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Neelu Aviation, LLC v. Boca Aircraft Maintenance, LLC

United States District Court, S.D. Florida

August 2, 2019

NEELU AVIATION, LLC, Plaintiff,
v.
BOCA AIRCRAFT MAINTENANCE, LLC, et al., Defendants.

          OMNIBUS ORDER

          BETH BLOOM UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         THIS CAUSE is before the Court upon Defendant Boca Aircraft Maintenance, LLC's Motion to Dismiss, ECF No. [70], Defendant Skurka Aerospace, Inc.'s Motion to Dismiss for Lack of Personal Jurisdiction relating to the Amended Complaint, ECF No. [82], and Defendant Skurka Aerospace, Inc.'s Motion to Dismiss for Lack of Personal Jurisdiction relating to Defendant Advent Aircraft Systems, Inc.'s Crossclaim, ECF No. [99]. The Court has reviewed the motions, all supporting and opposing submissions, the record and applicable law, and is otherwise fully advised. For the reasons that follow, Defendant Boca Aircraft Maintenance, LLC's Motion to Dismiss, ECF No. [70], is denied in part and granted in part, and Defendant Skurka Aerospace, Inc.'s Motions to Dismiss, ECF Nos. [82] and [99], are granted.

         I. BACKGROUND

         On April 16, 2019, Plaintiff Neelu Aviation (“Plaintiff”) filed an Amended Complaint against Boca Aircraft Maintenance, LLC (“Boca Aircraft”); Skurka Aerospace, Inc. (“Skurka”); Advent Aircraft Systems, Inc. (“Advent”); and One Aviation Corp. (“One Aviation”). ECF No. [63].

         Plaintiff is the owner of an Eclipse 500 Jet (“Jet”). One Aviation is a company that services Eclipse jets. Id. at ¶ 18. Boca Aircraft is one of One Aviation's service maintenance facilities. Id. On or around June 26, 2018, Plaintiff hired Boca Aircraft to perform a multi-point 300-hour annual inspection of Plaintiff's Jet. Id. at ¶ 9. Plaintiff alleges that, upon completion of the inspection, Boca Aircraft cleared the Jet as “flight ready, ” when it was not. Id. at ¶¶ 9, 11. Boca Aircraft also worked on the Jet's anti-lock brake system. Id. at ¶ 10. After the inspection, Plaintiff flew the Jet from Boca Aircraft's facility in Boca Raton, Florida and, due to a generator failure, was required to make an emergency landing in Jacksonville, Florida. Id. at ¶ 11. The Jet was then flown back to Boca Raton Airport for testing and, upon landing, the anti-lock brakes failed causing damage to the Jet. Id. at ¶ 12.

         Plaintiff alleges that it acted in reliance on Defendant One Aviation's representation that Defendant Boca Aircraft's maintenance facility would service and repair the Jet. Id. at ¶ 64. Due to Plaintiff's lack of experience in Jet maintenance it alleges to have deferred and detrimentally relied on the advice of Defendant Boca Aircraft, which ultimately caused damages, by clearing it to fly when the Jet was not flight ready and by damaging the anti-lock brakes during the multipoint 300-hour inspection. Id. at ¶¶ 25-26. The Jet took approximately 75 days to repair, during which time, Plaintiff claims it sustained lost profits. Id. at ¶ 14. The Jet diminished in value due to the damage report history. Id. at ¶ 15.

         The Jet's generators (“Subject Generators”) and brake system were manufactured by Skurka and Advent, respectively. Id. at ¶¶ 56, 66. Although Defendant Skurka warranted that the Subject Generators were reasonably fit for their intended use, they failed while being used for their intended purpose, requiring Plaintiff to make an emergency landing and causing injury to Plaintiff. Id. at ¶¶ 57-58. Although Defendant Advent warranted that the brake system was reasonably fit for its intended use, the product failed while being used for its intended purpose, causing injury to Plaintiff upon landing. Id. at ¶¶ 67-68.

         In its grounds for jurisdiction, Plaintiff states that Defendant Boca Aircraft is a Florida corporation with its principal place of business in Palm Beach County, Florida; Defendant One Aviation is a New Mexico corporation that does business in Palm Beach County; Defendant Skurka is a Delaware corporation that does business in Palm Beach County; and Defendant Advent is a Delaware corporation that does business m Palm Beach County. Id. at ¶¶ 3-6.

