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Huynh v. Massenya

United States District Court, D. Maryland, Southern Division

May 30, 2017

JAMES HUYNH, Plaintiff,
v.
KOOZO MASSENYA, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          GEORGE J. HAZEL United States District Judge.

         Plaintiff James Huynh brings this action against the Gabonese Republic ("Gabon") and three individuals. Kodzo "Michael" Massenya. Charles Mhonke. and Jean LeGrand. for conversion, fraud. and civil conspiracy. ECF NO.1. Presently pending before the Court is Plaintiffs Motion for Default Judgment against Defendant Gabon. ECF No. 32. No hearing is necessary. See Loc. R. 105.6 (D. Md. 2016). For the following reasons, the Motion for Default Judgment is denied.

         I. BACKGROUND[1]

         Huynh is a Virginia resident and at times relevant to the action. owned approximately four acres of land in Fairfax. Virginia. ECF No. 1 ¶¶ 1. 8. Huynh was working at a Jaguar and Land Rover/Range Rover car dealership in Rockville. Maryland in January 2010. when he met Defendant Jean LeGrand. Id. 10. To the best of Plaintiffs knowledge and belief. LeGrand is a resident of Montgomery County. Maryland. Id. ¶ 6. LeGrand visited the Jaguar dealership approximately Fifteen times between January 2010 and October 2010. purchasing two vehicles during that time. Id. ¶¶10-11. In August 2010. Huynh also met Defendant Kodzo Massenya when Massenya visited the dealership, Id. ¶ 12. To the best of Plaintiffs knowledge and belief. Massenya is a resident of the United Kingdom Id. ¶ 4. Massenya represented himself is being wealthy to Huynh and expressed interest in Huynh is Fairfax land. Id. ¶ 13. Massenya told Huynh that he knew someone from Gabon - the son of the late President of Gabon. in particular -who would be interested in purchasing Huynh's land. Id. ¶14. On or about January 3.201.. Massenya introduced Huynh to Defendant Charles Mbonke at the Bethesda Marriott Suites in Bethesda. Maryland, Id. ¶ 15. To the best of Plaintiff s knowledge and belief. Mbonke is a resident of Gabon and/or France. Id. ¶ 5. Mbonke introduced himself to Huynh as the son of the late Gabonese President, . Omar Bongo Ondimba. Id. ¶ 16. According to Plaintiff: Mbonkc also stated that he was working oil behalf of the government of the Gabonese Republic and serving as a Delegate from Gabon to the United Nations, Id. ¶¶ 17-18. Mbonke allegedly showed Huynh what appeared to be a diplomatic passport from the Gabonese Republic in Mbonke's name. Id. ¶ 18. Huynh found Mbonke to by "well-spoken, well-dressed and politically informed." Id. ¶ 16.

         Huynh again met Defendants Mbonke and Massenya at the Bethesda Marriott on January 19, 2011. ECF No. 1 ¶ 19. During this meeting. Mbonke allegedly told Huynh how money could be "legally printed" using "specially-produced white paper" from the United States Treasury and " specific chemicals. Id. ¶ 20. Mbonke and Massenya told Huynh that this special white paper was transported from the U.S. Treasury to the government of Gabon, and that this process was officially sanctioned" by both governments. Id. ¶ 21. Mbonke said that he had some of this white paper in his possession, with authorization from the Gabonese government to use it. See Id. ¶ 22. Mbonke and Massenya allegedly demonstrated to Huynh how they could turn the white paper into bona tide U.S. currency. Id. ¶ 23. Mbonke and Massenya asked Huynh for $800, 000. which they would use to convert the white paper. double his sum of $800, 000. and pay Huynh for his land. See id ¶ 24. Huynh agreed, and withdrew $800.000 from his bank account on May 16.201J. Id. ¶ 25. Huynh gave Mbonke and Massenya $500.000 of the funds. and turned over the remaining $300.000 soon thereafter.. Id. ¶¶ 27-3..

         On May 19. 20I1. Huynh went with Mbonke and Massenya to a residence in Laurel. Maryland, which Massenya represented to be Massenyass uncle's house. ECF No. 1 ¶ 30. Mbonke and Massenya told Huynh they were going to turn the white paper into real money. and instructed him to wait in another room. Id. ¶ 33. Eventually. Mbonke and Massenya told Huynh that the white paper had a undesirable pinkish tint on it. and that they would need additional chemicals to get rid of the tint. Id. ¶ 34. Huynh did not actually see any of the money during this time. Id. ~ 35. Mbonke and Massenya told Huynh that they would allow him to hold onto his money and the white paper money for the time being. Id. ¶ 35. Massenya and Huynh went to purchase two safes from a Staples supply store. which Massenya and Mbonke said they would use to store the money. Id. ¶ 37. Massenya and Mbonke told Huynh that Huynh could keep the safe and the money while Mbonke traveled to Paris to retrieve the necessary chemicals, and Mbonke would hold onto the combination and the keys. Id. ¶¶ 38-40.

