United States District Court, D. Maryland
Richard D. Bennett United States District Judge.
case arises from a jet leasing contract between the Plaintiff
Bluebell Business Limited (“Plaintiff” or
“Bluebell”) and Defendant Michael Jones. Bluebell
is an Isle of Man company, and the leasing contract with
Jones, a U.S. citizen, stipulates that the agreement shall be
governed by English law. On January 25, 2017, Bluebell
obtained a default judgment in its favor in the United
Kingdom's High Court of Justice, Queen's Bench
Division, No. HQ16X03208 (the “U.K. Action”). The
foreign default judgement (“U.K. Judgment”) was
entered in favor of Bluebell in the amount of $430, 371.56
plus interest. (ECF No. 1-2.) On July 31, 2017, Plaintiff
filed a Complaint (ECF No. 1) in this Court seeking
recognition and enforcement of the U.K. Judgment pursuant to
the Maryland Uniform Foreign Money-Judgment Recognition Act,
Md. Code Ann., Courts & Judicial Proceedings §§
10-701 et seq., and the Maryland Uniform Enforcement
of Foreign Judgment Act, Md. Code Ann., Courts & Judicial
Proceedings, §§ 11-801 et seq. On November
11, 2017, pro se Defendant Michael Jones filed an
Answer generally denying the Plaintiff's claims,
asserting a number of defenses under the Maryland Uniform
Foreign Money-Judgment Recognition Act, §§ 10-701
et seq., and raising various counterclaims related
to the lease agreement. (ECF No. 9.)
now are Plaintiff's Motion to Bifurcate Complaint from
Counterclaim (ECF No. 14), Plaintiff's Motion to
Amend/Correct Complaint (ECF No. 21), Defendant's Motion
to Dismiss (ECF No. 25), and Defendant's two Motions for
Joinder of Parties (ECF Nos. 31-32). The parties'
submissions have been reviewed and no hearing is necessary.
See Local Rule 105.6 (D. Md. 2016). For the reasons
set forth below, Defendant's Motion to Dismiss (ECF No.
25) is DENIED; Plaintiff's Motion to Amend/Correct
Complaint (ECF No. 21) is GRANTED; Plaintiff's Motion to
Bifurcate Counterclaims (ECF No. 14) is GRANTED; and
Plaintiff's own breach of contract claim (Count III in
Plaintiff's Amended Complaint) will also be bifurcated.
In addition, Defendant's Motions for Joinder of Parties
(ECF Nos. 31-32) are DENIED WITH PREJUDICE IN PART and DENIED
WITHOUT PREJUDICE IN PART. Specifically, the Motions for
Joinder (ECF Nos. 31, 32) are DENIED WITH PREJUDICE as to
Susan Kopacz, Johan Eliasch, and the N198GS Inc., Trust. The
Motions for Joinder (ECF Nos. 31, 32) are DENIED WITHOUT
PREJUDICE as to Justin Jenkins and Jet Evolutions, LLC. The
Parties shall jointly submit a proposed briefing schedule, to
address personal jurisdiction, on a renewed Motion for
Joinder as to Justin Jenkins and Jet Evolutions, LCC.
Finally, Plaintiff has 14 days to update its Corporate
Disclosure Statement in accordance with this Memorandum
11, 2015, Bluebell and IBX Jets, LLC (“IBX”)
entered into a written agreement regarding a Gulfstream
Aviation model G-IV aircraft (“the aircraft”),
FAA Registration No. NI98GS, Airframe Serial No. 1098 (G-IV),
pursuant to which Bluebell agreed to lease the aircraft to
IBX. (Aircraft Lease Agreement, ECF No. 1-1 at 20-45.)
Bluebell alleges that the Defendant Michael Jones was an
owner of IBX and a guarantor of its obligations to the
Plaintiff. (ECF No. 1 at ¶ 8; ECF No. 1-1 at 59.) The
lease at issue in this case was to commence on July 1, 2015
and last for a period of 41 months. (Id. at 20.)
According to the Plaintiff, the parties agreed to an
amendment on September 18, 2015 whereby the lease's
commencement and expiration dates would be extended. (U.K.
Particulars of Claim, ECF No. 1-1 at 12.) Defendant contends
that he did not voluntarily agree to this amendment. (ECF No.
9 at 3.) The aircraft was delivered to Jones on September 18,
2015, at which time he paid Plaintiff in the amount of two
monthly installments. (ECF No. 1-1 at 7.)
to the Plaintiff, Defendant failed to pay monthly invoices,
late fees, supplemental invoices for additional usage, and an
invoice for costs incurred during a four-day stay at Landmark
Aviation IAD at Washington Dulles International Airport.
