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Roxann Pixler v. Anthony Huff

November 17, 2011

ROXANN PIXLER
PLAINTIFF
v.
ANTHONY HUFF, ET. AL.
DEFENDANTS



MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

This matter is before the Court on Defendant Brian N. Sly's Motion to Dismiss [DN 10]; Defendants A. Huff, S. Huff, Michele Brown, Anthony Russo, River Falls Investments, LLC, Oxygen Unlimited, LLC, River Falls Equities, LLC, SDH Realty, Inc., W.A. Huff, LLC, and The Huff Grandchildren Trust's Motion for More Definite Statement [DN 12]; Defendant Thomas Bean's Motion to Dismiss [DN 30]; Defendant Huff Farm (Horsebranch) Inc.'s Motion to Dismiss [DN 34]; and Plaintiff Roxann Pixler's Motion to Strike [DN 33] and Motion for Extension of Time [DN 36]. Fully briefed, these matters are ripe for decision.

I. BACKGROUND

This case centers around the creation and operation of Midwest Merger Management, LLC ("MMM"). In 2001, Plaintiff Roxann Pixler's husband, Danny Pixler, and Anthony Huff ("A. Huff") formed MMM. (Amend. Compl. at ¶ 18.) For reasons that are not entirely clear to the Court, Pixler and A. Huff placed their shares in the company in their respective wives' names. (Id.) On July 20, 2001, MMM filed its Articles of Organization, which listed two members, Plaintiff and Sheri Huff ("S. Huff"). (Id. at ¶ 19.) It appears that MMM was run entirely by Pixler and A. Huff, and that Plaintiff had no involvement with the operations of the company. At some point, Michele Brown became the secretary and personal assistant to A. Huff and became involved with MMM. (Id. at ¶ 21.) In MMM's 2002 Annual Report, Brown was listed as a member or manager of MMM, along with Plaintiff and S. Huff. (Id. at ¶ 20.) When MMM was initially created, Brian N. Sly, a California business man, loaned the business approximately $3.9 million dollars. (Id. at ¶ 43.)

MMM was established as a "risk manager." (Id. at ¶ 23.) In this line of work, MMM would collect premiums and fees from clients and would in turn pay premiums to insurance carriers that provided workers' compensation insurance coverage. (Id. at ¶ 24.) MMM also provided consulting services to various entities. (Id. at ¶ 25.)

In 2004, MMM acquired Certified Services, Inc., which itself owned several subsidiaries. (Id. at ¶ 27.) Beginning in 2005, A. Huff established several companies including, Oxygen Unlimited, LLC; Oxygen II, LLC (later renamed River Falls Investments, LLC); O2 HR, LLC; O2 HR Safety & Claims, LLC (later renamed W. Anthony Huff, LLC and renamed again River Falls Equities, LLC); W.A. Huff, LLC; and SDH Realty, Inc. (Id. at ¶¶ 29-32, 41, 42.) Thomas Bean, helped A. Huff establish and manage River Falls Investments, LLC and River Falls Equities, LLC. (Id. at ¶44.) In her Amended Complaint, Plaintiff alleges that A. Huff used at least two of these entities, SDH Realty, Inc. and W.A. Huff, LLC, to funnel money from MMM for illegal purposes. (Id. at ¶¶ 41-42.)

In 2006, Plaintiff was told that her share in MMM was virtually worthless. (Id. at ¶ 35.) However, A. Huff expressed interest in purchasing her share and paid Plaintiff $170,000 as a partial buy-out. (Id.) Plaintiff eventually became suspicious of A. Huff and began to investigate the business dealings of MMM. She was able to obtain a copy of the MMM books in 2008 and discovered what she believed to be "accounting discrepancies that could not be reconciled."(Id. at ¶ 39.) Plaintiff filed suit against A. Huff and many other parties in April 2011.

II. DISCUSSION

A. Brian Sly

Defendant Sly has challenged Plaintiff's Complaint on a number of grounds. Defendant Sly has moved for dismissal under Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(2) for lack of personal jurisdiction, under Fed. R. Civ. P. 9(b) for failure to plead fraud with particularity, and under Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.

i. Lack of Personal Jurisdiction

The Supreme Court has held that personal jurisdiction "is an essential element of the jurisdiction of a district . . . court,' without which the court is 'powerless to proceed to an adjudication.'" Ruhrgas AG v. Marathon Oil Co., 526 U.S. 574, 584 (1999) (quoting Emp'rs Reinsurance Corp. v. Bryant, 299 U.S. 374, 382 (1937); see also Steel Co. v. Citizens for a Better Env't, 523 U.S. 83, 94-95 (1998) ("The requirement that jurisdiction be established as a threshold matter spring[s] from the nature and limits of the judicial power of the United States and is inflexible and without exception.") (internal quotation marks omitted). Furthermore, if a court "can readily determine that it lacks jurisdiction over the cause or the defendant, the proper course would be to dismiss on that ground." Sinochem Intern. Co. Ltd. v. Malaysia Intern. Shipping Corp., 549 U.S. 422, 436 (2007). Accordingly, the Court will address its jurisdiction over the defendant before addressing the merits of Plaintiff's individual claims.