         Massenya and Mbonke told Huynh that the chemicals would cost an additional $250, 000. of which Mbonke and Massenya would pay $170.000. ECF No. 1 ¶ 42-43. and Huynh would need to pay the remaining $80, 000. Id. ¶ 44. Huynh agreed to take out the cash. See Id. ¶ 49. According to Plaintiff. Mbonke then arranged a meeting between Massenya. Huynh. and an "agent from a Canadian chemical company'- Id. ¶ 45. On July 10.20I1. Massenya and Huynh went to Reagan National Airport in Crystal City. Virginia to meet the agent. Id 46. Massenya went inside the airport to get the "Canadian chemical agent." and brought him back out to the car where Huynh was waiting. Id. 148. Massenya. Huynh. and the agent discussed the cost of the chemicals for approximately ten minutes, and Huynh then transferred his $80.000 into the agent's backpack. Id. ¶ 49. Plaintiff Huynh believes the identity of the Canadian chemical agent to actually be Defendant LeGrand. who had visited the Jaguar dealership the year prior. Id. ¶ 50.

         Several days later. Mbonke called Huynh and said that the chemical company had received part of the funds for the chemicals, and that Mbonke would return from Paris and drive to Canada with the rest of the funds. ECF No. 1 ¶ 51. However, on July 16.201.. Mbonke called again and told Huynh that while Mbonke was driving from the United States to Canada, he was pulled over for speeding. Id. ¶ 52. Mbonke said that he was detained for 48 hours. that U.S. Customs had confiscated all the money and chemicals, and that Mbonke had been sent back to France. forbidden from returning to the United States for at least six months. Id. ¶ 52. Mbonke asked Huynh to inform Massenya of what had happened. Id. ¶ 53. Huynh met with Massenya one more time on July 20. 2011. Id. ¶ 54. While Mbonke and Massenya have allegedly maintained telephone contact with Huynh. Huynh has never seen them again. Id. ¶ 56.

         Huynh filed the instant Complaint on May 19.2014 against the Gabonese Republic. Kodzo Massenya. Charles Mbonke. and Jean LeGrand. alleging conversion, fraud. and civil conspiracy. ECF NO.1. Defendant Massenya. the only Defendant upon whom service was effectuated, was served on September 9. 2014. ECF No. 10. None of the Defendants has entered an appearance in this matter. Plaintiff moved for default judgment against Defendant Massenya on January 12.2015. but the Court denied the Motion pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 54(b). which governs judgment against multiple defendants. ECF No. 18. The Court found that there was "just reason for delay" for the entry of default against one Defendant., until the other Defendants were served and the matter adjudicated as to all Defendants. Id. at 2. [2] Plaintiff allegedly continued his efforts to serve the remaining Defendants, but as of June 2. 2016. summons were still unexecuted as to Jean LeGrand and Charles Mbonke.

         However. on September I. 2016. Plaintiff filed a Proof of Service stating that the U.S. Embassy in Libreville, Gabon. had transmitted the summons, complain., notice of suit. and translations to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Gabonese Republic on August 23. 2016. EC' No. 29 at 1: ECF No. 29-1 at 4. Following want of answer or other defense, the Clerk of the Court entered default upon Plaintiffs motion on January 26. 2017. F.CF No. 30: ECF No. 31. Plaintiff has now moved for default judgment against the Gabonese Republic. ECF No. 32. Because the Court finds that Plaintiff has not demonstrated proper subject matter jurisdiction under the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act (FSIA). nor established his right to relief by evidence satisfactory to the Court. his motion for default judgment against Gabon will be denied.

II. ANALYSIS

         A. Jurisdiction under FSIA

         The Court must determine the existence of subject matter jurisdiction before proceeding to the merits of a claim. See Jones. Am. postal Workers Union. 192 F.3d 417. 422 (4th Cir. 1999). The Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act. 28 U.S.C. § 1602 el seq., codified in part at 28 U.S.C.§ 1330 provides that:

The district courts shall have original jurisdiction without regard to amount in controversy of any non jury civil action against a foreign state as defined in section 1603(a) of this title as to any claim for relief in personal with respect to which the foreign state is not entitled to immunity either under ...

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