(Id. at 14.) As a result, Bluebell retook possession
of the aircraft in March 2016 under the default provision of
the lease. (Id.)
September 14, 2016, Plaintiff initiated an action in the
United Kingdom's High Court of Justice, Queen's Bench
Division seeking monetary damages of £333, 587.64, or
$430, 371.56. (ECF No. 1 at 3; ECF No. 1-1 at 1.) Plaintiff
alleges that on October 23, 2017 papers initiating the U.K.
Action were served at 2808 Deerfield Court, Ellicott City,
Maryland 21043 on Christopher Jones, Defendant's brother,
who reportedly told the courier that Defendant Michael Jones
also resided at the Ellicott City address. (ECF No. 1 at 3;
Certificate of Service, ECF No. 1-1 at 60-62; Affidavit of
Service, ECF No. 1-1 at 63-67.) On January 25, 2017, the U.K.
court entered a default judgment against Defendant in the
amount of $430, 371.56, with interest at a rate of 5% above
the U.S. Dollar 30-day Libor, which was 0.53% at the date of
issuance of the judgment. (ECF No. 1 at 3.)
31, 2017, Plaintiff filed a Complaint in this Court seeking
recognition and enforcement of the foreign judgment pursuant
to the Maryland Uniform Foreign Money-Judgment Recognition
Act, Md. Code Ann., Courts and Judicial Proceedings
§§ 10-701 et seq. (“Recognition
Act”), and Maryland Uniform Enforcement of Foreign
Judgement Act, Md. Code Ann., Courts and Judicial
Proceedings, §§ 11-801 et seq.
November, 15, 2017, Jones - as a pro se Defendant -
filed an Answer to the Complaint. (ECF No. 9.) In his Answer,
he generally denied the Plaintiff's claims, asserted a
number of defenses under the Recognition Act, and raised
various counterclaims related to the underlying transaction.
(Id.) On November 29, 2017, Plaintiff filed a Motion
to Bifurcate Plaintiff's Claim for Recognition of Foreign
Judgment from Defendant's Counterclaims (ECF No. 14), and
this motion has been fully briefed. (See ECF Nos.
filed an Amended Answer (ECF No. 20) on December 27, 2017
pursuant to Rule 15(a)(1)(B) of the Federal Rules of Civil
Procedure. This Amended Answer differs from the original
Answer in numerous respects. First, the Amended Answer
includes a “request for joinder” of (a) N198GS
Inc., Trust, (b) Justin Jenkins individually, and (c) Jet
Evolutions, LLC. (Id. at ¶¶ 2-3.) Second,
Mr. Jones “objects to the Plaintiff's Corporate
Disclosure Statement (ECF No. 3) as it falsely presents the
Plaintiff as a sole entity without a parent corporation or
other relevant corporate affiliations” as required by
Local Rule 103.3. (ECF No. 20 at ¶ 4.) Third, Defendant
asserts additional defenses under the Recognition Act.
(See Id. at ¶¶ 11-45.) Fourth, while some
of the purported “defenses” appear to overlap
with his original counterclaims and while the Amended Answer
requests “consideration of the Defendant's
counterclaims, ” the Amended Answer does not itself
contain a “Counterclaims” section. (Id.
January 2, 2018, Plaintiff filed a Motion to Amend/Correct
Complaint (ECF No. 21), which has been fully briefed.
(See ECF Nos. 23, 24.) On March 19, 2018, Defendant
filed a Motion to Dismiss (ECF No. 25), which has been fully
briefed. (See ECF Nos. 27, 28.) On June 20, 2018,
Defendant filed two Motions for Joinder of Parties. (ECF Nos.
31-32.) Plaintiff filed a consolidated response on July 3,
2018 (EFC No. 38), and Defendant replied on July 18, 2018.
(ECF No. 39.)
now are Plaintiff's Motion to Bifurcate Counterclaims
(ECF No. 14), Plaintiff's Motion to Amend/Correct
Complaint (ECF No. 21), Defendant's Motion to Dismiss
(ECF No. 25), and Defendant's Motions for Joinder of
Parties (ECF Nos. 31-32).
general matter, when a litigant proceeds pro se,
their filings should be “liberally construed” and
“held to less stringent standards than formal pleadings
drafted by lawyers.” Erickson v. Pardus, 551
U.S. 89, 94 (2007) (citation omitted).
Motion to Dismiss
Rule 8(a)(2) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, a
complaint must contain a “short and plain statement of
the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to
relief.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). Rule 12(b)(6) authorizes
the dismissal of a complaint if it “fail[s] to state a
claim upon which relief can be granted.” Fed.R.Civ.P.
