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Date: 01-27-2023

Case Style:

Fredrica Renee Linton v. Barbara E. Embry

Case Number: Christine M. Arguello

Judge: Maritza Dominguez Braswell

Court: United States District Court for the District of Colorado (Denver County)

Plaintiff's Attorney:

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Defendant's Attorney: Jeanette Suzanne Eirich

Description: Denver, Colorado civil litigation lawyer represented Plaintiff who sued Defendant seeking a declaratory judgement about the ownership of a bank account.

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Plaintiff Fredrica Renee Linton [“Plaintiff”] brought this diversity-based declaratory judgment action against her paternal half-sister, Defendant Barbara E. Embry [“Defendant”], seeking a determination that she was the sole owner of certain bank account funds. The parties in this lawsuit are the adult daughters and sole surviving children of Mr. Fred Linton [“Mr. Linton”], an individual who resided in Freemont County, Colorado until his death on January 3, 2022, at the age of ninety-six. According to the Complaint, in 2004 or thereabouts, Mr. Linton opened a primary checking account with Wells Fargo, and around 2009, he opened an additional high yield savings account with that same bank. On March 25, 2010, Mr. Linton reportedly “visited his Wells Fargo branch and submitted two Relationship Change Applications in order to add Plaintiff Ms. Linton as a joint owner of both the primary checking account and the high yield savings account. The Relationship Change Applications, which were signed by both Mr. Linton and Plaintiff, specifically refer to Plaintiff as the “Secondary Joint Owner” of each of Mr. Linton's accounts [hereinafter, the “Wells Fargo Accounts”].

According to the Complaint, on May 4, 2010, Mr. Linton executed the “Last Will and Testament of Fred Linton” [the “Will”], which was “witnessed by two attesting witnesses who are non-family members[,]” and “duly notarized” by way of a self-proving affidavit. The Will named Plaintiff as Personal Representative of Mr. Linton's estate, and Plaintiff's husband, Mr. Isaacson, as the estate's Successor Personal Representative. Following Mr. Isaacson's death, on March 1, 2020, Mr. Linton executed the “First Codicil to Last Will and Testament of Fred Linton” [the “Codicil”], which amended the Will to appoint Mr. Linton's other daughter, Defendant Ms. Embry, as the Successor Representative of Mr. Linton's estate. The Codicil “expressly ratifies and confirms the Will, other than the designation of Defendant Ms. Embry as a potential Successor Personal Representative.” Neither the Will nor the Codicil references the Wells Fargo Accounts. (Id.)

According to the Complaint, because Defendant lived near Mr. Linton, “she would, from time-to-time, assist him in writing checks to be drawn on his Wells Fargo primary checking account.” However, according to Plaintiff, “[a]t no time prior to his death” did Mr. Linton “undertake any effort” to add Defendant as a joint owner, or a signatory, on either of the Wells Fargo Accounts. Nor did Mr. Linton apparently make any other efforts to “change or alter the joint ownership” of the Wells Fargo Accounts.

According to the Complaint, as of December 31, 2021, the total balance of the Wells Fargo Accounts jointly owned by Mr. Linton and Plaintiff was $192,492.97. Plaintiff alleges that, upon her father's death on January 3, 2022, she became the exclusive owner of those funds, by operation of law, pursuant to Colorado's multi-party account statute, Colo. Rev. Stat. §§ 15-15-201 et seq.. Plaintiff alleges that, after her father's death, Defendant started sending “threatening emails and text messages,” in which Defendant “demand[ed] payment from Plaintiff [] in the amount of $100,000 for ‘half of my inheritance.'” (Id. at ¶ 22.) Plaintiff claims that, even though she informed Defendant “about the provisions of Colorado Law related to multi-party accounts and the non-testamentary ownership after the death of one of the owners,” Defendant “continued to send threatening messages,” in which she accused Plaintiff of “trying to steal” her inheritance.

Ten weeks after Mr. Linton's death, on March 18, 2022, Plaintiff commenced this lawsuit, seeking declarations: (1) “that Plaintiff Ms. Linton is the sole owner of the funds on deposit in [the Wells Fargo Accounts] at the date of Mr. Fred Linton's death, pursuant to the operation of [Colo. Rev. Stat.] § 15-15-212;” and (2) “that the [Wells Fargo Accounts], pursuant to [Colo. Rev. Stat.] § 15-15-214, are not testamentary and are not subject to estate administration.” (Id. at 8.) In the Complaint, Plaintiff alleges subject matter jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1332, based on diversity of citizenship. Defendant now moves to dismiss the Complaint, pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1), arguing that this case falls within the “probate exception” to federal diversity jurisdiction.

Outcome: Motion to dismiss denied.

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