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Claim against estate dismissed for jurisdictional reasons- Dubois v. Beaury, 1:20-CV-86 (FJS/CFH) (N.D.N.Y. Nov. 30, 2020)


In this case, the United States District Court, N.D. New York considered whether the plaintiff could proceed with a lawsuit against a decedent’s estate.  The decedent had lived in New York State for many decades and had even served as the Superintendent of the Division of State Police. However, the decedent died in Conyers, Georgia in May 2019 and had been a resident of Georgia since 2012.  Despite this, plaintiff filed a lawsuit in New York against the decedent’s estate.

Under New York law, an estate is not an entity that can be sued.  Any action against an estate must be brought against the person or entity named as administrator of the estate.  At the time of the lawsuit, no one had been appointed to serve as administrator of the decedent’s estate.

The plaintiff sought to appoint a public administrator of the decedent’s estate. Under N.Y. Surr. Ct. Proc. Act Law § 1002(1)), in case of intestate estates, New York allows any interested party to petition the court to grant letters of administration to the party named in the petition.  Even though the widow of the decedent had the right to be appointed administrator, she has not sought such appointment and seemed to indicate that she did not wish to be appointed.  The plaintiff pointed out that under the New York Surrogate’s Court Procedure Act, a public administrator can be appointed if no one who had a greater right to be appointed is available or willing to serve as administrator.

The court found two problems with the plaintiff’s case.  The first is that under New York law, an estate is not an entity that can be sued.  Thus, it was improper to name the decedent’s estate as a defendant.  To pursue a claim against the estate of the decedent, the plaintiff must file a claim against the administrator of the estate.  That raises the second issue that the court found with the plaintiff’s case.

The plaintiff argued that it has properly petitioned the court to appoint a public administrator to represent the decedent’s estate.  However, the court found a jurisdictional issue with how the plaintiff attempted to do this. In order for a New York Surrogate’s Court to review a petition to appoint an administration, it must have the authority to do so.  For New York to have jurisdiction over the estate of a decedent, the decent must have been a resident of  New York at the time of his death or must have had property in New York at the time of his death. Although the decedent had lived in New York for a long time, he died in Conyers, Georgia.  Conyers, Georgia was his primary and sole residence for the 7 years leading up to his death.   Furthermore, the decedent did not have any property in New York State at the time of his death.  No Surrogate’s Court in New York has jurisdiction over the decedent’s estate and would not have authority to appoint the decedent’s widow, a public administrator, or anyone else as administrator over the decedent’s estate.  As a result, the plaintiff’s case was dismissed.

This case highlights the importance of understanding New York’s requirements for standing.  It also highlights challenges that claimants often face when seeking to initiate estate litigation to recover from estates of decedents.  For the plaintiff to pursue a claim against the decedent’s estate, the plaintiff would have to explore their options under Georgia law.





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