12(b)(6). The purpose of Rule 12(b)(6) is “to test the
sufficiency of a complaint and not to resolve contests
surrounding the facts, the merits of a claim, or the
applicability of defenses.” Presley v. City of
Charlottesville, 464 F.3d 480, 483 (4th Cir. 2006);
see also Goines v. Valley Cmty. Servs. Bd., 822 F.3d
159, 165-66 (4th Cir. 2016). Generally, to withstand a motion
to dismiss, “a complaint must contain sufficient
factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim to relief
that is plausible on its face.” Ashcroft v.
Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1949 (2009)
(internal quotations and citation omitted). In reviewing a
motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), the Court may consider
“documents incorporated into the complaint by
reference, and matters of which a court may take judicial
notice.” Tellabs, Inc. v. Makor Issues &
Rights, Ltd., 551 U.S. 308, 322 (2007).
Motion to Amend Complaint
Rule 15 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, a party may
amend a pleading once as a matter of course within “21
days after service of a responsive pleading, ” if such
a response is required. Fed. R. Cvi. P. 15(a)(1). After this
initial window has passed, “a party may amend its
pleading only with the opposing party's written consent
or the court's leave. The court should freely give leave
when justice so requires.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 15(a)(2). The
court's discretion in this area should be guided
“by the general policy embodied in the Federal Rules
favoring resolution of cases on their merits, ”
Island Creek Coal Co. v. Lake Shore, Inc., 832 F.2d
274, 279 (4th Cir. 1987), and therefore “focus
‘on prejudice or futility or bad faith, '”
id. (quoting Davis v. Piper Aircraft Corp.,
615 F.2d 606, 613 (4th Cir. 1980)). Delay alone is an
insufficient reason to deny leave to amend. Edwards v.
City of Goldsborough, 178 F.3d 231, 242 (4th Cir. 1999)
(citing Johnson v. Oroweat Foods Co., 785 F.2d 503,
509 (4th Cir. 1986)).
Rule 42(b) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, a court
may bifurcate one or more claims “[f]or convenience, to
avoid prejudice, or to expedite and economize.” The
moving party has the burden to convince the court that a
claim should be bifurcated. Morgan v. Prince George's
Co., 2010 WL 64405 at *2 (D. Md. 2010). Because district
courts are optimally situated to determine the correct
procedure for dealing with multiple claims, see White v.
Bloomberg, 501 F.2d 1379, 1385 (4th Cir. 1974), courts
have broad discretion when determining if a trial should be
bifurcated. Dixon v. CSX Transp., Inc., 990 F.2d
1440, 1443 (4th Cir. 1993), cert. denied, 510 U.S.
district court's discretion to bifurcate claims is broad,
there are limits to its scope. See, e.g.,
Dixon, 990 F.2d at 1443 (finding an abuse of
discretion when district court denied bifurcation and
permitted testimony regarding one claim that was irrelevant
and highly prejudicial to another claim). Additionally, while
convenience and economy should be considered, the overriding
consideration is a fair trial for both parties. Arnold v.
Eastern Air Lines, Inc., 712 F.2d 899, 906 (4th Cir.
1982) (en banc), cert. denied, 464 U.S.
of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure governs when a party
must be joined, while Rule 20 of the Feral Rules of
Civil Procedure governs when a party may be joined.
Under Rule 19(a)(1), “[a] person who is subject to
service of process and whose joinder will not deprive the
court of subject-matter jurisdiction must be joined”
(A) in that person's absence, the court cannot accord
complete relief among existing parties; or
(B) that person claims an interest relating to the subject of
the action and is so situated that disposing of the action in
the person's absence may:
(i) as a practical matter impair or impede the person's
ability to protect the interest; or
(ii) leave an existing party subject to a substantial risk of
incurring double, multiple, or otherwise inconsistent
obligations because of the interest.
Fed. R. Civ. P. 19. If a required party cannot be joined,
Rule 19(b) authorizes the court to dismiss an action if the
court determines that “in equity and good
conscience” the case cannot proceed without prejudicing
the absent party or the plaintiff. Id.
20(a)(2) allows a person to be joined as a
[counter-]defendant if “any right to relief is asserted
against them jointly, severally, or in the alternative with
respect to or arising out of the same transaction,
occurrence, or series of transactions or occurrences”
and “any question of law or fact common to all
defendants will arise in the action.” Fed.R.Civ.P.
20(a)(2). “Neither a plaintiff nor a defendant need be
interested in obtaining or defending against all the relief
demanded” because a district court may tailor any
judgment to each party's rights and liabilities. Fed R.
Civ. P. 20(a)(3).
Rule 13(h), “Rules 19 and 20 govern the addition of a
person as a party to a counterclaim or crossclaim.”
