The U.S. District Court for the Northern District of New York has ruled that the so-called “probate exception” to federal jurisdiction precludes federal courts from adjudicating cases implicating federal question jurisdiction, including cases arising under ERISA. In so doing, the N.D.N.Y. joins ranks with a small but growing number of federal district and circuit courts that recognize the “probate exception” as an absolute bar to federal jurisdiction over any in rem action in the custody of a state probate court.
The case, captioned In re Boisseau, 2017 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 11964 (N.D.N.Y. Jan. 30, 2017), came before the N.D.N.Y. by way of a notice of removal filed by Hanover HHR Employee Benefit Plan. The Plan sought removal of a “Petition to Extinguish Claim” that was filed by Brenda M. Boisseau, individually and as Executor of the Estate of Edward Boisseau in the Surrogate’s Court for the State of New York, Oswego County.
The decedent, Mr. Boisseau, was a beneficiary of the Plan who had prostate cancer. Upon Mr. Boisseau’s passing, his wife commenced a personal injury action against Mr. Boisseau’s treatment providers. That lawsuit was settled, at which time the Plan asserted a lien against the settlement fund for $299,975.73 in medical expenses it had paid on Mr. Boisseau’s behalf.
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