U.S. District Court Did Not Require Subject-Matter Jurisdiction to Allow Voluntary Dismissal

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit in Chicago has affirmed a decision by a United States district court judge regarding subject-matter jurisdiction and a voluntary dismissal of a complaint.

Mieczyslaw Kuznar, a native of Poland, moved to the United States leaving his wife, Emilia, and his son, Thomas, behind. While living in the United States, Kuznar married Anna, but never divorced Emilia. Kuznar died intestate in 1995. Anna began collecting spousal benefits from his pension the year of his death.

In 1997, Thomas, by that time an adult, opened a probate estate in the Illinois state court seeking judicial administration of his father’s estate. Thomas was acting on his mother’s behalf; she continued to live in Poland.

The Probate Court ruled in Emilia’s favor in 2000, granting Thomas’s motion for summary judgment and ordering Anna to pay Emilia the amount she had already collected from Kuznar’s pension fund. Emilia, however, died before the probate court judgment was entered. The Illinois Appellate Court thus vacated and remanded the case for entry of a new judgment.

In 2011, Thomas opened a new case in the probate court for the administration of Emilia’s estate and then also renewed his motion for summary motion in the 1997 case this time, on behalf of his mother’s estate.

Anna then filed a notice of remove the case to the U.S. District Court and attached the 1997 complaint to her motion arguing that it was in the nature of a new action that Thomas had filed. Thomas then voluntarily dismissed the 2011 action that he had filed in probate court.

Anna, however, challenged Thomas’s voluntary dismissal arguing that any dismissal must include dismissal of the 1997 case. The federal district court judge rejected Anna’s arguments and Thomas’s dismissal of the 2011 action. Anna appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals from that order.

The appeals panel noted that the first problem with Anna’s attempts at removal to the federal district court was that she attempted to remove a motion for summary judgment, even though motions are not removable. The panel then noted that any attempt to remove the 1997 motion would have been untimely by more than a decade, so it could not have been removed.

In revealing the pleadings in the case, the appeals panel found that it was clear to them that Anna was attempting to remove the 2011 action. The panel noted that Thomas’s voluntary dismissal of the case did not create subject-matter jurisdiction and that the district court did not need jurisdiction over the case for the purposes of voluntary dismissal. Accordingly, the U.S. Court of Appeals affirmed the decision of the district court dismissing the 2011 action.

Thomas Kuznar, Administrator of the Estate of Emilia P. Kuznar v. Anna Kuznar, No. 12-3754, U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit, (Jan. 5, 2015).

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