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Hill v. United States

United States District Court, S.D. Mississippi, Western Division

April 20, 2018

TIM M. HILL, II PLAINTIFF
v.
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA DEFENDANT

          ORDER AND OPINION

          DAVID BRAMLETTE, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Before the Court are two motions: a Motion to Dismiss for Lack of Subject-Matter Jurisdiction [Doc. 2] filed by the United States of America, on behalf of the Department of Veterans Affairs (the “VA”), and a Motion to Remand [Doc. 11] filed by Tim M. Hill, II.

         Background

         The motions before the Court ask whether VA benefits deposited into a Trustmark National Bank account for the benefit of veteran Daniel McDaniel should be managed by VA-appointed fiduciary Matthew Alliston or McDaniel's state-court-appointed conservator, Tim Hill. Because that is a question this Court and the state court are without power to decide, the Court will dismiss this action for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction.

         I

         McDaniel is a veteran and receives $2, 973.86 per month in VA benefits. He was declared incompetent in 2013 by order of the Chancery Court of Franklin County, Mississippi, which by the same order appointed Hill as McDaniel's conservator. See Doc. 11-1. Hill also acted as McDaniel's VA-appointed fiduciary for a time. But the VA terminated his appointment for failure to submit proper accountings and in 2017 appointed Alliston in his place. See Doc. 2-2.

         As McDaniel's fiduciary, Alliston manages McDaniel's monthly VA benefits. Those benefits are deposited into a Trustmark National Bank (“Trustmark”) account styled “Daniel McDaniel by Matthew Bartin Alliston VA Custodian.” Because Alliston's is the only name appearing on Trustmark's “signature card” for the account, only Alliston can act on it.

         This dispute arose in December 2017 when Hill moved the Chancery Court of Franklin County for an order directing Trustmark to transfer McDaniel's VA benefits from the Alliston-managed account to Hill as conservator for McDaniel.[1]

         Citing Hill's Motion to Transfer, the VA removed the action to this Court under the federal officer removal statute, 28 U.S.C. § 1442(a)(1). See Doc. 1. The VA construes Hill's Motion to Transfer as a challenge to its power to supervise and appoint fiduciaries -- here, to terminate Hill and appoint Alliston -- and says that removal is the only way to protect its interest in benefits-administration.

         Less than one week after removing this case, the VA moved to dismiss it for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction. See Doc. 2. The Court is without jurisdiction, the VA contends, because Hill's state-court motion to transfer raises benefits-management questions -- questions that the Veterans' Judicial Review Act, 38 U.S.C. § 511 (“VJRA”), precludes this Court and the Franklin County Chancery Court from reviewing.

         Two days after the VA moved to dismiss, Hill sought an extension of time to respond. See Doc. 8. Hill stated he intended to file a motion to remand, and asked permission to respond to the VA's Motion to Dismiss within seven days of the Court's ruling on his soon-to-be-filed Motion to Remand. The Court granted Hill's Motion. See Doc. 9.

         Hill filed the promised Motion to Remand two weeks later. See Doc. 11. In it, he argues that the federal officer removal statute does not apply and insists that the VA benefits held in the Trustmark account belong to him, as McDaniel's conservator.

         The VA responded to Hill's Motion to Remand with the same argument it raises in support of its Motion to Dismiss: Hill's Motion to Transfer triggers the VJRA and therefore deprives the Court of jurisdiction. See Doc. 14. The only “real issue” in the case, the VA's declares, is the VA Secretary's power to supervise and appoint fiduciaries.

         Trustmark also responded. It says it is in a “difficult position” because it must evaluate the relative merits of Hill's and the VA's claims to McDaniel's VA benefits. And it fears it could be sued by either claimant.

         After the close of briefing on Hill's Motion to Remand, the Court determined that that Motion and the VA's Motion to Dismiss raised a common dispositive issue. See Doc. 18. So the Court ordered Hill to respond to the VA's ...


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