United States District Court, District of Columbia
DEBORAH A. TRUDEL, et al., Plaintiffs,
SUNTRUST BANK, et al., Defendants.
E. BOASBERG United States District Judge
of their extended effort to recover one chunk of their
globally dispersed inheritance, the estate and one son of
deceased Ukrainian millionaires Yevgenyi Scherban and Nadejda
Nikitina now move for a default judgment against Defendant
Gwynfe Holding Ltd - a Virgin Islands corporation alleged to
have converted $282, 000 from a SunTrust Bank account
belonging to Scherban and Nikitina. Finding that this Court
lacks personal jurisdiction over Defendant, Plaintiffs'
Motion will be denied.
Court has already provided a detailed account of the Scherban
family history, see Trudel v. SunTrust Bank
(Trudel I), 223 F.Supp.3d 71, 76-81 (D.D.C. 2016),
and disposed of all claims against Defendant SunTrust in its
most recent Opinion. See Trudel v. SunTrust Bank
(Trudel II), 2018 WL 564557 (D.D.C. Jan. 25, 2018).
The discussion here is therefore limited to a 1996 wire
transfer from SunTrust account 5216 to a Czech bank account
owned by Gwynfe.
Scherban's and Nikitina's deaths on November 3, 1996,
the 5216 SunTrust account allegedly contained over one
million dollars. See ECF No. 43 (Second Amended
Complaint), ¶ 41. On December 17, 1996, SunTrust
received a fax signed “N. Nikitina” requesting
that the Bank transfer via wire $282, 000 from Account 5216
to a Czech Republic bank account held by Gwynfe. See
SAC, ¶¶ 45-46. Among other suspicious circumstances
(e.g., Nikitina was deceased), the fax misspelled
the name of the Czech bank and did not use SunTrust's
wire-transfer form. Id., ¶¶ 52-53. The
transfer was approved anyway. Id., ¶¶
48-51. The family later discovered in 2014 or 2015 that
Gwynfe was incorporated in the British Virgin Islands until
its dissolution sometime after 1999. Id.,
¶¶ 57-58. In addition to suing SunTrust, Plaintiffs
named Gwynfe as a Defendant and have recently sought an entry
of default against it. See ECF No. 98. On January
17, 2018, the Clerk acceded to that request. See ECF
No. 99. Plaintiffs now move for default judgment.
default has properly been entered by the Clerk, a party may
move the court for a default judgment. See
Fed.R.Civ.P. 55(b)(2). Before entering judgment against an
absent defendant, however, “a court should satisfy
itself that it has personal jurisdiction” over that
defendant. Mwani v. bin Laden, 417 F.3d 1, 6 (D.C.
Cir. 2005). Although plaintiffs retain “the burden of
proving personal jurisdiction, [they] can satisfy that burden
with a prima facie showing.” Edmond v.
U.S. Postal Serv. Gen. Counsel, 949 F.2d 415, 424 (D.C.
Cir. 1991) (citation omitted). Yet, bare allegations and
conclusory statements are insufficient. Second Amendment
Found. v. U.S. Conference of Mayors, 274 F.3d 521, 524
(D.C. Cir. 2001). Further, a plaintiff cannot aggregate
factual allegations concerning multiple defendants in order
to demonstrate personal jurisdiction over any single
defendant. See Rush v. Savchuk, 444 U.S. 320, 332
here would have satisfied the standard for default judgment
against Gwynfe were it not for one critical obstacle -
personal jurisdiction. The Court, concerned that Gwynfe may
not properly be sued here, asked Plaintiffs to establish why
such jurisdiction exists, or, in its absence, why the claim
against Gwynfe should not be dismissed without prejudice.
See Minute Order of March 1, 2018. Shortly
thereafter, Plaintiffs filed a memorandum in response.
