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Al-Sabah v. Agbodjogbe

United States District Court, D. Maryland

December 3, 2019

ALIA SALEM AL-SABAH, Plaintiff,
v.
JEAN AGBODJOGBE, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          Stephanie A. Gallagher United States District Judge

         Plaintiff Alia Salem Al-Sabah (“Al-Sabah”) filed a nine-count Amended Complaint against Defendants Jean Agbodjogbe (“Agbodjogbe”), Nandi Scott (“Scott”), N&A Kitchen, LLC (“N&A Kitchen”), N&A Kitchen II, LLC (“N&A Kitchen II”), 5722 York Road, LLC (“5722 York Road”), 9 Jewels, LLC (“9 Jewels”), and ASA Foundation, Inc. (“ASA Foundation”). ECF 76. On January 3, 2018, after receiving permission from both Al-Sabah and the Court, Defendant Agbodjogbe filed a Counterclaim against Al-Sabah.[1] ECF 85; see ECF 77 (consent motion); ECF 80 (Order granting the consent motion). The case was transferred to my docket on September 20, 2019. Before the Court are Al-Sabah's Motion in Limine, ECF 163, and Defendants' four Motions in Limine, ECF 165 to 168. I have reviewed each Motion and the related Oppositions and Replies thereto. See ECF 173 to 176, ECF 178 to 184. No. hearing is necessary. See Loc. R. 105.6 (D. Md. 2018). For the reasons that follow, Al-Sabah's Motion will be granted in part and denied in part. Three of Defendants' Motions will be denied, but their motion to exclude the existence of a judgment in favor of Plaintiff against Defendant Agbodjogbe will be granted.

         I. FACTUAL BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff Al-Sabah, a citizen and resident of Kuwait with a history of engaging in charitable ventures, visited her daughter in Baltimore, Maryland, on or about June 30, 2014. ECF 76, ¶¶ 2, 13. During her stay, Al-Sabah visited Agbodjogbe's restaurant, Nailah's Kitchen, and purchased $8, 000 in Halal food for a local mosque whose kitchen had burned down. Id. ¶¶ 13-14. That chance encounter allegedly blossomed into a friendship, and eventually into a legal partnership. Id. ¶¶ 15-20. Specifically, Al-Sabah alleges that she entered into an agreement with Agbodjogbe to purchase a fifty percent ownership stake in Nailah's Kitchen in exchange for $150, 000. Id. ¶¶ 16-19. Under this arrangement, Al-Sabah's profit share would be donated to charity. Id. ¶ 16. Al-Sabah allegedly agreed, and the two formed the new partnership, N&A Kitchen, by September, 2014. Id. ¶¶ 18-20. Al-Sabah alleges that she and Agbodjogbe executed two agreements, one being the “Articles of Organization and Operating Agreement, ” and the other being an agreement “regarding [Al-Sabah's] capital contribution to N&A Kitchen.” Id. ¶¶ 18-19.

         Just one month later, however, Agbodjogbe allegedly began “engaging in a fraudulent scheme to misappropriate millions of dollars from [Al-Sabah] while purporting to facilitate her personal investments and charitable endeavors.” Id. ¶ 22. From October, 2014 until approximately the spring of 2016, Agbodjogbe proposed various real estate “investment” opportunities to Al-Sabah as a means of raising more money for charitable causes. Id. ¶¶ 23-41.

         For instance, from October, 2014 to January, 2015, Al-Sabah allegedly wired Agbodjogbe over $3 million to purchase a number of properties in West Baltimore. Id. ¶ 26. However, Al-Sabah alleges that Agbodjogbe purchased these properties with entities that Agbodjogbe organized, and that Al-Sabah had no ownership stake in, meaning Al-Sabah owned none of the West Baltimore properties. Id. ¶¶ 29, 32. Al-Sabah claims that Agbodjogbe, through a number of the corporate defendants, took out mortgages on the West Baltimore properties, but used none of the funds to rehabilitate or otherwise improve those properties. Id. ¶¶ 31-32. Agbodjogbe also allegedly used money Al-Sabah wired to him to renovate those properties to, instead, purchase a personal residence for himself at 103 Mount Wilson Lane, Pikesville, Maryland 21208 (“the 103 Mount Wilson Lane property”). Id. ¶¶ 30, 92-93. By the spring of 2016, Al-Sabah grew suspicious of Agbodjogbe and requested, with little success, documentation from Agbodjogbe for uncompleted property improvements and transactions completed on Al-Sabah's behalf. Id. ¶ 41.

         Then, in July, 2016, Al-Sabah received a voicemail from Nandi Scott, Agbodjogbe's wife, stating that the two were “experiencing financial difficulties and that they were at risk of losing their home.” Id. ¶ 42; ECF 138 at 16. Scott requested $350, 000 from Al-Sabah to prevent Agbodjogbe and Scott from losing their home. ECF 76, ¶ 42. Despite her suspicions, Al-Sabah, through one of her charities, loaned Agbodjogbe $150, 000 interest free. ECF 76, ¶ 43; ECF 138 at 11-12. No. payments were ever made on that loan. ECF 76, ¶ 43; ECF 138 at 14. Al-Sabah alleges that Scott was also a party to that oral contract. ECF 76, ¶ 43.

