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Tffi Corp. v. Williams

United States District Court, Fourth Circuit

November 15, 2013

TFFI CORP., Plaintiff,
v.
WILBERT WILLIAMS et al., Defendants.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

ALEXANDER WILLIAMS, Jr., District Judge.

The instant case sounds in breach of contract and fraud. The following motions are pending before the Court: (1) Defendant Wilbert Williams's Motion for Extension of Time to Answer; (2) Plaintiff's Motion for Clerk's Entry of Default; (3) Plaintiff's Motion for Default Judgment; (4) the Motion for Leave to Enter a Limited Appearance of attorneys Barry Coburn and Kimberly Jandrain; and (5) Plaintiff Wilbert Williams's Motion to Extend Hearing Date. The Court has carefully reviewed the record. Additionally, on November 15, 2013, the Court held a motions' hearing with respect to the aforesaid Motions. For the following reasons, the Court DENIES the Attorneys' Motion for Limited Appearance, GRANTS IN PART Williams's Motion for Extension of Time, HOLDS IN ABEYANCE the default-related Motions, and DENIES AS MOOT Williams's Motion to Extend Hearing Date.

I. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

On June 20, 2013, Plaintiff TFFI Corp. d/b/a Top Funding, Inc. filed a Complaint. Plaintiff generally alleges that it entered into a "factoring agreement" with Defendants by which Plaintiff agreed to make Defendants installment payments in exchange for the right to the (presumably greater) payments that government agency HUD supposedly owed Defendants. Plaintiff further alleges that the payments that HUD supposedly owed Defendants were based on bogus invoices.

Based on these essential allegations, Plaintiff filed its Complaint on June 20, 2013. Doc. No. 1. The Complaint contains causes of action for breach of contract, fraud, civil conspiracy, and RICO violations.

Plaintiff filed returns of service for all Defendants. Defendant Wilbert Williams (Williams)'s answer was due by August 13, 2013. Doc. No. 5. Defendant Alpha Technology Systems, Inc. (Alpha)'s answer was due on the same date. Doc. No. 6. Defendant Williams Global Holdings, LLC (Global)'s answer was also due on August 13, 2013. Doc. No. 7. Plaintiff alleges that Williams is the resident agent and controlling corporate officer of Alpha. Similarly, Plaintiff alleges that Williams is the principal officer of Global. The Court refers to Williams, Alpha, and Global collectively as "the Williams Defendants." For his part, Defendant Kamran Jones's answer was due on August 14, 2013. Doc. No. 8. Jones is represented by counsel and has since answered. Doc. Nos. 17, 20.

The story is more complicated for the Williams Defendants. The Williams Defendants did not answer by August 13, 2013. Therefore, on August 16, 2013, the Court issued a Show Cause Order directing Plaintiff to show cause why motions for clerk's entry of default and default judgment should not be filed. Doc. No. 10. On August 19, 2013, proceeding pro se, Williams filed a Motion for Extension of Time. Doc. No. 11. Purporting to speak for the Williams Defendants, Williams asked the Court to give the Williams Defendants until November 30, 2013 to answer. Plaintiff opposed this Motion on the following grounds: (1) Williams failed to articulate a reason for his failure to file a timely answer; (2) Alpha and Global, as corporate entities, cannot proceed pro se in federal court; and (3) an extension until November 30, 2013 is too long. Doc. No. 12. Thereafter, Plaintiff filed a Motion for Clerk's Entry of Default and a Motion for Default Judgment against the Williams Defendants. Doc. Nos. 13-14.

On August 29, 2013, attorneys Barry Coburn and Kimberly Jandrain (the Attorneys) filed a Motion for Leave to Enter a Limited Appearance on Behalf of Defendants (Motion for Limited Appearance). Doc. No. 18. The Attorneys assert that the HUD Inspector General has commenced an investigation into the facts underlying the Complaint and presume that the investigation may lead to criminal charges against Williams. Therefore, the Attorneys assert that requiring Williams to participate in this case would likely infringe his Fifth Amendment rights. Thus, the Attorneys seek to enter a limited appearance to file a motion to stay the proceedings pending the HUD investigation. Although the Attorneys assert that only Williams may be subject to criminal prosecution, they seek leave to represent Alpha and Global as well. Doc. No. 18-1 at 1. Attorney Coburn stated at the hearing that the Attorneys could enter only a limited appearance because of "money." See id.

On August 29, 2013, Plaintiff filed an Opposition. Doc. No. 19. Plaintiff generally argues that the Motion for Limited Appearance speculates that the current investigation could lead to criminal charges. Plaintiff notes that the Attorneys did not support their Motion with affidavits or any other corroborating evidence. Plaintiff also argues that it would be improvident to grant the Motion because, upon the Attorneys' withdrawal from the case, Alpha and Global would be left without counsel and corporate entities cannot proceed in federal court without counsel.

The Attorneys filed their Reply on September 6, 2013. Doc. No. 21. The Attorneys basically state that they do not need to provide an affidavit or other evidence to substantiate their contentions as they would do so in the motion to stay. For their part, the Williams Defendants filed an Opposition to Plaintiff's Motion for Clerk's Entry of Default. Doc. No. 21. The reasoning of this document mirrors the reasoning of the Attorneys' filings.

On November 12, 2013, Williams filed a document captioned "Motion for Extension of Time, " which the Court has dubbed Motion to Extend Hearing Date. Doc. No. 24. In this Motion, Plaintiff asks the Court to postpone the hearing for thirty days so that he can continue his "work to ascertain critical documents from [HUD] in order to properly prepare for the [hearing]." Id. ΒΆ 4. Williams did not file this Motion in time for it ripen before the hearing. Nor did he accompany it with a motion to shorten the briefing schedule.

II. LEGAL ANALYSIS

A. Motion for Limited Appearance

Generally speaking, an "appearance" is "[a] coming into court as a party or interested person, or as a lawyer on behalf of a party or interested person...." Black's Law Dictionary 113 (9th ed. 2009). Appearances come in several types, two of which are relevant here. A "general appearance" is "[a] general-purpose appearance that waives a party's ability later to dispute the court's authority to enter a binding judgment against him or her." Black's Law Dictionary 114 (9th ed. 2009). By contrast, a "special appearance, " or "limited appearance, " has traditionally been defined as "[a] defendant's showing up in court for the sole purpose of contesting the court's assertion of personal jurisdiction over the defendant." Black's Law Dictionary 114 (9th ed. 2009). The traditional special appearance has been abolished in ...


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