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Lockwood Boat Works, Inc. v. Motor Vessel

United States District Court, Third Circuit

November 5, 2013

LOCKWOOD BOAT WORKS, INC., Plaintiff,
v.
MOTOR VESSEL, A

OPINION

JOEL A. PISANO, District Judge.

Presently before the Court is Defendant, Sigmund Batruk's ("Defendant") motion to vacate the default judgment entered against him in favor of Lockwood Boat Works, Inc. ("Plaintiff") [docket #175]. Plaintiff opposes this motion [docket #178] and also moves for Rule 11 sanctions [docket #179]. Defendant opposes Plaintiff's motion for sanctions and also cross-moves for Rule 11 sanctions [docket #186-188]. Plaintiff also opposes Defendant's cross-motion for sanctions [docket #189]. The Court considered the papers filed by the parties and rules on the written submissions without oral argument pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 78.

For the reasons that follow, this Court DENIES Defendant's motion to vacate default judgment, DENIES Plaintiff's motion for Rule 11 sanctions, and DENIES Defendant's cross-motion for Rule 11 sanctions.

I. BACKGROUND

On December 3, 2010, Plaintiff filed a Complaint against the instant Defendant in personam and against Motor Vessel, a "1960" Flying Bridge Sportfish, her engines, tackle, apparel and her appurtenances in rem, and Motor Vessel, a "1979" Luhrs, her engines, tackle, apparel and her appurtenances in rem (collectively referred to herein as the "motor vessels") [docket #1].

On December 16, 1997, Defendant signed three written contracts for "winter storage, " to cover the period November 1, 1997 through May 1, 1998. Plaintiff alleges that there were subsequent extensions for equivalent services that were made orally. See Plaintiff's Memorandum of Law in Support of Reply to Sigmund Batruk's Motion to Vacate Judgment, p. 1. ("Plaintiff's Opposition"). Plaintiff states that Defendant contracted for services totaling $45, 321.43 and that Defendant stopped paying for services rendered after September, 2007 which resulted in additional unpaid balances totaling $20, 455.68. Id. at 2. Thus, Defendant contracted for over 10 years of services incurring total charges of $65, 777.11. Id.

Moreover, when Defendant began contracting with Plaintiff, he did so initially through his purported corporate entity, Rhone-Antilles Corp., U.S.A. ("Rhone-Antilles"), and then from 2003 onward through his wife, Leigh A. Morse. Id. Importantly, however, according to New York Department of State records, Rhone-Antilles dissolved on September 28, 1994.[1] Thus, Defendant was entering into contracts with Plaintiff on behalf of a dissolved entity. Further, Defendant gave Plaintiff his personal address as the corporate address for Rhone-Antilles and paid his bills from a personal bank account with Defendant's wife listed as the sole account owner.

On April 30, 2012, this Court granted Plaintiff's motion for default judgment against Defendant in the amount of $62, 312.90, together with attorneys' fees of $3, 404.47, totaling, $65, 717.37 [docket #171]. Nearly one (1) year later, Defendant moves this Court to vacate its entry of default judgment pursuant to Rule 60(b)(4), and argues that this Court lacked personal jurisdiction over Defendant thereby rendering the entry of default judgment void. Defendant raises no other arguments as to why this Court should vacate default judgment.

Further, both parties seek sanctions pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 11. Plaintiff asserts that Defendant's motion to vacate default judgment is frivolous. In turn, Defendant claims that Plaintiff violated Rule 11 by failing to conduct a proper pre-litigation investigation, failing to review Plaintiff's own records, bringing a claim against Defendant where no personal jurisdiction existed, and advancing frivolous arguments in opposition to Defendant's motion to vacate.

II. DISCUSSION

a. Legal Standard - Personal Jurisdiction

Once personal jurisdiction is challenged the plaintiff has the burden of establishing that the case is properly before the court. General Elec. Co. v. Deutz AG, 270 F.3d 144, 150 (3d Cir.2001). In particular, "the plaintiff bears the burden of demonstrating [that] contacts with the forum state [are] sufficient to give the court in personam jurisdiction." Mesalic v. Fiberfloat Corp., 897 F.2d 696, 699 (3d Cir.1990). A plaintiff may satisfy this burden through the use of affidavits or other competent evidence. Dayhoff Inc. v. H.J. Heinz Co., 86 F.3d 1287, 1302 (3d Cir.1996).

Generally, a nexus between the defendant, the forum and the litigation is the essential foundation of personal jurisdiction. Asahi Metal Indus. Co. v. Superior Court of California, Solano Cnty., 480 U.S. 102, 108, 107 S.Ct. 1026, 94 L.Ed.2d 92 (1987). The Third Circuit has set forth an analytical framework to determine whether personal jurisdiction over a non-resident defendant is proper. Pennzoil Prods. Co. v. Colelli & Assocs., Inc., 149 F.3d 197, 200 (3d Cir.1998). This analysis begins with an examination of Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 4(e). Id. A court must then consider whether the defendant's contacts with the forum state are sufficient to support general personal jurisdiction. Id. Absent general jurisdiction, a court should determine whether specific personal jurisdiction exists. Id.

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 4(e) allows a court to exercise "personal jurisdiction over non-resident defendants to the fullest extent permissible under the law of the state where the district court sits." Pennzoil Prods. Co., 149 F.3d at 200 (citation omitted). New Jersey's long-arm statute allows the exercise of personal jurisdiction over non-resident defendants to the fullest extent permitted by the Due ...


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