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Coulter v. Murrell

March 30, 2010

MICHAEL R. COULTER, PLAINTIFF,
v.
GREGORY L. MURRELL; AGDA B. SHELLEY; AND MICHAEL RODDY, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Irma E. Gonzalez, Chief Judge United States District Court

ORDER: (1) GRANTING DEFENDANT'S MOTION TO DISMISS PORTIONS OF THE COMPLAINT(Doc. No. 5); and (2) GRANTING DEFENDANT'S ANTI-SLAPP SPECIAL MOTION TO STRIKE PORTIONS OF THE COMPLAINT(Doc. No. 6).

Presently before the Court are Defendant Gregory L. Murrell's special motion to strike under California's Anti-SLAPP statute and motion to dismiss portions of Plaintiff's Complaint pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. (Doc. Nos. 5, 6.) After briefing and oral argument, the Court grants both motions.

FACTUAL BACKGROUND

I. Underlying Facts

Plaintiff Michael R. Coulter's ("Plaintiff") claim originates from a partnership he entered into with his half-brother about thirty years ago. (Compl. ¶¶ 10-12.) Between 1980 and 1983, Plaintiff acquired $100,000 in Canadian Gold "Mapleleafs." (Compl. ¶¶ 10-11.) Plaintiff entered into an oral agreement with Daniel T. Shelley ("Shelley"), Plaintiff's half-brother, for Shelley to invest the money. (Compl. ¶ 12.) Pursuant to the agreement, Shelley was to return five percent on the investment to Plaintiff, or his designee; maintain $100,000 in liquid assets to be at Plaintiff's disposal; and secure a life-insurance policy for $100,000 naming Plaintiff, or his designee, as beneficiary. (Compl. ¶ 12.)

In 1991, Plaintiff assigned his interest in the initial $100,000, but not in the return on any investments, to his son, David P. Coulter ("David"). (Compl. ¶ 13.) Plaintiff alleges $65,000 of the original $100,000 had been paid either to him or David as of February 2009. (Compl. ¶ 13.) Shelley allegedly earned in excess of $300,000 from various investments made using Plaintiff's original $100,000. (Compl. ¶ 14.)

On or about December 29, 2008, Shelley and his wife, Defendant Agda B. Shelley ("Agda"), met with attorney Defendant Gregory L. Murrell ("Murrell") for the preparation of their wills and to establish the "Daniel and Agda Shelley Family Trust" ("D & A Trust"). (Compl. ¶ 37.) Shelley died on February 21, 2009. (Compl. ¶ 8.)

Murrell allegedly represented to Plaintiff that neither Shelley's will nor the family trust contained any provision regarding Plaintiff, or anyone with the last name "Coulter," including David. (Compl. ¶ 40.) Murrell denied Plaintiff's request to see a copy of the will or trust because he was not named a beneficiary in either document. (Compl. ¶ 40.) According to Plaintiff, the D&A Trust did in fact provide for bequests of $30,000 to each of his two children, and to Plaintiff's niece. (Compl. ¶ 23.)

II. State Court Estate Action

On April 15, 2009, Plaintiff and David filed suit in San Diego Superior Court against Agda, the D & A Trust, and Shelley's estate for breach of contract and for funds owed them by Shelley's estate (the "Estate Action"). (Def.'s Req. for Jud. Not. in Supp. of Mot. to Strike (hereinafter "RJN"), Ex. D at 26.)*fn1

Murrell contacted Plaintiff on behalf of Agda and offered to settle the Estate Action for $30,000, in return for a dismissal with prejudice by Plaintiff and David. (Compl. ¶ 20.) Murrell allegedly represented that the $30,000 was for settlement of the $35,000 due from Plaintiff's original $100,000. (Compl. ¶ 20.) Murrell further represented that any money due Plaintiff from the partnership would be paid out of the estate in the Probate Court. (Compl. ¶ 20.)

Plaintiff accepted the offer, received the $30,000, and gave Murrell an executed Request for Dismissal with Prejudice. (Compl. ¶ 22(B).) (RJN, Ex. C at 25.) Murrell later allegedly attempted to characterize the $30,000 settlement payment as satisfaction of the bequests in the D&A Trust. On July 24, 2009, Murrell filed the Request for Dismissal with Prejudice. (Decl. of Murrell in Supp. of Mot. to Strike ("Murrell Decl.") ¶ 10.) Plaintiff alleges the Clerk's Office for San Diego Superior Court, through its Executive Officer, Defendant Michael Roddy ("Roddy") declined to accept the Request for Dismissal with Prejudice because the form was out-dated. (Compl. ¶ 3.) According to Murrell, he did not know about the rejection until after Plaintiff filed his second state court action, discussed below. (Murrell Decl. ¶ 12.)

On November 16, 2009, the state court granted Agda's Application Requesting Entry of Dismissal with Prejudice of the Estate Action. (RJN, Ex. C.)

III. Second State Court Action

On June 23, 2009, one month prior to Plaintiff executing the Request for Dismissal with Prejudice of the Estate Action, Plaintiff filed a second suit in San Diego Superior Court against Agda and Murrell, alleging fraud, breach of oral contract, claim and delivery, partnership accounting, money had and received, and conspiracy (the "State Court Action"). (RJN, Ex. D. Doc.) Murrell filed an anti-SLAPP special motion to strike the causes of action for fraud and conspiracy, which the state court granted ...


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