When addressing a motion to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction, "there is no statutory direction . . ., [therefore,] the mode of its determination is left to the trial court." Gibbs v. Buck, 307 U.S. 66, 71-72 (1939). However, case law establishes a settled procedural scheme to guide trial courts in the exercise of this discretion. If it decides that the motion can be ruled on before trial, the court "may determine the motion on the basis of affidavits alone; or it may permit discovery in aid of the motion; or it may conduct an evidentiary hearing on the merits of the motion." Marine Midland Bank, N.A. v. Miller, 664 F.2d 899, 904 (2d Cir. 1981). However the court handles the motion, the plaintiff always bears the burden of establishing that jurisdiction exists.

Serras v. First Tennessee Bank Nat'l Ass'n, 875 F.2d 1212, 1214 (6th Cir. 1989). If the court determines the jurisdictional issue on written submissions only, the plaintiff "need only make a prima facie showing of jurisdiction." Compuserve, Inc. v. Patterson, 89 F.3d 1257, 1262 (6th Cir. 1996). When making such a determination without an evidentiary hearing, "the court must consider the pleadings and affidavits in a light most favorable to the plaintiff." Id. Furthermore, the court must "not consider facts proffered by the defendant that conflict with those offered by the plaintiff." Neogen Corp. v. Neo Gen Screening, Inc., 282 F.3d 883, 887 (6th Cir. 2002).

In a diversity case, a federal court determines whether personal jurisdiction exists over a non-resident defendant by applying the law of the state in which it sits. Third Nat'l Bank v. WEDGE Group Inc., 882 F.2d 1087, 1089 (6th Cir. 1989). The Court applies a two-step inquiry to determine whether it may exercise personal jurisdiction over a non-resident defendant: "(1) whether the law of the state in which the district court sits authorizes jurisdiction, and (2) whether the exercise of jurisdiction comports with the Due Process Clause." Brunner v. Hampson, 441 F.3d 457, 463 (6th Cir. 2006). The district court's exercise of jurisdiction over an out-of-state defendant must be consistent with both the forum state's long-arm statute and the constitutional requirements of due process. Id.; CompuServe, Inc. v. Patterson, 89 F.3d 1257, 1262 (6th Cir. 2007); Appriss Inc. v. Information Strategies, Inc., 2011 WL 3585890, at *2 (W.D. Ky. Aug. 16, 2011). Furthermore, "[p]ersonal jurisdiction must be established with respect to each cause of action." Morris Aviation, LLC v. Diamond Aircraft Indus., Inc., 730 F. Supp. 2d 683, 694 (W.D. Ky. 2010).

Until recently, the Kentucky long-arm statute, K.R.S. § 454.210, had been interpreted "to reach to the full constitutional limits of due process in entertaining jurisdiction over non-resident defendants." Wilson v. Case, 85 S.W.3d 589, 592 (Ky. 2002). In Caesars Riverboat Casino, LLC v. Beach, 336 S.W.3d 51 (Ky. 2011), the Kentucky Supreme Court expressly overruled Wilson and held that the Kentucky long-arm statute does not extend to the full limit of due process and requires its own separate analysis. Caesars, 336 S.W.3d at 57.

Kentucky's long-arm statute requires a two-prong showing before a court can exercise personal jurisdiction over a non-resident. First, the court must find that a non-resident's conduct or activities fall within one of nine enumerated provisions in K.R.S. § 454.210. Only three of those provisions are applicable to the facts underlying the present motion against Defendant Sly; K.R.S. § 454.210(2)(a)(1), (3), and (4).*fn1 If this first prong is satisfied then the second prong requires the Court to determine if the plaintiff's claim arises from the defendant's actions. See K.R.S. § 454.210(2)(b) ("When jurisdiction over a person is based solely upon this section, only a claim arising from acts enumerated in this section may be asserted against him.") Accordingly, "even when the defendant's conduct and activities fall within one of the enumerated categories, the plaintiff's claim still must 'arise' from that conduct or activity before long-arm jurisdiction exists." Caesars, 336 S.W.3d at 56. The court in Caesars conceded that "[t]he phrase 'arising from' may reasonably be subject to various interpretations." Id. at 58. In evaluating the meaning of that phrase, the Kentucky Supreme Court found that "[i]f there is a reasonable and direct nexus between the wrongful acts alleged in the complaint and the statutory predicate for long-arm jurisdiction, then jurisdiction is properly exercised." Id. at 59. The court went on to say that "the analysis must necessarily be undertaken on a case by case basis" and that "[t]rial courts will ultimately have to depend upon a common sense analysis, giving the benefit of the doubt in favor of jurisdiction." Id.