See ECF No. 106.
are two types of personal jurisdiction: “general or
all-purpose jurisdiction, and specific or case-linked
jurisdiction.” Goodyear Dunlop Tires Operations,
S.A. v. Brown, 564 U.S. 915, 919 (2011). In this case,
the District of Columbia clearly lacks general
personal jurisdiction over Gwynfe as it is not incorporated
here and does not conduct any business in D.C. See
id. (“A court may assert general jurisdiction over
foreign . . . corporations . . . when their affiliations with
the State are so continuous and systematic as to render them
essentially at home in the forum State.”) (internal
quotation marks and citation omitted). Whether a non-resident
defendant is subject to specific personal
jurisdiction in this Court depends on whether its conduct
satisfies the District of Columbia's long-arm statute,
D.C. Code § 13-423, which in relation to transacting
business here is coextensive with the due-process clause.
See Helmer v. Doletskaya, 393 F.3d 201, 205 (D.C.
establish such jurisdiction, a plaintiff must demonstrate
that: “(1) the defendant transacted business in the
District of Columbia; (2) the claim arose from the business
transacted in the District; (3) the defendant had minimum
contacts with the District; and (4) the Court's exercise
of personal jurisdiction would not offend ‘traditional
notions of fair play and substantial justice.'”
Nat'l Resident Matching Program v. Elec. Residency
LLC, 720 F.Supp.2d 92, 98 (D.D.C. 2010) (citation
omitted). Because Plaintiffs have not alleged that Gwynfe
conducted any business in or had any
contacts with the District of Columbia, they cannot clear the
first three hurdles.
arguments to the contrary, meanwhile, are unconvincing. The
primary focus of their Response is to prove that Gwynfe is
subject to Florida's long-arm statute.
See Response at 4-9 (“The nucleus of the facts
. . . took place in Florida, ” and “[i]t is well
established that a physical presence of the defendant in
Florida is not required for an exercise of a personal
jurisdiction under Florida's long arm statute.”).
Even if that is true, it is beside the point: personal
jurisdiction hinges on whether Defendant is “subject to
the jurisdiction of a court of general jurisdiction in the
state where the district court is located, ”
Fed.R.Civ.P. 4(k)(1)(A) - in this case, the District of
Columbia, not Florida. Plaintiffs additionally argue that
because 28 U.S.C. § 1391 provides that “a
defendant not resident in the United States may be sued in
any judicial district, ” Gwynfe may be sued in this
court. See Response at 2-3. This provision, however,
pertains to venue and not personal jurisdiction.
Plaintiffs allege, for the first time, that Gwynfe violated
several federal anti-racketeering statutes and that these
statutes provide for extra-territorial jurisdiction over
Gwynfe in any federal district court. Id. at 9-10.
Unfortunately for Plaintiffs, they did not raise any of these
claims in their Complaint. Even if they had, this Court might
well still lack personal jurisdiction over Gwynfe given that,
as Plaintiffs have argued, Defendant is likely subject to
jurisdiction in Florida. See Fed.R.Civ.P. 4(k)(2)(A)
(personal jurisdiction over federal claim against foreign
defendant only proper if “defendant is not subject to
jurisdiction in any state's courts of general
Court will not only deny Plaintiffs' Motion for Default
Judgment but will also dismiss the case against Gwynfe
without prejudice. “[W]hen a court is considering
whether to enter a default judgment, it may dismiss an action
sua sponte for lack of personal jurisdiction.”
In re Tuli, 172 F.3d 707, 712 (9th Cir. 1999)
(citing Garberg & Associates Inc. v. Pack-Tech
International Corp., 115 F.3d 767, 771-72 (10th Cir.
1997)). Where, as here, the Court has provided Plaintiffs
“the opportunity to assert facts to establish the
exercise of personal jurisdiction over a nonresident
defendant, ” dismissal is appropriate. Facebook,
Inc. v. Pedersen, 868 F.Supp.2d 953, 957 (N.D. Cal.
2012); see also Sinoying Logistics Pte Ltd. v. Yi Da Xin
Trading Corp., 619 F.3d 207, 213 (2d Cir. 2010)