         Al-Sabah seeks to recover “nearly” $6, 000, 000 from Defendant Agbodjogbe and his “co-conspirators” under eight claims for monetary relief: Fraudulent Misrepresentation (Count I); Fraudulent Concealment (Count II); Conversion (Count III); Civil Conspiracy (Count IV); Detrimental Reliance (Count V); Unjust Enrichment (Count VI); Breach of Contract (Count VII); and Breach of Agency Duties (Count VIII). Id. ¶¶ 1, 46-89. Count IX of the Amended Complaint seeks a Declaratory Judgment against Defendants Agbodjogbe, N&A Kitchen, LLC, 9 Jewels, LLC, and 5722 York Road, LLC to determine ownership of N&A Kitchen II, LLC, 9 Jewels, LLC, 5722 York Road, LLC, and the ASA Foundation, Inc., as well as ownership of the assets of N&A Kitchen, LLC and the 103 Mt. Wilson Lane property. Id. ¶ 93. On January 14, 2019, Judge Hollander granted Al-Sabah's Motion for Partial Summary Judgment on Count VII against Defendant Agbodjogbe, finding that he breached his contractual obligation to pay back the $150, 000 loan Al-Sabah made to him in July, 2016. ECF 138 at 11-14.

         Defendant Agbodjogbe filed a counterclaim against Al-Sabah on January 3, 2018. ECF 85; see ECF 78 (unredacted sealed Counterclaim). XXXXX ECF 78, ¶ 23. XXXXX Id. ¶¶ 25-26. According to Agbodjogbe, Al-Sabah told him on May 21, 2015, “that she desired for her contributions to their various ventures [to] continue to be received by him as gifts.” Id. ¶ 27. He also alleges that Al-Sabah “renounced any interest” she had in N&A Kitchen, 9 Jewels, and “all of the business and property ventures” that she was involved in with Agbodjogbe. Id. ¶ 28. Agbodjogbe claims that no dispute between he and Al-Sabah arose until XXXXX September, 2016, and that only since then has Al-Sabah claimed that Agbodjogbe's business dealings on her behalf were improper. Id. ¶¶ 46-49. Agbodjogbe seeks an unspecified amount of damages under three claims for relief: Negligent Misrepresentation (Count I); Unjust Enrichment (Count II); and Quantum Meruit (Count III). Id. ¶¶ 50-68.

         II. LEGAL STANDARDS

         Typically, pretrial motions in limine seek to exclude prejudicial evidence before it is offered at trial. Changzhou Kaidi Elec. Co., Ltd. v. Okin Am., Inc., 102 F.Supp.3d 740, 745 (D. Md. 2015) (quoting Luce v. United States, 469 U.S. 38, 40 n.2 (1984)). These motions allow the Court to avoid “lengthy argument at, or interruption of, the trial.” Banque Hypothecaire Du Canton De Geneve v. Union Mines, Inc., 652 F.Supp. 1400, 1401 (D. Md. 1987); see also Changzhou Kaidi, 102 F.Supp.3d at 745 (“[Motions in limine] are ‘designed to narrow the evidentiary issues for trial and to eliminate unnecessary trial interruptions.'” (quoting Louzon v. Ford Motor Co., 718 F.3d 556, 561 (6th Cir. 2013))). Motions in limine further promote judicial efficiency by preserving the issues raised for appeal and eliminating the need for parties to renew their objections at trial, “just so long as the movant has clearly identified the ruling sought and the trial court has ruled upon it.” United States v. Williams, 81 F.3d 1321, 1325 (4th Cir. 1996); see Fed. R. Evid. 103(a); cf. R. 103(a) advisory committee's note to 2000 amendment (acknowledging that Rule 103(a) “applies to all rulings on evidence . . . including so-called “in limine” rulings”).

         Generally, courts should grant a motion in limine “only when the evidence is clearly inadmissible on all potential grounds.” Dorman v. Anne Arundel Med. Ctr., No. MJG-15-1102, 2018 WL 2431859, at *1 (D. Md. May 30, 2018) (quoting Emami v. Bolden, 241 F.Supp.3d 673, 681 (E.D. Va. 2017)). Ultimately, rulings on these motions fall within the Court's “broad discretion.” Kauffman v. Park Place Hospitality Grp., 468 Fed.Appx. 220, 222 (4th Cir. 2012); see also United States v. Johnson, 617 F.3d 286, 292 (4th Cir. 2010) (noting that evidentiary rulings fall within a trial court's discretion).

         III. ANALYSIS

         A. Plaintiff's Motion in Limine to Preclude Evidence or Argument Regarding Any Alleged DNA Testing, and Seeking Sanctions Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1927, ECF 163

         1. The Motion to Exclude

         Plaintiff first seeks to exclude the results of a DNA test purportedly conducted by Defendants XXXXX, ECF 163 at 1-2, XXXXX, ECF 78, ¶¶ 23-30. According to Plaintiff, the results of the test “were muddled and unilluminating, at best.” ECF 163 at 2. Former defense counsel considered serving a motion to compel Plaintiff to provide a DNA sample for comparison purposes, but the motion was not pursued. Id. Plaintiff argues that without an expert designated to testify about the results, the results are inadmissible, since there is no one to lay a proper foundation for their admission. Id. at 4. Plaintiff also argues that the results are irrelevant, inadmissible hearsay, and prejudicial. Id. at 4-5. Defendants acknowledge that they have not designated a DNA expert to testify at trial. ECF 178 at 2, ΒΆ 3. Nonetheless, Defendants assert the DNA results are ...


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