United States District Court, D. Maryland, Southern Division
J. HAZEL United States District Judge
James Huynh brought this action against the Gabonese Republic
("Gabon") and three individuals. Kodzo
"Michael" Massenya. Charles Mbonke. and Jean
LeGrand. for conversion, fraud, and civil conspiracy. ECF No.
1. Since then, this Court dismissed Gabon as a defendant. ECF
No. 36 ¶ 2. and Huynh voluntarily dismissed Mbonke and
LeGrand as defendants. ECF No. 37. In its November 2017
Memorandum Opinion, the Court granted Plaintiff partial
default judgment on his claim for fraud or deceit, but did
not rule on the amount of damages he was entitled to. ECF No.
40. Presently pending before the Court is Plaintiffs Motion
to Determine Damages Without a Hearing. ECF No. 44. Having
reviewed this additional submission, the Court has determined
that no hearing is necessary. See Loc. R. 105.6 (D.
Md. 2016). For the following reasons, the Motion is
Court laid out the facts of this case in its May 30. 201 7
and November 13. 2017 Memorandum Opinions. ECF No. 33. ECF
No. 40. but restates the relevant facts here. Huynh is a
Virginia resident and at all times relevant to the action
owned approximately Four acres of land in Fairfax. Virginia.
ECF No. 1 Â¶Â¶ 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. 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 that he was
wealthy and expressed interest in Huynh's 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. 2011. Massenya introduced Huynh to Defendant Charles
Mbonke at the Bethesda Marriott Suites in Rethesda. Maryland.
Id. ¶ 15. To the best of Plaintiffs 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 Kongo Ondimba.
Id. ¶ 16. According to Plaintiff. Mbonke also
stated that he was working on behalf of the government of the
Gabonese Republic and serving as a Delegate from Gabon to the
United Nations. Id. ¶¶ 17-1 8. 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 be
"well-spoken, well-dressed and politically
informed." Id. ¶ 16.
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 fide 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, 2011. Id. ¶ 25. Huynh gave Mbonke and
Massenya $500, 000 of the funds, and turned over the
remaining $300, 000 soon thereafter. Id.
19. 2011. Huynh went with Mbonke and Massenya to a residence
in Laurel. Maryland, which Massenya represented to be
Massenya's 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 the; 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.
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 lake 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. 2011. 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.
¶ 48. 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. Â¶50.
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. 2011. 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., Â¶ 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.
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 was served on September 9,
2014. but was the only Defendant upon whom service was
effectuated. ECF No. 10. None of the Defendants has entered
an appearance in this matter. Upon a motion from the
Plaintiff. ECF No. 11. the Clerk entered default as to
Defendant Massenya on January 9. 2015. ECF No. 12. Plaintiff
moved for default judgment against Defendant Massenya on
January 12. 201 5. 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 determined that it
would be improper and risk inconsistent judgments to grant
default judgment against one Defendant before the other
Defendants were served and the matter adjudicated as to all
Defendants, Id. at 2. On August 4. 2017. this Court
dismissed Gabon as a defendant, ECF No. 36. and on August 11.
2017, Huynh voluntarily dismissed Mbonke and Legrand as
defendants, ECF No. 37. With Massenya being the sole
remaining defendant. Huynh renewed his Motion for Default
Judgment on August 18, 2017. ECF No. 39. On November 13,
2017. this Court granted-in-part and denied-in-part
Plaintiffs Motion for Default Judgment. ECF No. 40. The Court
found that, accepting the unchallenged allegations as true.
Plaintiff had demonstrated that Defendants were liable for
fraud or deceit. but he had not presented sufficient
evidence for the Court to calculate the damages to which
Plaintiff was entitled. ECF No. 40 at 12. Specifically, the
Court noted that it was not clear "whether Mr.
Huynh's initial $800, 000 is currently in two safes in
his possession, or whether it is possessed by Mr. Massenya or
his coconspirators. It is further unclear who currently has
possession of Mr. Huynh's $80, 000: whether that money
was in fact seized by government authorities, or whether it
is possessed by Mr. Massenya or his co-conspirators."
Id. at 12-13. The Court scheduled an evidentiary
hearing to determine these facts. ECF No. 42.
January 31, 2018. Plaintiff filed the now-pending Motion to
Determine Damages Without a Hearing, along with Plaintiffs
affidavit and supporting documentation. ECF No. 44. ECF No.
44-1. Huynh clarifies that "[f]rom May 19. 2011 until
January 10. 2018" the safes, which purportedly contained
$800, 000. "remained locked and unopened in my
possession." ECF No. 44-1 at 3. On January 10. 2018.
Plaintiff took the safes to a locksmith who. in the presence
of Plaintiff, his attorney, and a ideographic, opened the
safes. Id. Plaintiffs $800,000 was not in the safes:
rather, the safes contained "25 packages wrapped in
aluminum foil and duct tape . .. containing only stacks of
white paper, with many discolored from age and possible
chemicals." Id. at 3-4. Plaintiff further
states that he reported the loss of his $880, 000 to the
United States Government, and was not informed that the $80,
000 were seized by the government. Id. at 4.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
a party against whom a judgment for affirmative relief is
sought has failed to plead or otherwise defend, and that
failure is shown by affidavit or otherwise, the clerk must
enter the party's default." bed. R. CIF. P. 55(a).
"A defendant's default does not automatically
entitle the plaintiff to entry of a default judgment; rather,
that decision is left to the discretion of the court."
Educe. Credit Mgmt. Corp. v. Optimum Welding, 285
F.R.D. 371. 373 (D. Md. 2012). Although "[t]he Fourth
Circuit has a 'strong policy" that "cases be
decided on their merits."" Choice Hotels
Intern., Inc. v. Savannah Shakti Carp., No. DKC-11-0438.
2011 WL 5118328 at *2 (D. Md. Oct. 25. 2011) (citing
United Stales v. Shaffer Equip. Co., 11 F.3d 450,
453 (4th Cir. 1993)). "default judgment may be
appropriate when the adversary process has been halted
because of an essentially unresponsive party[.]"
Id. (citing S.E.C v. Lawbaugh, 359
F.Supp.2d 418, 421 (D. Md. 2005)).
Court has previously determined that Defendants are liable
for fraud or deceit. ECF No. 40 at 10. Once a court
establishes liability in a default judgment case, the court
then makes an independent determination of damages. Agora
Financial. LLC, 725 F.Supp.2d at 494. Fed.R.Civ.P. 54(c)
limits the type of judgment that may be entered based on a
party's default: "A default judgment must not differ
in kind from, or exceed in amount, what is demanded in the
pleadings." In entering default judgment, a court
cannot, therefore, award additional damages "because the
defendant could not reasonably have expected that his damages
would exceed th[e] amount [pled in the complaint], "
In re Genesys Data Techs., Inc.,204 F.3d 1 24. 132
(4th Cir. 2000). While the Court may hold a hearing to prove
damages, it is not required to do so; it may rely instead on
"detailed affidavits or documentary evidence to
determine the appropriate sum." Adkins, 180
F.Supp.2d at 17 (citing United Artists Corp. v.
Freeman,605 F.2d 854. 857 (5th Cir. 1979)): see