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Case 1:16-cv-20360-JG Document 39 Entered on FLSD Docket 08/02/2016 Page 1 of 11

UNITEDSTATESDISTRICTCOURT
SOUTHERNDISTRICTOFFLORIDA
MIAMIDIVISION

CASENO.1620360CIVGOODMAN

[CONSENTCASE]

ZAINAMATTHIESEN,

Plaintiff,

vs.

BRIANMATTHIESEN,

Defendants.
________________________________/

ORDERONMOTIONTODISMISS

Inher1980countrymusichitStartingOverAgain,1DollyPartonsangabouta

middleagedcoupleseparatingafter30yearsofmarriage.Theopeninglinesframedthe
musicalstory:Mommamovedout/Daddysoldthehouse/Theysplituptheirmoney/
Andwentontheirway.Morethan35yearslater,thoselyricshelptoinformtheruling
on a motion to dismiss a lawsuit filed by a woman against her former, nowdivorced
husband.Althoughthepartiesinthelawsuitenteredintoafinancialsettlementinthe
divorceandsplituptheirmoneylikethedivorcedcoupleinDollyPartonssong,they
didnotexactlygoontheirway,aslitigationwasresumed.
The parting of the ways at issue here involves Plaintiff Zaina Matthiesen and
Defendant Brian Matthiesen, who were divorced in 2012. [ECF No. 1, p. 9]. Plaintiff

Fromthealbum,Dolly,Dolly,Dolly(RCANashville).

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alleges that, in 2015, she discovered evidence that Defendant concealed assets during
thedivorceproceedings,whichresultedinherreceivinglessthanshewasentitledtoin
the marriage settlement. [Id., at pp. 1113]. After moving to dissolve the marriage
settlementagreementinstatecourt,Plaintiffinvokeddiversityjurisdictionandfiledthis
federal court action. Plaintiff presents six causes of action, which, as the Undersigned
describesbelow,allariseoutofthedivorceproceedings.

Defendant moved to dismiss the case for lack of subject matter jurisdiction,

claiming that this case falls within the domestic relations exception to subject matter
jurisdiction. [ECF No. 8]. Plaintiff opposed [ECF No. 18] the motion, and Defendant
filedareplymemorandum[ECFNo.31].Thepartiesconsentedtofullmagistratejudge
jurisdiction [ECF No. 17, p. 10] and United States District Judge Jose E. Martinez
referred [ECF No. 19] the matter to the Undersigned for disposition through trial and
including entry of final judgment. For the reasons outlined below, the Undersigned
grantsDefendantsmotiontodismissonthebasisofthedomesticrelationsexception.
I.

FACTUALBACKGROUND
PlaintiffandDefendant,aspartofaDissolutionofMarriageProceeding,entered

intoaMediatedMaritalSettlementAgreement(MSA)onOctober18,2011.[ECFNos.
1, pp. 67, 9; 81, pp. 829]. On February 21, 2012, the Circuit Court for the Eleventh
JudicialCircuitofMiamiDadeCounty,Florida,enteredFinalJudgmentofDissolution
ofMarriage(theFinalJudgment),approvingtheMSA.[Id.,atpp.47].InMarch2015,
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Plaintiff filed a motion in the Eleventh Judicial Circuit, requesting that the state court
setaside/vacatetheMSAandtheFinalJudgmentonthegroundsthatDefendanthad
allegedlyfiledfraudulentfinancialaffidavitsinconnectionwiththeMSAbyfailingto
disclose certain account statements. [ECF No. 81, pp. 3031]. On February 1, 2016,
duringahearingonthematter,Plaintiffscounselvoluntarilywithdrewthestatecourt
motiontosetasidetheMSAandtheFinalJudgment.[ECFNos.81,p.32;311,pp.34
35].
AlsoonFebruary1,2016,PlaintiffbroughtthisactionintheSouthernDistrictof
Florida. [ECF No. 1]. Plaintiff alleges: (1) Fraud by Concealment; (2) Equitable
Accounting; (3) Fraudulent Misrepresentation; (4) Negligent Misrepresentation; (5)
UnjustEnrichment(astothepremaritalhome);and(6)UnjustEnrichment(astoother
marital assets). [Id., pp. 121]. The fraud and negligence claims relate to the alleged
withholdingofcertainfinancialrecordsfromthefinancialaffidavit,whichpurportedto
itemizethemaritalassetsinDefendantspossession,filedinconnectionwiththeMSA.
[ECFNo.1,pp.7,1013,1518].
PlaintiffrequeststhattheCourtawardher$180,000.00[id.,atpp.13,16,18],an
equitableaccounting[id.,atp.14],thedeedtothepremaritalhomeortheproceedsof
the sale of such home [id., at p. 20], and payment in equity, which amount will be
determinedbytheCourt,tocuretheallegedunjustenrichment[id.,atp.21].

