Anna Louise Madsen’s will was admitted to probate in the Kerr County, Texas on April 29, 2010. Aurelia Nelms, Anna’s domestic care worker, then sued Jean Madsen Kramer, the executor under Anna’s will, in federal district court for unpaid overtime compensation. The executor asked the court to abstain from exercising jurisdiction and transfer the case to the state court in the county where the will was probated.
The issue was referred to a federal magistrate, who found that state custody of Anna’s estate did not preclude a federal court from adjudicating Aurelia’s claim, since Aurelia did not raise probate matters but instead sought a determination of her entitlement to compensation under the Fair Labor Standards Act and damages in the form of unpaid overtime pay, liquidated damages, attorney fees, and costs. Citing the decision of the U.S. Supreme Court in Marshall v. Marshall, 547 U.S. 293 (2006), the magistrate noted that “the probate exception . . . precludes federal courts from endeavoring to dispose of property that is in the custody of a state probate court, but it does not bar federal courts from adjudicating matters outside those confines and otherwise within federal jurisdiction.” In its recommendation, however, the magistrate noted the limits to the district court’s exercise of jurisdiction in the matter, stating that the federal court could not go so far as to order payment of a judgment from Anna’s estate because to do so would assume control over probate assets.
The magistrate recommended denial of the motion to abstain, finding that the district court had jurisdiction over Aurelia’s claim and was obliged to exercise jurisdiction because no important countervailing interest had been demonstrated sufficient to justify federal court abstention.