Case of the Day: Bluebell Business v. Jones

The case of the day is Bluebell Business Ltd. v. Jones (D. Md. 2018). Bluebell had a written agreement to lease a Gulfstream model G-IV aircraft to IBX Jets, LLC. According to Bluebell, Michael Jones was a principal of IBX and guarantor of IBX’s obligations under the contract. Bluebell alleged that Jones failed to pay costs incurred during a four-day stay at Dulles International Airport in Washington, and accordingly, it repossessed the airplane under agreement. Bluebell, an Isle of Man company, then sued Jones in the High Court, seeking damages of £333,000, or $480,000. It obtained a default judgment and then sued in Maryland for recognition and enforcement. Jones moved to dismiss.

Under Maryland’s enactment of the UFMJRA, a foreign judgment is not conclusive if the foreign court lacked personal jurisdiction or if the judgment was obtained by fraud. Fraud means extrinsic fraud, e.g., fraud that prevents the defendant from being informed of the suit. A Maryland court can also refuse recognition, on a discretionary basis, if the defendant did not receive notice in sufficient time to defend.

There was no question but that the English court would have had personal jurisdiction if service of process were adequate. The agreement included a consent to the non-exclusive jurisdiction of the English courts.

Blueball’s case was that it had served process on Jones’s brother at a home in Maryland and that the brother had stated to the process server that Jones lived in the house too. Jones apparently denied that he lived in the house and denied his brother made the comments, but the court could not resolve such a dispute about facts on a motion to dismiss.

In reviewing the legal sufficiency of the service, the judge began with English law because English law governed the contract. This was the right thing for the wrong reason: English law was the relevant law because the action was pending in an English court, not because English law governed the contract. English law allows service “by any other method permitted by the law of the country in which it is to be served.” FRCP 4(e)(2)(B), in turn, allows service by “leaving a copy of each at the individual’s dwelling or usual place of abode with someone of suitable age and discretion who resides there.” And the United States, of course, hasn’t made any objections to alternate methods of service under Article 10 of the Hague Service Convention. So the service was adequate if the facts as given by the process server were true. The court therefore denied the motion.

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