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Plaintiffassertsthatthecaseisproperlywithinthisfederalcourtsjurisdictionon
thebasisofcompletediversityunder28U.S.C.1332(a)(1)becausePlaintiffisacitizen
oftheStateofFlorida,DefendantisallegedlyacitizenoftheStateofCalifornia,andthe
amountincontroversyexceeds$75,000.00exclusiveofinterestandcosts.[Id.,atpp.12].
Defendants dismissal motion argued that this case is not properly in federal
court because (1) Defendant is in fact a citizen of Florida, thus defeating complete
diversity under 28 U.S.C. 1332(a)(1), and (2) the socalled domestic relations
exceptiontodiversityjurisdictionbarsthisCourtfromhearingthisdispute.[ECFNo.
8, p.1]. The Court and the parties agreed during a telephonic scheduling conference
heldonApril12,2016[ECFNo.30]thatthedomesticrelationsexceptionwouldbethe
initial issue and that the Court would address the diversity issue only if necessary
because the diversity argument might require jurisdictional discovery on the relevant
facts.
Because of the ruling outlined below, the Court need not address the dispute
overdiversityjurisdictionbecause,regardlessofwhetherdiversityexists,thiscasefalls
withinthedomesticrelationsexception.
II.

LEGALSTANDARD
Federal courts are courts of limited jurisdiction. Kokkonen v. Guardian Life Ins.

Co.ofAmerica,511U.S.375,377(1994).TheCourthasacontinuingobligationtoensure
that it maintains the authority to handle the matter before it. Indeed, [t]he objection
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thatafederalcourtlackssubjectmatterjurisdiction...mayberaisedbyaparty,orbya
courtonitsowninitiative,atanystageinthelitigation,evenaftertrialandtheentryof
judgment.Arbaughv.Y&HCorp.,546U.S.500,506(2006).
There are two forms of subject matter jurisdiction attacks under 12(b)(1): facial
attacks,requiringthecourttosimplylookatthecomplaintand seeiftheplaintiffhas
satisfactorily asserted some basis for subject matter jurisdiction, and factual attacks,
allowing the court to consider testimony, affidavits, and other material outside the
pleadingsindeterminingwhethersubjectmatterjurisdictionismetinfact.SeeLawrence
v.Dunbar,919.F.2d1525,152829(11thCir.1990).IntheMotiontoDismiss,Defendant
raises both a facial attack (on the domestic relations exception ground) and a factual
attack (alleging that he is in fact a Florida resident, in an attempt to defeat diversity
jurisdiction).
Because the purported basis for subject matter jurisdiction is diversity of
citizenshipunder28U.S.C.1332(a)(1),andasthepartiesagreedduringthescheduling
conference [ECF No. 30], the initial inquiry pertains to the facial attack. Thus, the
thresholdquestioniswhetherthiscaseissubjecttothedomesticrelationsexceptionto
diversityofcitizenshipjurisdiction,awellaccepteddoctrinewhichallowsthefederal
courts to abstain from deciding cases presenting intrafamily disputes. Kirby v.
Mellenger,830F.2d176,177(11thCir.1987).Ifthedomesticrelationsexceptionapplies
here, then the Court lacks the subject matter jurisdiction to hear this case under 28
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U.S.C. 1332(a)(1) or otherwise, as no other basis for subject matter jurisdiction has
beenasserted.

