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Maxum Enterprises LLC v. Automotive Fleet Enterprises Inc.

United States District Court, N.D. Texas, Dallas Division

April 4, 2019

MAXUM ENTERPRISES LLC d/b/a PILOT THOMAS LOGISTICS, a Delaware Limited Liability Company, Plaintiff,
v.
AUTOMOTIVE FLEET ENTERPRISES, INC.; ASSOCIATED FLEET CORP; LOUIS W. SPIRO; JOSEPH R. WIHBEY; and WESTERN SURETY COMPANY, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          JANE J. BOYLE, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Before the Court is Defendant Western Surety Company's (Western) Rule 12(b)(6) Motion to Dismiss. Doc. 67. For the reasons stated, the Court GRANTS Western's Motion to Dismiss.

         I.

         BACKGROUND [1]

         The dispute arises from Plaintiff Maxum Enterprises, LLC's (doing business as Pilot Thomas Logistics (PTL))claim that Defendants Automotive Fleet Enterprises, Inc. (AFE), Associated Fleet Corp (AFC), Louis W. Spiro, and Joseph R. Wihbey (hereinafter the “non-surety Defendants”) took possession of PTL's trucks without paying for them. In 2016, PTL discovered that the non-surety Defendants misappropriated 39 trucks valued at roughly $4.34 million. Doc. 46, Am. Compl., ¶¶ 34-35, 128. PTL discovered the theft and subsequently entered into an agreement with Spiro's company, AFE, whereby AFE would pay PTL approximately $2.03 million for the trucks. Id. ¶ 107. AFE failed to make any payments. Id. ¶¶ 115-16.

         Instead, the non-surety Defendants allegedly sold the trucks to third parties using fraudulent “bonded titles” by virtue of surety bonds obtained from Defendants Merchants Bonding Company and Western Surety Company through a title laundering scheme. Id. ¶¶ 36-43. In essence, according to Plaintiffs, Wihbey and Spiro falsely claimed to the Florida Department of Motor Vehicles that the titles had been lost. Id. ¶¶ 38, 40. They then fraudulently obtained duplicate titles claiming that the trucks were worth only $1, 000 to $2, 000 each based on fraudulent bills of sale reflecting that AFE sold each of the 39 trucks to Wihbey's company, AFC. E.g., Id. ¶¶ 37, 48; id. at 25-27 (chart summarizing bill of sale and bond amounts for 31 of the trucks). The trucks however were generally appraised at between $50, 000 to $130, 000 each. Id. at 25-27; see also, e.g., Id. ¶ 127.

         PTL alleges that Western and its agents furthered the scheme by failing to consult a current national appraisal guide (e.g., Kelly Blue Book or National Automobile Dealers Association (NADA)) to determine the fair market value of the vehicles and the amount of the required bond, as required on the face of each bond and as its agents represented they had done. Id. ¶ 37, 120. Instead, Western doubled the $1, 000 to $2, 000 valuation provided by the non-surety Defendants and issued surety bonds in that amount despite the fact that Florida law required that surety bonds be set at twice the fair market value. Id. ¶¶ 119-122.

         PTL originally brought suit on March 22, 2018, against just Spiro and his company AFE. Doc. 1, Compl. Then, after PTL took depositions, received written discovery, and conducted its own independent investigation, PTL uncovered the allegedly fraudulent title scheme involving Western and Merchants Bonding. See Doc. 44, Pl.'s Mot. for Leave to Am. Compl., 1. Thus, on October 12, 2018, PTL filed its First Amended Complaint adding the two surety companies and bringing claims against them for negligence and unfair trade practices in violation of the Florida Deceptive and Unfair Trade Practices Act (FDUTPA). Doc. 46, Am. Compl., ¶¶ 156-69.

         PTL has since settled its claims with Merchants Bonding, and thus, Merchants Bonding is no longer a party to this case. Doc. 122, Joint Stipulation of Dismissal. However, Western remains in this case and of the 39 trucks at issue in this case, Western issued surety bonds for 9 of them for a penal sum of $30, 000. Doc. 69, Def.'s Mot. to Dismiss, 3. In its Rule 12(b)(6) Motion to Dismiss, Western seeks dismissal of PTL's FDUTPA claim arguing that the FDUTPA does not apply to sureties and dismissal of PTL's negligence claim arguing that Western had no duty to determine the value of the vehicles. Doc. 69, Def.'s Mot. to Dismiss, 4-5. PTL filed its Response arguing that Western's Motion should be denied or alternatively that PTL should be allowed to amend and seek indemnity from Western.[2] Doc. 80, Pl.'s Resp., 1. Western filed its Reply. Doc. 90, Def.'s Reply. Western's Motion is therefore ripe for the Court's review.

         II.

         LEGAL STANDARD

         Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure Rule 8(a)(2), a complaint 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). Rule 12(b)(6) authorizes the Court to dismiss a complaint for “failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.” Id. 12(b)(6). To survive a 12(b)(6) motion, “enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face” must be pled. Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007). “Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009).

         “A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Id. At this stage, a court “must accept all well-pleaded facts alleged in the complaint as true and must construe the allegations in the light that is most favorable to the plaintiff.” J&J Sports Prods., Inc. v. Live Oak Cnty. Post No. 6119 Veterans of Foreign Wars, 2009 WL 483157, at *3 (S.D. Tex. Feb. 24, 2009) (quoting Cent. Laborers' Pension Fund v. Integrated Elec. Servs., 497 F.3d 546, 550 (5th Cir. 2007)).

         The Fifth Circuit has held that dismissal is appropriate “if the complaint lacks an allegation regarding a required element necessary to obtain relief.” Blackburn v. City of Marshall, 42 F.3d 925, 931 (5th Cir. 1995) (internal citation omitted). Essentially, “the complaint must contain either direct allegations on every material point necessary to sustain a recovery . . . or contain allegations from which an inference fairly may be drawn that ...


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