United States District Court, W.D. Oklahoma
VANESSA G. LYONS CALVIN, Plaintiff,
STATE OF OKLAHOMA, et al., Defendants.
HEATON CHIEF U.S. DISTRICT JUDGE
case, plaintiff Vanessa Calvin, proceeding pro se,
asserts claims on behalf of herself and her siblings, in her
alleged capacity as the “trustee and executor” of
the “Jimmie Lyons & Mercy D. Lyons Irrevocable
Trust Dated 1991 LLC.” The complaint, though lengthy
and supported by voluminous exhibits and/or supporting
material, is not clear as to the nature of, or the basis for,
the various claims. At base, the claims appear to arise from
a continuing dispute between plaintiff (and, apparently, her
siblings) and Shirley Lyons, the second wife of
plaintiff's father Jimmie Lyons.
complaint and related submissions indicate that Mr. Lyons
suffered from cancer prior to his death and there appears to
have been a guardianship proceeding in state court, and
allegations of improper care of him, prior to his death.
After Mr. Lyons's death, Shirley Lyons sought appointment
as the personal representative of his estate. Plaintiff
apparently contested the appointment, claiming that Ms.
Lyons's marriage to her father was bigamous and that Ms.
Lyons had not been validly divorced from a prior husband. She
also apparently objected on the basis of Ms. Lyons's
pre-death care of Mr. Lyons. The state district court
appointed Ms. Lyons as the personal representative.
the pendency of the probate proceeding there was apparently
an effort to sell certain real estate that had been the home
of Mr. and Mrs. Lyons, or at least owned by
them, which property was apparently the subject
of a foreclosure proceeding instituted by defendant
Nationwide Advantage Mortgage Company. Plaintiff objected to
the sale of the property and,  with her sister, was apparently
ejected from it later in some sort of forcible entry and
detainer proceeding or process. It appears there were
multiple appeals to the Oklahoma appellate courts from orders
in the probate, and perhaps other, cases.
2015, plaintiff attempted to remove the probate proceeding to
this court. The court dismissed the case on the basis of lack
of federal subject-matter jurisdiction to administer an
estate. In re Estate of Jimmie and Mercy Lyons v. Shirley
Ann Lyons, No. CIV-0415-HE (W.D. Okla. Apr. 22, 2015).
has now filed a new complaint raising what appear to be the
same issues and objections she had raised in the 2015 case.
However, the complaint now purports to characterize the
claims as ones for violation of her (and/or her siblings)
civil rights. Here, she names as defendants the State of
Oklahoma/Attorney General, the District Attorney of Comanche
County, the state district judge presiding over the probate
case, Ms. Lyons and her lawyers, the mortgage company which
held the mortgage on the property, the company that serviced
it, and the title company which apparently handled the
closing. She has also sued the purchasers of the property and
the bank financing its purchase.
sets of defendants have moved to dismiss the claims against
them or the case generally. Certain of the motions seek
dismissal on the basis that the court lacks subject matter
jurisdiction over the claims, arguing that neither federal
question nor diversity jurisdiction exist. All assert Rule
12(b)(6) objections for failure to state a claim, based on
various theories. Certain of the defendants raised immunity
or similar arguments as a basis for dismissal. Plaintiff has
responded to the motions [Doc. #38].
respect to the issue of subject matter jurisdiction, this
case appears to be, in substance, a continuing objection to
the way in which the state court probate proceeding was
conducted. And as such, it continues to be potentially
subject to the rule announced in the prior case-federal
courts have no jurisdiction “to probate a will or
administer an estate.” Markham v. Allen, 326
U.S. 490, 494 (1946). In the conclusion to her response brief
[Doc. #38], plaintiff appears to summarize her concern as
being that Ms. Lyons should not have been appointed the
personal representative of plaintiff's father's
estate. That question appears to be a pure probate
court issue, and this court lacks the authority to act as an
appellate court reviewing the orders in the probate case.
However, as plaintiff at least attempts to state various
claims beyond simply challenging the probate court's
orders, the court declines to dismiss the case on that basis.