The domestic relations exception is not compelled by the text of the

Constitutionorfederalstatute[;]rather,itisajudiciallycreateddoctrine[]stemmingin
largemeasurefrommistyunderstandingsofEnglishlegalhistory.Marshallv.Marshall,
547 U.S. 293, 299 (2006). Despite its origins, the Supreme Court has recognized the
exception, albeit as a limited one, concluding that the domestic relations exception
encompassesonlycasesinvolvingtheissuanceofadivorce,alimony,orchildcustody
decree[.]Ankenbrandtv.Richards,504U.S.689,704(1992)).
TheEleventhCircuitholdsthatfederalcourtswillnotreviewormodifyastate
courtdivorceorderevenwhentheplaintiffcouchestheclaiminotherterms.McCavey
v. Barnett, 629 F. Appx 865, 867 (11th Cir. 2015) (per curiam); see also McLaughlin v.
Cotner,193F.3d410,413(6thCir.1999)(holdingthatacaseinvolv[ing]issuesarising
out of conflict over a divorce decree even where the plaintiff attempt[s] to disguise
thetruenatureoftheactionbyclaimingthatsheismerelymakingaclaimfordamages
based on a breach of contract falls within the domestic relations exception as
explicated by Ankenbrandt) (cited to approvingly by the Eleventh Circuit in McCavey).
Still,thescopeoftheexceptionandafederalcourtsabilitytorefusetoheardomestic
relationsrelatedcasesisnotunbounded.SeeKirby,830F.2dat178.

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Trial courts are afforded great deference in assessing whether the domestic
relations exception applies. Although a general dismissal for lack of subject matter
jurisdiction is reviewed de novo, abstention under the domestic relations exception is
reviewedforabuseofdiscretionafarmoredeferentialstandard.Id.at867n.1(citing
Barbour v. Haley, 471 F.3d 1222, 1225 (11th Cir. 2006) and Stone v. Wall, 135 F.3d 1438,
1441(11thCir.1998)).
III.

ANALYSIS
Plaintiffs Complaint focuses in large part on an alleged withholding by

Defendant of financial records from a financial affidavit filed which purported to


