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SHAKOUR v. THE FEDERAL REPUBLIC OF GERMANY
May 2, 2002
JOHN D. SHAKOUR, KORNELISKE SHAKOUR, ROBERT A. SHAKOUR, MARINA S. HABER-SHAKOUR AND RICHARD K. SHAKOUR, PLAINTIFFS,
THE FEDERAL REPUBLIC OF GERMANY AND THE ESTATE OF JOHN D. HOLLINGSWORTH, DECEDENT, DEFENDANTS.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Arthur D. Spatt, United States District Court Judge.
MEMORANDUM OF DECISION AND ORDER
This action arises out of a claim by pro se plaintiffs John D. Shakour
("J. Shakour"), Korneliske Shakour ("K. Shakour"), Robert A. Shakour
("R.A. Shakour"), Marina S. Haber-Shakour ("Haber-Shakour") and Richard
K. Shakour ("R.K. Shakour") (collectively, the "plaintiffs") against the
defendants the Federal Republic of Germany ("Germany") and the Estate of
John D. Hollingsworth (the "Hollingsworth Estate"). The plaintiffs
allege that the defendants engaged in a conspiracy to deprive them of
rights to certain property in Germany. Presently before the Court is a
motion by the Hollingsworth Estate to dismiss the amended complaint
pursuant to Rules 8(a), 12(b)(2), 12(b)(3) and 12(b)(6) of the Federal
Rules of Civil Procedure.
The following facts are taken from the amended complaint. At the
outset, the Court notes that the amended complaint is largely
unintelligible and it contains a number of unexplained exhibits, many
written in German.
The plaintiffs allege that one Margarethe Otto ("M. Otto") conveyed her
estate, involving three factories in the former East Germany, namely one
in Leisnig, Germany and two in Mittweida, Germany, to J. Shakour in her
will of July 6, 1980. The factories produced unspecified products in the
carding industry. Carding involves the process in which machines clean
and straighten wool or cotton in preparation for the spinning and weaving
of material into clothing or fabric.
The plaintiffs further allege that in 1948, prior to the disposition
set forth above, the German Democratic Republic (the "GDR") had
expropriated the three factories at issue in this case. The GDR then
renamed the factories and operated them until the downfall of the GDR in
1990. The plaintiffs also allege that the GDR purchased an additional
factory in Neustadt (Orla), Germany on March 4, 1949 which expanded its
operation in the carding industry.
The plaintiffs next allege that since 1990, they have attempted
unsuccessfully to obtain restitution for or the return of the factories
allegedly conveyed to J. Shakour from various German courts and
administrative agencies. The plaintiffs also claim that they retained
attorneys in Germany who advised them that they are not entitled to the
factories allegedly conveyed to J. Shakour on the ground that the GDR
expropriated the property in 1948.
On April 21, 2000, the plaintiffs commenced this action against the
Federal Republic of Germany alleging that the
German government, the
German courts and administrative agencies and the plaintiffs' attorneys
in Germany participated in a conspiracy to deprive them of their rights
to the property allegedly conveyed in the will of M. Otto. On March 15,
2001, shortly after K. Shakour read an article about the death of John
D. Hollingsworth ("Hollingsworth) and Hollingsworth's involvement in the
textile industry, the plaintiffs filed an amended complaint adding the
Hollingsworth Estate as a defendant. In particular, the plaintiffs
allege that Hollingsworth was part of the conspiracy with Germany because
he purchased the factory in Neustadt (Orla) on April 12, 1991. The
amended complaint contains no specific causes of action. Presently
before the Court is a motion by the Hollingsworth Estate to dismiss the
amended complaint pursuant to Rules 8(a), 12(b)(2), 12(b)(3) and 12(b)(6)
of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.
In addressing the present motion, the Court is mindful that the
plaintiffs are proceeding pro se and that their submissions should be held
"`to less stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by
lawyers. . . .'" Hughes v. Rowe, 449 U.S. 5, 9,
101 S.Ct. 173, 176 (1980) (per curiam) (quoting Haines v. Kerner,
404 U.S. 519, 520, 92 S.Ct. 594, 595 (1972)); see also Ferran
v. Town of Nassau, 11 F.3d 21, 22 (2d Cir. 1993). The Court
recognizes that it must make reasonable allowances so that pro se plaintiffs
do not forfeit rights by virtue of their lack of legal training. See
Traguth v. Zuck, 710 F.2d 90, 94 (2d Cir. 1983).
Indeed, district courts should "read the pleadings of a pro se
plaintiff liberally and interpret them `to raise the strongest arguments
that they suggest.'" McPherson v. Coombe, 174 F.3d 276, 280 (2d Cir.
1999) (quoting Burgos v. Hopkins, 14 F.3d 787, 790 (2d Cir. 1994)).
Nevertheless, the Court is also aware that pro se status "`does not
exempt a party from compliance with relevant rules of procedural and
substantive law. . . .'" Traguth, 710 F.2d at 95 (citation omitted).
The Court will address the issues of jurisdiction first because a
dismissal for lack of jurisdiction renders all other claims moot. See
Ruhrgas A.G. v. Marathon Oil Co., 526 U.S. 574, 584, 119 S.Ct. 1563, 1570
(1999) (stating that subject matter jurisdiction and personal
jurisdiction go to the power of the court to adjudicate the merits of a
case). Here, the Court will analyze its subject matter jurisdiction
before addressing personal jurisdiction. See Ruhrgas, 526 U.S. at 583,
119 S.Ct. at 1569 (stating that the district court may choose to first
address either subject matter jurisdiction or personal jurisdiction).
A. Subject Matter Jurisdiction
District courts must police subject matter jurisdiction on their own
initiative. Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(h)(3); Lyndonville Savings Bank & Trust Co.
v. Lussier, 211 F.3d 697, 700 (2d Cir. 2000) ("[F]ailure of subject
matter jurisdiction is not waivable and may be raised at any time by a
party or by the court sua sponte."). When evaluating subject matter
jurisdiction, a court may consider affidavits and other materials beyond
the pleadings to resolve the jurisdictional question. See Robinson v.
Gov't of Malaysia, 269 F.3d 133, 141 n. 6 (2d Cir. 2001); Antares
Aircraft, L.P. v. Fed. Republic of Nigeria, 948 F.2d 90, 96 (2d Cir.
1991), vacated on other grounds, 505 U.S. 1215 (1992); Exch. Nat'l Bank
of Chicago v. Touche Ross & Co., 544 F.2d 1126, 1130 (2d Cir. 1976).
A court must accept as true all material factual allegations in the
complaint, but will not draw inferences favorable to the party asserting
jurisdiction. Shipping Fin. Servs. Corp. v. Drakos, 140 F.3d 129, 131
(2d Cir. 1998); Atl. Mut. Ins. Co. v. Balfour Maclaine Int'l Ltd.,
968 F.2d 196, 198 (2d Cir. 1992). Hearsay statements contained in
affidavits may ...