So the question becomes whether plaintiff has otherwise
stated a proper basis for jurisdiction in this court.
court concludes plaintiff has not presently alleged a basis
for jurisdiction here based on a federal question. The
complaint does purport to assert civil rights claims
under First, Fourth, Fifth, Ninth, Tenth, Thirteenth, and
Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution, and seeks
“the forcing of the Eleventh Amendment where
possible.” It also references the Fair Debt Collection
Act, the Truth in Lending Act and other federal
programs. But, even construing the complaint
liberally, as warranted by plaintiff's pro se
status, the court can discern no colorable federal claim
under any of the referenced Amendments based on the facts
plaintiff has alleged. It is clear that plaintiff disagrees,
and disagrees strongly, with the decisions made and actions
taken in the state court. It is clear that she views them as
unfair. But disagreement with a state court result, without
more, does not translate into a federal civil rights
complaint. Similarly, objecting to the particular
transactions as to the real estate (i.e. the servicing or
foreclosure of a mortgage) does not, without more, constitute
a violation of the referenced federal statutes. The court
concludes a basis for federal question jurisdiction has not
court concludes otherwise as to jurisdiction based on
diversity of citizenship. Giving plaintiff the fullest
benefit of a liberal construction of her pleadings as a
pro se litigant, including, as appropriate, her
notebook of supplemental submissions, the court concludes
plaintiff has made a sufficient preliminary, prima
facie showing of diversity of citizenship. She asserts
that she is a resident and citizen of Arizona. While the
complaint does not explicitly address the citizenship of the
defendants, it more or less appears that they are citizens of
Oklahoma or at least not of Arizona. Certain of the
defendants object that $75, 000 in controversy has not been
shown. Again, giving plaintiff the benefit of the broadest
possible construction of her submissions, the court concludes
a sufficient showing of amount in controversy, based
principally on the likely value of the home and related
expenses incurred in pursuing her claims,  has been made.
See generally, McPhail v. Deere & Co.,
529 F.3d 947 (10th Cir. 2008). While this determination does
not preclude a further jurisdictional challenge if further
proceedings result in this case, the court concludes a
sufficient prima facie showing of jurisdiction based
on diversity of citizenship has been made-barely-to avoid
dismissal on that basis.
question then becomes whether plaintiff has stated a claim
against the various defendants. At the motion to dismiss
stage, the court views all well-pleaded factual allegations
in the complaint as true and draws inferences from them in
the light most favorable to the non-moving party. S.E.C.
v. Shields, 744 F.3d 633, 640 (10th Cir. 2014). The
complaint must, though, include “factual content that
allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the
defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.”
Id. It must include “more than labels or
conclusions or a formulaic recitation of the elements of a
cause of action.” Id. at 640-41 (quoting
Khalik v. United Air Lines, 671 F.3d 1188, 1191
(10th Cir. 2012)). And as noted above, complaints submitted
by pro se litigants are construed
liberally-allowances may be made for “confusion of
various legal theories . . . poor syntax and sentence
construction, or . . . unfamiliarity with pleading
requirements, ” but the court stops short of
constructing arguments for the plaintiff. Garrett v.
Selby Connor Maddux & Janer, 425 F.3d 836, 840 (10th
these standards to the complaint, the court concludes it
fails to state a claim against any defendant. As noted above,
and focusing on the facts pleaded rather than legal
conclusions, the court can discern no colorable claim of a
violation of plaintiff's constitutional rights or other
basis for a claim pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983.
Something more than an allegation that a state court
proceeding was unfair must be shown. Further, there is no
allegation sufficient to show that any of the private
defendants “acted under color of” state law, such
as would be necessary to a § 1983 claim.
the claims against the Oklahoma Attorney General and District
Attorney of Comanche County, they appear to be barred by
Eleventh Amendment or other sovereign immunity. Further, the
complaint alleges nothing that might even arguably state a
claim against either defendant.
complaint does reference specific actions by Judge Neuwirth,
the state court judge who presided over the probate
proceeding. But his actions were clearly taken in his
judicial capacity and any claim against him is barred by