Motion to Dismiss
recognize a foreign judgment under Maryland's Recognition
Act, Plaintiff must establish that a foreign judgment is
“final, conclusive, and enforceable where
rendered.” Md. Code Ann., Cts. & Jud. Proc.
§§ 10-702, 10-703. A foreign judgment is
“conclusive between the parties to the extent that it
grants or denies recovery of a sum of money.”
foreign judgment is not “conclusive” if,
inter alia, “[t]he foreign court did not have
personal jurisdiction over the defendant” or
“[t]he judgment was obtained by fraud.”
Id. § 10-704. The Recognition Act goes on to
provide that the “personal jurisdiction”
requirement is satisfied where “[t]he defendant prior
to the commencement of the proceedings had agreed to submit
to the jurisdiction of the foreign court with respect to the
subject matter involved.” Id. §
10-705(a)(3). The term “fraud” in the Recognition
Act is limited to “extrinsic fraud” that
“‘goes to the question of jurisdiction' or
involves circumstances preventing ‘the defeated party
from fully and fairly presenting his case.'”
Iraq Middle Market Development Foundation v.
Harmoosh, 175 F.Supp.3d 567, 577 (D. Md. 2016) (quoting
Mueller v. Payn, 30 Md.App. 377, 352 A.2d 895, 902
(Md. Ct. Spec. App. 1976)), vacated and remanded on other
grounds, 848 F.3d 235 (4th Cir. 2017). For example,
“prevent[ing] the defendant from being informed of the
suit” would constitute extrinsic fraud. Id.
law also provides discretionary bases for nonrecognition,
including inter alia, “[t]he defendant in the
proceedings in the foreign court did not receive notice of
the proceedings in sufficient time to enable him to defend; .
. . the cause of action on which the judgment is based is
repugnant to the public policy of the State; . . . or [i]n
the case of jurisdiction based only on personal service, the
foreign court was a seriously inconvenient forum for the
trial of the action.” Id. § 10-704.
Provided that none of the grounds for nonrecognition have
been established, a default judgment in a foreign country may
be recognized and enforced in Maryland. Syncrude Canada
Ltd. v. Highland Consulting Grp., Inc., 916 F.Supp.2d
620, 628 (D. Md. 2013).
Recognition Act is silent as to the allocation of burdens of
proof, and Maryland Courts have not directly addressed the
issue. Some states require the party seeking to enforce the
foreign judgment to establish only that “the judgment
is final, conclusive, and enforceable where rendered.”
See e.g., Clientron Corp. v. Devon IT,
Inc., 125 F.Supp.3d 521, 527 (E.D. Pa. 2015) (applying
Pennsylvania's recognition statute); Osorio v. Dole
Food Co., 665 F.Supp.2d 1307, 1324 (S.D. Fla. 2009),
aff'd, 635 F.3d 1277 (11th Cir. 2011); The
Courage Co. LLC v. The ChemShare Corp., 93 S.W.3d 323,
331 (Tex. App. 2002) (party seeking to avoid recognition has
burden to prove ground for nonrecognition). Other states
require the moving party to also make prima facie showings of
subject matter jurisdiction, personal jurisdiction, and
impartial foreign tribunals with procedures compatible with
due process. See, e.g., Bridgeway Corp. v. Citibank,
45 F.Supp.2d 276, 285 (S.D.N.Y. 1999). In those states,
once the moving party makes a prima facie case for
recognition, the opposing party bears the burden to establish
defenses such as fraud, public policy, and other
discretionary bases for nonrecognition. Id.
Maryland Courts have not directly addressed the question with
respect to the Recognition Act, the Court of Appeals of
Maryland has held that, under the Maryland Uniform
Enforcement of Foreign Judgment Act, Md. Code Ann., Courts
& Judicial Proceedings, §§ 11-801 et
seq., the burden to establish the personal jurisdiction
defense rests with the party opposing enforcement of the
foreign judgment. Legum v. Brown, 395 Md. 135,
146-47, 909 A.2d 672, 679 (2006) (“Nor is there any
reason, if there is to be a contest as to the personal
jurisdiction of the foreign court, whether because the
defendant . . . even if subject to suit there, was not
properly served, not to place the burden on the defendant to
raise that defense.”) This Court sees no reason why
Maryland courts would not apply the same rule to the
Recognition Act, but even if Maryland requires a plaintiff to
make out a prima facie showing of personal jurisdiction, the
Complaint in this case is sufficient. (See infra.)
Motion to Dismiss (ECF No. 25), the pro se Defendant
advances two forms of arguments, labeled “issues,
” for dismissing the Complaint. First, he argues that
the UK Judgment does not comply with various provisions of
the Recognition Act, primarily centered on personal
jurisdiction. Second, he contends that Plaintiff committed
fraud during the underlying transaction and in ...