         Plaintiff asserts claims for Breach of Fiduciary Duty (Count I), violation of Florida's Deceptive and Unfair Trade Practices Act (FDUTPA) (Count II), Negligent Misrepresentation (Count III), Negligence (Count IV), and Conversion (Count V) against Defendant Boca Aircraft. Id. at ¶¶ 20-54. Plaintiff asserts a claim for Breach of Implied Warranty of Merchantability (Count VI) against Defendant Skurka, Id. at ¶¶ 55-59, a claim for Fraud in the Inducement (Count VII) against Defendant One Aviation, Id. at ¶¶ 60-64, and a claim for Breach of Implied Warranty of Merchantability against Defendant Advent (Count VIII), Id. at ¶¶ 65-69.

         Defendants Boca Aircraft and Skurka filed motions to dismiss the claims against them for independent bases. Defendant Boca Aircraft moves to dismiss Counts I-V for failure to state a claim. ECF No. [70]. Defendant Skurka moves to dismiss the action against it entirely for lack of personal jurisdiction. ECF No. [82].

         On June 20, 2019, Defendant Advent filed an Answer to the Amended Complaint and two Crossclaims. ECF No. [89]. Defendant Advent asserts a First Crossclaim for Negligence against Defendant Boca Aircraft. Id. at ¶¶ 97-104. Defendant Advent asserts its Second Crossclaim for Strict Liability against Defendant Skurka. Id. at ¶¶ 105-1114. Defendant Boca Aircraft has filed an Answer to Advent's Crossclaim. ECF No. [98]. Defendant Skurka has filed a Motion to Dismiss Advent's Crossclaim for Lack of Personal Jurisdiction, ECF No. [99], and a Motion to Dismiss for Failure to State a Claim. ECF No. [101].

         This Order addresses Defendant Boca Aircraft's Motion to Dismiss the Amended Complaint and Defendant Skurka's Motion to Dismiss the Amended Complaint for Lack of Personal Jurisdiction, each in turn.

         II. LEGAL STANDARD

         A pleading must contain “a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). Although a complaint “does not need detailed factual allegations, ” it must provide “more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do.” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555, (2007); see Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (explaining that Rule 8(a)(2)'s pleading standard “demands more than an unadorned, the-defendant-unlawfully-harmed-me accusation”). Additionally, a complaint may not rest on “‘naked assertion[s]' devoid of ‘further factual enhancement.'” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 557). “Factual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555. These pleading elements are required for a party to survive a 12(b)(6) motion, which requests dismissal for “failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.” Fed. R. Civ. Pro. 12(b)(6).

         When reviewing a motion under Rule 12(b)(6), a court, as a general rule, must accept the plaintiff's allegations as true and evaluate all plausible inferences derived from those facts in favor of the plaintiff. See Miccosukee Tribe of Indians of Fla. v. S. Everglades Restoration Alliance, 304 F.3d 1076, 1084 (11th Cir. 2002); AXA Equitable Life Ins. Co. v. Infinity Fin. Grp., LLC, 608 F.Supp.2d 1349, 1353 (S.D. Fla. 2009). However, this rule does not apply to legal conclusions; courts “are not bound to accept as true a legal conclusion couched as a factual allegation.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555; see Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678; Thaeter v. Palm Beach Cnty. Sheriff's Office, 449 F.3d 1342, 1352 (11th Cir. 2006). Moreover, “courts may infer from the factual allegations in the complaint ‘obvious alternative explanations,' which suggest lawful conduct rather than the unlawful conduct the plaintiff would ask the court to infer.” Am. Dental Ass'n v. Cigna Corp., 605 F.3d 1283, 1290 (11th Cir. 2010) (quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 682).