In the instant case, Plaintiff has alleged two claims against Defendant Sly, breach of fiduciary duty and unjust enrichment. The following factual allegations related to Defendant Sly are contained within the Amended Complaint: (1) Defendant Brian Sly is a citizen of the State of California, (Amend. Compl. ¶ 11); (2) Defendant Sly loaned approximately $3.9 million dollars to

A. Huff, however, he was re-paid $5.3 million with funds from MMM, (Id. at ¶ 43); and (3) Plaintiff relied on representations of Sly that the company was being operated lawfully (Id. at ¶ 46). In support of Count III, Breach of Fiduciary Duty, Plaintiff alleges that she reposed trust and confidence in Sly who therefore had a duty of utmost good faith, trust, confidence and candor to the Plaintiff, and that Sly breached that duty and caused damage to the Plaintiff. (Id. at ¶ 62-62.) In support of Count VI, Unjust Enrichment, Plaintiff alleges that Sly received benefits from the Plaintiff's participation in MMM for which the Plaintiff has not been adequately compensated, which benefits were to the detriment of Plaintiff. (Id. at ¶¶ 75-76.)

Both Plaintiff and Defendant Sly have submitted two declarations, sworn to under penalty of perjury, in an attempt to demonstrate or dispel the notion that the Court has personal jurisdiction over Defendant Sly. While the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure specifically address the use of affidavits and declarations to support or oppose a motion for summary judgment, the Rules are silent regarding their use to support or oppose a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b). Compare Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c), with Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b). "Because there are no specific procedures or rules governing evidentiary rulings in connection with a motion to dismiss, courts consistently look to Rule 56 for guidance." Foshee v. Forethought Fed. Sav. Bank, 2010 WL 2158454, at *3 (W.D. Tenn. May 7, 2010); see also Ohio Nat'l Life Ins. Co. v. United States, 922 F.2d 320, 327 (6th Cir. 1990) (finding that "[a]lthough the district court has considerable discretion in devising procedures for resolving questions going to subject matter jurisdiction, courts frequently look to Rule 56 for guidance in ruling upon evidentiary matters under 12(b)(1).").

Under Rule 56(c), "[a]n affidavit or declaration used to support or oppose a motion must be made on personal knowledge, set out facts that would be admissible in evidence, and show that the affiant or declarant is competent to testify on the matters stated." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c). The Court sees no reason why an affidavit or declaration submitted in connection with a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(2) should be treated any differently. Therefore, to the extent any affidavit or declaration submitted by the parties is not based upon personal knowledge or contains inadmissible evidence, the Court will not consider such portions in determining the issue of personal jurisdiction. See United Tech. Corp. v. Mazer, 556 F.3d 1260, 1277 (11th Cir. 2009) (finding that when a court is determining a Rule (12)(b)(2) motion to dismiss that it should "consider[] 'only those portions of the [affidavit] that set forth specific factual declarations within the affiant's personal knowledge.'"); Cooper v. McDermott Int'l, Inc., 62 F.3d 395, at *5 (5th Cir. 1995) (unpublished) (holding that "[h]earsay is not properly included in an affidavit" submitted with a Rule 12(b)(2) motion.).

In support of his motion to dismiss, Defendant Sly has submitted two sworn declarations wherein he states that he is a resident of California who has never lived, owned real property, owned any other assets or personal property, maintained any bank or other accounts, maintained any regular business activities, paid taxes, or maintained any employees, contractors or agents in the Commonwealth of Kentucky. (Sly's Decl. in Support of Mot. to Dismiss ¶¶ 2-3 [DN 10].) Defendant Sly further maintains that he never spoke to Plaintiff regarding business while either of them were in Kentucky, rather, all of his contacts with Plaintiff in Kentucky were of a social nature. (Id. at ¶¶ 4-7.)

