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LLC v. Kitchens

United States District Court, E.D. Michigan, Southern Division

June 25, 2018

N314MG, LLC, Plaintiff,



         This case concerns a mechanic's lien that had been placed against the title to an aircraft in Florida. Plaintiff N314MG, LLC is a Michigan limited liability company and the registered owner of a 1978 Cessna 340A airplane (the “Plane”) (Dkt. 1 ¶ 1, Compl.). According to the Federal Aviation Administration, Plaintiff resides in Au Gres, Michigan, Arenac County.[1]

         Defendants Benjamin and Lisa Kitchens are husband and wife. Benjamin Kitchens is an aircraft mechanic from Florida, conducting business as “CPR Aviation Window Repairs” (Dkt. 1, Ex. 1, Florida Fictitious Name Registration, Pg IDs 9-11). It is not entirely clear why Defendant Lisa Kitchens has been named as a Defendant in this lawsuit. Defendant Benjamin Kitchens claims that he performed $41, 245.94 in repair work in Florida on the Plane when it was owned by a previous owner - Tilgent Marine, LLC, a Florida limited liability company.[2] Defendant Benjamin Kitchens claims that he was never paid for this work, so he filed a lien on the title of the Plane in Florida (Dkt. 1, Ex. 2, Lien, Pg ID 13-15).

         On September 28, 2017, Plaintiff sued Defendants in this Court to discharge the lien from the Plane, and for money damages for slander of title (Dkt. 1). Before that happened, however, Defendant Benjamin Kitchens sued Plaintiff in the Pinellas County Circuit Court in Florida (No. 17-005666-CI). The Florida lawsuit was filed on September 15, 2018, and sought to foreclose (i.e., enforce) the lien on the Plane. The named defendants in the Florida state lawsuit included Plaintiff, Tilgent Marine, LLC, and the Plane.[3] That litigation is ongoing (Dkt. 20).

         Adding to the procedural complexity of this case, Defendants filed for Chapter 7 Bankruptcy in the Middle District of Florida on December 8, 2017. Plaintiff in this case sought leave from the Bankruptcy Court in Florida to lift the automatic stay. On February 13, 2018, the Bankruptcy Court granted Plaintiff's motion, but only permitted Plaintiff to attempt to clear the lien from the Plane, and barred Plaintiff's claim for money damages against Defendants (Dkt. 9, Pg IDs 50-51). Thus, this litigation was back on track, but Defendants never filed a responsive pleading to the Complaint.[4] Accordingly, Plaintiff filed requests for clerk's entry of default against Defendants on February 21, 2018 (eight days after the Bankruptcy Court lifted the stay) (Dkt. 11), which the clerk promptly granted (Dkts. 12, 13).

         Before the Court are Plaintiff's motion for entry of a default judgment against Defendants (Dkt. 14) and Defendants' motion to vacate the clerk's entry of default and motion to dismiss this case for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, lack of personal jurisdiction, and Colorado River abstention (Dkt. 17). The Court has concluded that oral argument would not be beneficial to the resolution of either of the pending motions. Accordingly, both motions will be decided solely on the basis of the parties' written submissions. See E.D. Mich. LR 7.1(f).

         For the reasons set forth below, Defendants' motion to dismiss (Dkt. 17) will be GRANTED, and Plaintiff's motion for default judgment will be DENIED AS MOOT. Consequently, this case will be DISMISSED WITHOUT PREJUDICE.


         As noted above, Defendants raise three challenges to this Court's ability to preside over this case - (1) lack of subject matter jurisdiction; (2) lack of personal jurisdiction; and (3) that Colorado River abstention bars Plaintiff's claims. The Court finds Defendant's second and third arguments are well-taken, and will dismiss the case on those grounds. As such, the Court does not consider the merits of Defendants' subject matter jurisdiction argument.

         A. Personal Jurisdiction

         Personal jurisdiction over a defendant is a threshold issue that must be present to support any subsequent order of the district court, including entry of a default judgment. See Kroger Co. v. Malease Foods Corp., 437 F.3d 506, 510 (6th Cir. 2006). Subject matter jurisdiction in this case is based upon diversity. To determine whether personal jurisdiction exists over an out-of-state defendant, the court must find: (1) whether the forum state's long-arm statute authorizes jurisdiction; and (2) if so, whether exercising that jurisdiction comports with constitutional due process. See Air Products & Controls, Inc. v. Safetech Int'l, Inc., 503 F.3d 544, 550 (6th Cir. 2007).

         The relevant question under the Due Process Clause is whether the nonresident defendant possessed such “minimum contacts” with the forum state that exercising jurisdiction would comport with “traditional notions of fair play and substantial justice.” SFS Check, LLC v. First Bank of Delaware, 774 F.3d 351, 356 (6th Cir. 2014) (internal quotations omitted). The Sixth Circuit has its own three-pronged test for assessing the existence of “minimum contacts”:

First, the defendant must purposefully avail himself of the privilege of acting in the forum state or causing a consequence in the forum state. Second, the cause of action must arise from the defendant's activities there. Finally, the acts of the defendant or consequences caused by the defendant must have a substantial enough connection with the forum state to make the exercise of jurisdiction over the defendant reasonable. Id.

         “To survive a motion to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(2), a plaintiff must prove that jurisdiction is proper over each defendant individually.” Id. In deciding such a motion, a court may decide 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.” Serras v. First Tenn., Bank Nat'l Ass'n, 875 F.2d 1212, 1214 (6th Cir. 1989) (internal quotation marks omitted). Here, no party has requested further discovery or an evidentiary hearing, and ...

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