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Wellin v. Wellin

United States District Court, D. South Carolina, Charleston Division

October 22, 2019

PETER J. WELLIN, et. al, Plaintiff,
v.
WENDY WELLIN, individually and as Trustee of the Keith S. Wellin Florida Revocable Living Trust u/a/d December 11, 2001 Defendant.

          ORDER

          DAVID C. NORTON UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         This matter is before the court on two motions to reconsider filed by defendant Wendy Wellin - one in her individual capacity (“Wendy”), ECF No. 544, and one in her official capacity as trustee of the Keith S. Wellin Florida Revocable Living Trust u/a/d December 11, 2001 (“trustee Wendy”), ECF No. 545. For the reasons stated below, the court denies both motions.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Because the parties are well-acquainted with this case, the court will dispense with a recitation of facts and include only a procedural history of the matters at hand.

         This court issued the February 12, 2015 order denying trustee Wendy's motion to dismiss pursuant to Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) and 12(b)(7) and Wendy's motion to dismiss pursuant to Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1). ECF No. 32. The court held that the probate exception to diversity jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1332(a) did not apply to Wendy or trustee Wendy and that the Colorado River doctrine did not apply to Wendy because the companion probate case pending in state court (the “Probate Action”) was not a parallel suit and because the exceptional circumstances required to abstain from jurisdiction did not exist.

         On February 6, 2018, plaintiffs Peter J. Wellin, Cynthia Plum, and Marjorie King (the “Wellin children”) amended their counterclaims in the Probate Action (the “Amended Counterclaims”) to add a declaratory judgment against trustee Wendy and tort and contract claims against Wendy. ECF No. 544-1. The Amended Counterclaims are identical to the claims before this court.[1] ECF No. 544 at 6-8.

         On April 27, 2018, Wendy, both in her individual capacity and in her capacity as trustee, filed a motion for reconsideration of the court's February 12, 2015 order pursuant to Rule 54(b) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. ECF No. 544-545. The Wellin children responded on May 11, 2018. ECF No. 547. Wendy replied, both in her individual capacity and in her capacity as trustee, on May 25, 2018, and provided a supplemental reply on August 23, 2018. ECF No. 553, 586. Both motions have been fully briefed and are now ripe for the court's review.

         II. STANDARD

         A. Motion to Reconsider

         Rule 54(b) states, in relevant part:

[A]ny order or other decision, however designated, that adjudicates fewer than all the claims or the rights and liabilities of fewer than all the parties does not end the action as to any of the claims or parties and may be revised at any time before the entry of a judgment adjudicating all the claims and all the parties' rights and liabilities.

         While the precise standard governing motions to reconsider an interlocutory order is not specified, the Fourth Circuit has stated that Rule 54(b) motions are “not subject to the strict standards applicable to motions for reconsideration of a final judgment.” Am. Canoe Ass'n v. Murphy Farms, Inc., 326 F.3d 505, 514 (4th Cir. 2003); see also R.E. Goodson Constr. Co. v. Int'l Paper Co., 2006 WL 1677136, at *1 (D.S.C. June 14, 2006) (noting that the Fourth Circuit has offered little guidance as to the appropriate standard for evaluating Rule 54(b) motions other than admonishing district courts not to apply the standard for Rule 60(b) motions). A motion brought under Rule 54(b) is typically judged by the same analysis as a motion brought under Rule 59(e), which may only be granted for the following reasons: “(1) to accommodate an intervening change in controlling law; (2) to account for new evidence not available at trial; or (3) to correct a clear error of law or prevent manifest injustice.” Grayson Consulting, Inc. v. Cathcart, 2014 WL 587756, at *1 (D.S.C. Feb. 14, 2014) (quoting Pac. Ins. Co. v. Am. Nat'l Fire Ins. Co., 148 F.3d 396, 403 (4th Cir. 1998)); Slep-Tone Entm't Corp. v. Garner, 2011 WL 6370364, at *1 (W.D. N.C. Dec. 20, 2011). However, Rule 54(b)'s approach also involves broad flexibility to revise interlocutory orders before final judgment as the litigation develops and new facts or arguments come to light. Carlson v. Bos. Sci. Corp., 856 F.3d 320, 325 (4th Cir. 2017). Nowhere is that flexibility greater and more unflagging than in the context of subject matter jurisdiction issues. Am. Canoe Ass'n, 326 F.3d at 514-15.

         III. DISCUSSION

         The court first considers Wendy's motion to reconsider in her official capacity as trustee and then considers her motion to reconsider in her individual capacity.

         A. Trustee Wendy's Motion to Reconsider

         Trustee Wendy seeks reconsideration of the court's February 12, 2015 order which denied trustee Wendy's motion to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction under the probate exception to federal jurisdiction. The February 12, 2015 order thoroughly analyzed trustee Wendy's motion to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction under the probate exception to federal jurisdiction finding that “the probate exception does not divest this court of jurisdiction to adjudicate the claim, ” ECF ...


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