Sly does admit that he was in Kentucky to attend a regular business meeting involving Oxygen Unlimited II, LLC in May 2006, but that Plaintiff was not at that business meeting. (Id. at ¶ 5.) Sly further declares that he did, in fact, loan MMM approximately $3,924,808.00 in 2001,an action that he considered and executed from his California home. (Sly's Supp. Decl. ¶ 2 [DN 39].) Sly states that he has only received $2,708,029.03 as a return on his loan, and that he has lost approximately $1,216,779, which he does not expect to recover. (Id. at ¶¶ 4-5.) The payments that he did receive from MMM were all received by Sly at his home in California and deposited in his California bank accounts by him. (Id. at ¶ 4.) The last of these repayments was received in 2005. (Id.) Defendant Sly further states that he does not recall ever speaking with Plaintiff regarding MMM, until approximately 2009 when Plaintiff threatened to sue him. (Id. at ¶ 3.)

Plaintiff also filed two declarations opposing Defendant Sly's motion to dismiss. Plaintiff's declarations are prefaced with the statement that "[t]he following facts are within my own personal knowledge, and if called upon I could and would testify competently to these facts, except as to those matters stated herein upon information and belief, and as to those matter [sic] I have a good faith and reasonable basis to believe that they are true." (Pl.'s Decl. in Supp. Pl.'s Resp. to Def. Brian Sly's Mot. to Dismiss ¶ 2 [DN 23].) Plaintiff states that she was a partial owner of MMM beginning from its inception in 2001, and that she owned a significant portion of the company during the time relevant to her Complaint. (Id. at ¶ 5.) The remaining statements contained in her declaration are not made from personal knowledge but are made based on Plaintiff's "knowledge and belief." (Id. at ¶¶ 6-13.) Plaintiff states that it is her "knowledge and belief" that Defendant Sly has had "systematic and continuous" contacts with the state of Kentucky since 1990, (Id. at ¶ 6), including being a business affiliate of A. Huff since the early 1990's, (Id. at ¶ 8). Plaintiff also states that is her "knowledge and belief" that Defendant Sly invested at least $4,000,000 in MMM between 2001 and the present. (Id. at ¶ 10.)

In her Supplemental Declaration filed approximately six weeks after her initial declaration, Plaintiff again makes a number of statements based upon her "knowledge and belief." (See Pl.'s Decl. in Supp. Pl.'s Supp. Resp. to Def. Brian Sly's Mot. to Dismiss [DN 37].) In this second declaration, Plaintiff states that it is her "knowledge and belief" that Defendant Sly held and sold an "equity position" in MMM, back to MMM for over $15 million dollars in 2002. (Id. at ¶ 13.) Using the same "knowledge and belief" preface, Plaintiff further states that Defendant Sly was part of a large fraudulent scheme that included soliciting investments for MMM and Oxygen Unlimited, LLC, and agreeing to make large transfers of funds for "investment" purposes in these entities, which never resulted in business uses. (See id. at ¶¶ 9-15.) Plaintiff claims that Defendant A. Huff purposely acted to perpetrate fraud against MMM by engaging in circular accounting practices, that benefitted Defendant Sly, and that Defendant Sly was aware of such fraudulent practices. (Id. at ¶¶ 16-17, 22.)

These "factual allegations" made by Plaintiff do not appear to be based upon personal knowledge, rather, they appear to be based upon conjecture, speculation, and belief. Although Plaintiff intentionally prefaced the majority of her statements with the phrase "knowledge and belief" instead of "information and belief," the use of such wording is insufficient to satisfy the requirement of personal knowledge. These statements made upon "knowledge and belief" stand in stark contrast to the other statements made by Plaintiff based upon personal knowledge, which do not contain such a preface. (See e.g. id. at 6.) Statements not made upon personal knowledge are not to be considered by courts in determining a motion for summary judgment under Rule 56 and such statements should not be considered in a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(2). See Totman v. Louisville Jefferson Cnty. Metro Gov't, 391 F. App'x 454, 464 (6th Cir. 2010) (finding that statements made to the best of a party's knowledge and belief go beyond personal knowledge and do not meet the evidentiary standard set forth in Rule 56); Plaskolite, Inc. v. Zhejiang Taizhou Eagle Mach. Co., Ltd., 2008 WL 5190049, at *5 (S.D. Ohio Dec. 9, 2008) (addressing a Rule 12(b)(2) motion to dismiss and refusing to consider portions of an affidavit based upon the belief of the affiant); Doe I v. Al Maktoum, 2008 WL 4965169, at *5 (E.D. Ky. Nov. 18, 2008) (finding an affidavit based upon news stories and websites was not based upon personal ...


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