         “In a motion to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction, a court must accept the facts alleged in plaintiff's complaint as true, to the extent that they are not contradicted by defendant's affidavits.” Kim v. Keenan, 71 F.Supp.2d 1228, 1231 (M.D. Fla. 1999) (citing Cable/Home Commc'n Corp. v. Network Productions, Inc., 902 F.2d 829, 855 (11th Cir. 1990)). “Once the plaintiff pleads sufficient material facts to form a basis for in personam jurisdiction, the burden shifts to the defendant to challenge plaintiff's allegations by affidavits or other pleadings.” Carmouche v. Carnival Corp., 36 F.Supp.3d 1335, 1338 (S.D. Fla. 2014), aff'd, sub nom, Carmouche v. Tamborlee Mgmt., Inc., 789 F.3d 1201 (11th Cir. June 15, 2015). “If the defendant provides sufficient evidence, ‘the burden shifts to the plaintiff to prove jurisdiction by affidavits, testimony or documents.'” MPS Entm't, LLC v. Headrush Apparel, Inc., 2013 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 141307, 2013 WL 5446543, at *2 (S.D. Fla. Sept. 30, 2013) (quoting Thomas v. Brown, 504 Fed. App'x 845, 847 (11th Cir. 2013)).

         III. DISCUSSION

         a. Defendant Boca Aircraft's Motion

         In its Motion, Defendant Boca Aircraft argues that Counts I-V of the Amended Complaint must be dismissed due to Plaintiff's failure to allege the necessary elements of each offense. ECF No. [70]. Plaintiff responds that the allegations are sufficient and Defendant has waived its right to seek dismissal of Counts I, III, and IV (which were also asserted in the original complaint) by failing to do so in its answer to the original complaint. ECF No. [72]. Plaintiff relies upon Rule 12(b), which states “[a] motion asserting any of [the Rule 12(b)] defenses must be made before pleading if a responsive pleading is allowed.” Fed. R. Civ. Pro. 12(b).

         The Court first dispenses with the Plaintiff's waiver argument. The filing of an amended complaint “supersedes any former pleadings” by a plaintiff and becomes the operative pleading. Dresdner Bank AG v. M/V Olympia Voyager, 463 F.3d 1210, 1215 (11th Cir. 2006); see Hoefling v. City of Miami, 811 F.3d 1271, 1277 (11th Cir. 2016); Varnes v. Glass Bottle Blowers Asso., 674 F.2d 1365, 1370 n.6 (11th Cir. 1982); Pintando v. Miami-Dade Hous. Agency, 501 F.3d 1241, 1243 (11th Cir. 2007). As such, when Plaintiff filed the Amended Complaint, the first original complaint became a “legal nullity.” Hoefling, 811 F.3d at 1277.

         In its decision to answer or file a Rule 12 responsive motion to the Amended Complaint, Defendant Boca Aircraft chose to file a motion to dismiss. Defendant's Motion to Dismiss is therefore procedurally proper and the Court considers the merits of its arguments. Alternatively, Plaintiff argues that Defendant's Motion to Dismiss should be denied as Defendant offers no basis for its conclusory assertions that Counts I-V fail. ECF No. [72]. The Court will address each count in turn.

         i. Count I - Breach of Fiduciary Duty

         The elements of a claim for breach of fiduciary duty include: (1) the existence of a fiduciary duty, and (2) the breach of that duty such that it is the proximate cause of Plaintiff's damages. See Gracey v. Eaker, 837 So.2d 348, 353 (Fla. 2002). Plaintiff is not required to prove the existence of a fiduciary relationship but must allege that one exists with sufficient plausibility. Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555. The Court must accept the plaintiff's allegations as true and evaluate all plausible inferences in favor of the plaintiff.

         In its Motion to Dismiss, Defendant Boca Aircraft first argues that Count I for Breach of Fiduciary Duty should be dismissed because Plaintiff has failed to allege the first element, the existence of a fiduciary duty. ECF No. [70], at 2. Plaintiff responds that its business relationship with Defendant Boca, whereby Plaintiff would adhere to the guidance of Defendant Boca Aircraft as an expert in the field, rose to the level of a fiduciary duty. ECF No. [72], at 7.

         Plaintiff and Defendant both rely on Gracey v. Eaker, 837 So.2d 348 (Fla. 2002) in support of their respective positions. In Gracey, a husband and wife sued their psychotherapist for breach of fiduciary duty, after the psychotherapist divulged to each of them what the other had said in confidence. Gracey, 837 So.2d at 350. As Defendant Boca Aircraft correctly points out, the plaintiffs in Gracey brought their claim for breach of fiduciary duty under a statutorily established fiduciary relationship. Id. at 351. Here, no such statutorily established relationship exists. Defendant Boca Aircraft further contends that the Amended Complaint lacks the facts necessary to show an express or ...


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