enumeratethemaritalassetsunderhispossessionorcontrol.[ECFNo.1].Thefinancial
affidavit was supplied as a basis for the MSA and in connection with divorce
proceedingsoverseenbythestatefamilycourtintheEleventhJudicialCircuit.
Specifically, Plaintiff presents sixcauses of action allarising from the alleged
misrepresentation in the financial affidavit. The prayers for relief for each cause of
action call on this Court to directly impact the MSA. Three of the causes of action
(Counts I, III and IV) directly seek the $180,000 that Plaintiff alleges Defendant
concealedfromthefinancialaffidavitonthebasisthatshewouldhavebeenentitledto
thefundsifDefendanthaddisclosedthisassetduringthedivorceproceedings.CountII
seeks an equitable accounting of Defendants assets to determine if he concealed any
other marital assets during the divorce proceedings. Count V requests the premarital
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homeofPlaintiffandDefendantbecausePlaintiffclaimsshewouldhavebeenentitled
toitintheMSAifDefendanthadappropriatelydisclosedthe$180,000.CountVIseeks
50%ofthemaritalassetsbasedupontheinclusionofthe$180,000thatPlaintiffclaims
Defendantconcealed.
While it is true that Plaintiffs claims do not necessarily sound in divorce or
alimonyexplicitlybyname,thegeneralsubjectmatterofeachclaimremainsthesame:
PlaintiffaccusesDefendantofimproprietiesinconnectionwiththesettlementreached
as part of divorce proceedings. It is thus clear to the Court that this case involves the
issuanceofadivorce...decree.Ankenbrandt,504U.S.at704.
Though the parties are designated Plaintiff and Defendant, their relational
identities as former wife and former husband, respectively, are neither incidental
nor irrelevant. The grounds for the claims set forth in the Complaint arise solely
because Plaintiff and Defendant are former wife and husband, and the material
components of the allegations exist only because the two went through the state court
processofdivorceanddivisionofthemaritalassets.
The facts here are similar to those in McCavey, where the Eleventh Circuit
determined that the claim was nonjusticiable based upon the domestic relations
exception.InMcCavey,aformerhusbandsuedhisformerwifeinfederaldistrictcourt
inGeorgia,allegingstatelawclaimsofbreachoftrustandbreachoffiduciaryduty.See
629F.Appxat866.Thedefendantwasaccusedofimproprietyrelatingtothetitleand
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transfer of property held in an inter vivos family trust. Id. The Eleventh Circuit found
thatbecausetheplaintiffsoughttohaveafederalcourtreviewthedivisionofmarital
propertyasdeterminedinhis[statecourt]divorceproceedings,suchreviewfallswithin
the domestic relations exception, and the district court properly determined that it
lackedsubjectmatterjurisdictionunderthatrule.Id.at867.
McCavey noted that district courts should abstain from hearing domestic
relations cases where (1) there is a strong state interest in domestic relations; (2) the
state courts can competently settle the family dispute; (3) the state continues to
supervisethedecrees;and(4)federaldocketsarecongested.629F.Appxat867(citing
Stone,135F.3dat1441).
These considerations weigh heavily in favor of dismissing the case under the
domesticrelationsexception.
The state court is equipped to competently handle this dispute. The Eleventh
Judicial Circuit oversaw the divorce, entering the Final Judgment and approving the
MSA. Plaintiff does not represent that the state court cannot maintain jurisdiction. In
Kirby, where the Eleventh Circuit found that the domestic relations exception did not
barthefederalcourtfromhearingthecase,thecourtnotedthatthestateunderwhose
law the claim was brought will not hear this case absent [the defendants] consent
becauseheis not acitizen ofthatstate[.]830F.2dat178. Plaintiffdoesnotrepresent

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that she faces such an obstacle in state court here. To the contrary, one basis for
DefendantsMotiontoDismisswasthatheisacitizenoftheStateofFlorida.
Furthermore, the Eleventh Judicial Circuit continues to oversee the case. The
Final Judgment contained the stipulation that [t]he [Eleventh Judicial Circuit] Court
reserves jurisdiction over the parties and the subject matter to enforce the Final
Judgment and the Mediated Marital Settlement Agreement thereto incorporated
herein.[ECFNo.81,p.6].
As described above, Plaintiff seeks several types of relief in her Complaint. At
bottom, however, Plaintiff necessarily seeks to have this Court review, modify and/or
vacate a state court divorce decree. Because of the domestic relations exception to
diversityjurisdiction,thisCourtcannotconductsucharevieworalterthisstatecourt
divorce judgment, even if Plaintiff couches her claims and requests for relief in other
terms.SeeMcCavey,629F.Appxat867;seealsoMcClaughlin,193F.3dat413.

Because the Court has determined that the domestic relations exception to

diversity of citizenship jurisdiction applies, the Court has no basis for subject matter
jurisdictionevenif complete diversitydoes exist. Thus, the issueof whether complete
diversityexistsisrenderedmoot.

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IV.

CONCLUSION

For the reasons stated above, the Court grants Defendants motion to dismiss

pursuanttothedomesticrelationsexceptiontodiversityjurisdiction,deniesasmootall
otherpendingmotions,andclosesthiscase.

DONEandORDEREDinChambers,inMiami,Florida,August2,2016.

Copiesfurnishedto:
AllCounselofRecord

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