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Dukes v. Strand

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

June 21, 2019

JAMES A. DUKES, Plaintiff,



         This Memorandum Opinion sets forth the Court's reasons for denying Plaintiff's counsel's second Motion for Substitution of Party under Fed.R.Civ.P. 25(a) (ECF No. 109) and dismissing this case without prejudice.


         Plaintiff James A. Dukes (“James”) filed this civil rights action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 asserting claims against Defendant Dallas police officer Emmanuel Strand (“Strand”) for alleged violations of James's Fourth Amendment rights, including the alleged use of excessive force against James during the course of an alleged unlawful arrest on November 7, 2013. Compl. at 2-4, ¶¶ 6, 15-17, 25 (ECF No. 1). The Court set the case for a jury trial on September 10, 2018. Electronic Order (ECF No. 86). However, James died on August 25, 2018. Thereafter, James's counsel filed a Suggestion of Death Upon the Record pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 25(a)(1), Notice at 1 (ECF No. 93), and later James's counsel filed a Status Report indicating that he had located two of James's living children, Caroletta Dukes[1] and Robert Jackson. Status Report at 1 (ECF No. 98). Counsel also requested additional time to correspond with Caroletta. Id. In response, the Court scheduled a Rule 16 status conference for November 1, 2018, and deferred its ruling on counsel's request for additional time until after the status conference. Order at 2 (ECF No. 99).

         On November 1, 2018, prior to the status conference, James's counsel filed his first Motion for Substitution of Party Under Fed.R.Civ.P. 25(a), seeking to substitute Caroletta as a named party in place of James. Pl.'s Mot. (ECF No. 100). During the Rule 16 status conference, the Court expressed concerns about the lack of supporting documentation to establish Caroletta as a “proper party” under Rule 25(a). One week later, the Court issued a Memorandum Order denying without prejudice Caroletta's motion for substitution due to the lack of “evidence in the record to establish that [Caroletta] is James's legal representative or successor or is otherwise a ‘proper party' under Rule 25.” Mem. Order at 2 (ECF No. 102). Under two separate orders, the Court extended the deadline to file a motion under Rule 25. Id. (setting a December 14, 2018 deadline to refile the motion); see also Electronic Order (ECF No. 108) (extending deadline to refile the motion to January 16, 2019).

         On January 16, 2019, James's counsel filed his second Motion for Substitution of Party, still seeking to substitute Caroletta in place of James. Pl.'s Mot. (ECF No. 109). In support of the motion, counsel also submitted an affidavit from Caroletta, which stated that Caroletta was James's daughter.[2] Pl.'s Mot. at 3, ¶ 1 (ECF No. 109). On January 23, 2019, during a telephone conference with the parties, this Court ordered Strand to file his response to the motion by January 30, 2019, and ordered that any reply must be filed by February 6, 2019. Electronic Order (ECF No. 114).

         In Strand's timely-filed response in opposition of the motion, he argued Caroletta had failed to show she was a proper party under Rule 25 because she failed to prove she was either an executor, administrator, or primary distributee of her father's estate. Def.'s Mot. at 5-8 (ECF No. 115). Caroletta filed a reply arguing that “she is an heir at law, that there is no existing probate proceeding and that there is no need to probate [James's] estate.” Pl.'s Reply at 1 (ECF No. 125). Caroletta further stated “that there is an agreement to distribute any assets of her father between herself and her brother, who are the sole heirs to [James's] estate.” Id. Caroletta also attached an amended affidavit to her motion, which stated in relevant part:

My father died unmarried, intestate on August 25, 2018. My father has two remaining children, Robert Jackson and myself.
No probate proceeding has been instituted and there is no plan to institute a probate proceeding. Furthermore, my brother Robert Jackson and I have entered into an agreement as to the distribution of any assets due to my father's estate.

Pl.'s Aff. at 3, ¶¶ 4-5 (ECF No. 125-1).

         In light of the new evidence, this Court granted Strand leave to file a sur-reply, Electronic Order (ECF No. 126), which he filed on February 7, 2019, again arguing that Caroletta failed to show she was a proper party under Rule 25 despite the new evidence. Def.'s Sur-reply at 3-5. (ECF No. 127). Strand also countered the affidavit by providing his own new evidence suggesting that Caroletta is not James's daughter at all. Id. at 6-7.

         Legal Standards

         Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 25(a), when a claim survives a party's death, “the court may order substitution of the proper party. . . .” Fed.R.Civ.P. 25(a). A “motion for substitution may be made by any party or by the decedent's successor or representative.” Id. Executors, administrators, and primary distributees of a decedent-plaintiff's estate are proper parties under Rule 25. See Janvey v. Adams, 2014 WL 12834493, at *2 (N.D. Tex. Oct. 3, 2014) (explaining that courts have generally interpreted Rule 25 to provide for substitution only of the decedent's legal representatives, but also noting that there is substantial support for interpreting Rule 25 to include primary distributees as proper parties for substitution). But, a surviving relative with no other legal relationship to the deceased plaintiff is not necessarily a proper party. See Roberson v. Wood, 500 F.Supp. 854, 859 (S.D. Ill. Nov. 12, 1980) (holding that persons, who were neither executors nor administrators of deceased plaintiffs and had no other legal relationship to deceased plaintiffs other than kinship, were not entitled to substitution); Blassingill v. Reyes et al., 2018 WL 4922442, at *2 (N.D. Tex. Sept. 18, 2018), adopted by 2018 WL 4913881 (N.D. Tex. Oct. 9, 2018) (holding that a son was not a proper party to substitute for his deceased father where he failed to show his father died intestate ...

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