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Wells Fargo Financial Leasing, Inc. v. Jones

United States District Court, W.D. Kentucky, Paducah Division

March 25, 2015

WELLS FARGO FINANCIAL LEASING, INC., et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
CHARLES A. JONES, et al., Defendants. C.A. JONES MANAGEMENT GROUP, LLC, and THE MURRAY BANK, Intervenor Plaintiffs.
v.
WELLS FARGO FINANCIAL LEASING, INC. et al., Defendants.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

GREG N. STIVERS, District Judge.

This matter is before the Court on Joe Pat Cohoon's Motion to Dismiss pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(1) and 12(b)(6) (DN 77). Intervening Plaintiff C.A. Jones Management Group, LLC ("CAJM") filed a response (DN 85), and the movant has replied (DN 86). This motion is now ripe for adjudication. For the following reasons, the Motion to Dismiss is GRANTED.

I. SUMMARY OF FACTS AND CLAIMS

Plaintiff Wells Fargo Financial Leasing, Inc. ("Wells Fargo) filed this action alleging breach of contract by Defendants David Griffin ("Griffin") and Charles Jones ("Jones"). Wells Fargo's claims arise from two Master Lease Agreements ("Master Leases"), and attached the exhibits, schedules, and addenda (collectively referred to as the "Loan Documents"). Under the Master Leases, SE Book Company, LLC ("SE Book") agreed to lease certain computer servers and software from VAR Resources, Inc. ("VAR"). (Compl. Ex. A, DN 1-1). Griffin and Jones both executed personal guaranties on the Master Leases to secure SE Books' obligations to VAR. (Compl. Ex. B, DN 1-2).

VAR subsequently assigned its interest in the Master Leases to Wells Fargo. (Compl. Ex. C, DN 1-3). After SE Book defaulted on the Master Leases, Wells Fargo sent a demand letter to Griffin and Jones demanding payments as required by the personal guaranties.[1] (Comp. Ex. D, DN 1-4).

CAJM then moved to intervene in this action and asserted claims of tortious interference with prospective business advantage and conversion in its Intervening Complaint against Wells Fargo. (Mot. for Leave to File Intervening Compl., DN 36; Intervening Compl. ¶¶ 12-13, DN 49). CAJM subsequently filed an Amended Intervening Complaint asserting claims against additional Defendants including, inter alia, Joe Pat Cohoon ("Cohoon"). (Am. Intervening Compl., DN 69). In particular, CAJM alleges that Cohoon tortuously interfered with its business relationship with The Murray Bank, intentionally dispossessed CAJM of its property, and was negligent in permitting others to remove CAJM's equipment from the office space located at 306 Andrus Dr., Murray, Kentucky. (Am. Intervening Compl. ¶¶ 18, 30-33, 41-50, DN 69). In the present motion, Cohoon has moved to dismiss CAJM's claims against him based upon the lack of subject-matter jurisdiction and a failure to state a claim. (Memo. in Support of Mot. to Dismiss, DN 78).

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

"A Rule 12(b)(1) motion can either attack the claim of jurisdiction on its face, in which case all allegations of the plaintiff must be considered as true, or it can attack the factual basis for jurisdiction, in which case the trial court must weigh the evidence and the plaintiff bears the burden of proving that jurisdiction exists." DLX, Inc. v. Kentucky, 381 F.3d 511, 516 (6th Cir. 2004). "If the court determines at any time that it lacks subject matter jurisdiction, the court must dismiss the action." Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(h)(3). A trial court has wide discretion to allow and review affidavits and other documents to resolve disputed jurisdictional facts. By considering affidavits and other documents, a motion to dismiss is not converted to a summary judgment motion where it does not impact the merits of the plaintiff's claim. See Gentek Bldg. Prods., Inc. v. Sherwin-Williams Co., 491 F.3d 320, 330 (6th Cir. 2007).

Upon a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6), the Court "must construe the complaint in the light most favorable to plaintiff[], " accepting all of the plaintiff's allegations as true. League of United Latin Am. Citizens v. Bredesen, 500 F.3d 523, 527 (6th Cir. 2007) (citation omitted); Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 679 (2009). Under this standard, a plaintiff must provide the grounds for its entitlement to relief, which "requires more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action." Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007). A plaintiff satisfies this standard when it "pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. A complaint falls short if it pleads facts that are merely "consistent with a defendant's liability" or if the facts do not "permit the court to infer more than the mere possibility of misconduct." Id. at 678-79. The allegations must "show[] that the pleader is entitled to relief.'" Id. at 679 (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2)).

III. DISCUSSION

This motion hinges upon whether CAJM's claims against Cohoon are precluded by the Barton doctrine due to related bankruptcy actions.[2] In Barton v. Barbour, 104 U.S. 126 (1881), the U.S. Supreme Court articulated the requirement "that leave of the appointing forum must be obtained by any party wishing to institute an action in a non-appointing forum against a trustee, for acts done in the trustee's authority as an officer of the court." In re DeLorean Motor Co., 991 F.2d 1236, 1240 (6th Cir. 1993) (citing In re Baptist Med. Ctr., 80 B.R. 637, 643 (Bankr. E.D.N.Y. 1987)). The purpose of this common-law requirement is to "enable[] the Bankruptcy Court to maintain better control over the administration of the estate." Id. at 1240.

Following the decision in Barton, Congress enacted a limited exception to the Barton doctrine, which provides:

Trustees, receivers or managers of any property, including debtors in possession, may be sued, without leave of the court appointing them, with respect to any of their acts or transactions in carrying on business connected with such property. Such actions shall be subject to the general equity power of such court so far as the same may be necessary to the ends of justice, but this shall not deprive a litigant of his right to trial by jury.

28 U.S.C. § 959(a). As a sister court has noted, this limited exception "is intended to permit actions redressing torts committed in furtherance of the bankrupt's business operations, and is not cast to foster interference [with] the use, control, maintenance and operation of the bankrupt's property....'" In re Am. Associated Sys., Inc., 373 F.Supp. 977, 979 (E.D. Ky. 1974) (citing Wheeler v. Inland Gas Corp., 307 Ky. 459, 461, 211 S.W.2d 415, 417 (1948); Price v. Williamson, 305 S.W.2d 276 (Ky. 1957)). "Merely collecting, taking steps to preserve, and/or holding assets, as well as other aspects of administering and ...


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