate Court No. 2 before Judge Chris Wilmouth, who denied Plaintiff's application for probate. Doc. 3 at 20-21. In February 2016, the Eighth Court of Appeals reversed Judge Wilmouth's ruling, admitted Charles' amended will to probate, and awarded Plaintiff costs of the appeal. Doc. 3 at 21-22; see Matter of Kam, 484 S.W.3d 642 (Tex. App.--El Paso 2016, pet. denied).

         C. The Instant Lawsuit

         In February 2018, Plaintiff filed this lawsuit in which she asserts violations of her Fourteenth Amendment right to due process because the state judges and justices involved in the Probate Proceedings allegedly denied her the right to a fair trial. Specifically, Plaintiff challenges the validity of the judgment entered in the First Will Contest, arguing: (1) Robert lacked testamentary capacity to execute the Amended Trust, Doc. 3 at 24-27; (2) Attorney Pyke relied on forged evidence at trial, Doc. 3 at 28-29; (3) Judge Peyton lacked authority to preside over the trial, Doc. 3 at 30-33; and (4) Judge Peyton improperly denied Plaintiff the right to question a witness during the rehearing, Doc. 3 at 34-36. Plaintiff also contends she is entitled to the $10, 000.00 she inherited from Robert, and that Judge Peyton's order that she pay over $200, 000.00 in litigation expenses and court costs is a baseless and “malicious penalty.” Doc. 3 at 37-42. As relief, Plaintiff requests that: (1) Defendants grant her “a Fair Trial, with a Jury, so [she] may have the opportunity to have the Malicious Judgment removed, ” (2) she “receive [her] assigned inheritance, ” and (3) she be fully reimbursed for all legal expenses and court costs incurred to date. Doc. 3 at 46.

         The County and State filed motions to dismiss Plaintiff's Original Complaint on March 24, 2018 and April 6, 2018, respectively. Doc. 24; Doc. 29. Plaintiff responded to each. Doc. 30; Doc. 31. Only the County filed a reply.[3] Doc. 32.

         In its motion to dismiss, the County argues, inter alia, that the Rooker-Feldman doctrine[4]divests this Court of jurisdiction to hear Plaintiff's claims. Doc. 29 at 8-10. Upon review, the County's argument is well-founded and entirely disposes of Plaintiff's claims. As such, the Court need not reach the other arguments raised by the County or the State of Texas' motions to dismiss.

         II. ...


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