United States District Court, N.D. Texas, Dallas Division
JAMES A. DUKES, Plaintiff,
EMMANUEL STRAND, Defendant.
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER OF DISMISSAL
REBECCA RUTHERFORD, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
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.
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 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).
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).
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. 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.
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
Pl.'s Aff. at 3, ¶¶ 4-5 (ECF No. 125-1).
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.
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 ...