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Bohnenberger v. MCBC Hydra Boats, LLC

United States District Court, D. Massachusetts

August 18, 2017

KRIS J. BOHNENBERGER, and GEICO MARINE INSURANCE COMPANY f/k/a SEAWORTHY INSURANCE COMPANY as subrogee of ANDREW KLANE Plaintiffs,
v.
MCBC HYDRA BOATS, LLC, and PLANTATION BOAT MART AND MARINA, INC., Defendants.

          REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION ON DEFENDANT PLANTATION BOAT MART AND MARINA, INC.'S MOTION TO DISMISS FOR LACK OF PERSONAL JURISDICTION

          Judith Gail Dein, United States Magistrate Judge.

         I. INTRODUCTION

         Plaintiff Kris J. Bohnenberger (“Bohnenberger”) is a resident of Massachusetts and, along with plaintiff Geico Marine Insurance Company f/k/a Seaworthy Insurance Company as subrogee of Andrew Klane (“Geico”), has brought this action against Plantation Boat Mart and Marina, Inc. (“Plantation”).[1] This action arises out of the sale of a recreational motorboat (the “vessel”) by Plantation to friends of Bohnenberger, Richard and Terry Smith (“the Smiths”), for Bohnenberger's use. The plaintiffs allege that due to the vessel's faulty wiring, the vessel caught fire at Bohnenberger's dock in Massachusetts. The fire destroyed the vessel and a second boat tied to the same dock, the “Grady White” owned by Andrew Klane, and also caused severe damage to the dock itself. By their Second Amended Complaint (“SAC”), [2] the plaintiffs have brought suit pursuant to this court's admiralty jurisdiction, 28 U.S.C. § 1333, and asserted claims against the defendant for negligence (Count I), strict liability (Count II), and breach of warranty (Count III). (Docket No. 29 at Ex. 6).[3]

         This matter is before the court on “Defendant, Plantation Boat Mart and Marina Inc.'s Motion to Dismiss for Lack of Personal Jurisdiction” (Docket No. 25). By its motion, Plantation contends that all of the plaintiffs' claims must be dismissed pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(2) because Plantation lacks sufficient contacts with Massachusetts to support this court's exercise of personal jurisdiction over it. As described below, this court finds that Plantation is subject to this court's jurisdiction. Accordingly, and for all the reasons detailed herein, this court recommends to the District Judge to whom this case is assigned that Plantation's motion to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction be DENIED.

         II. STATEMENT OF FACTS

         Standard of Review of Record

         “On a motion to dismiss for want of personal jurisdiction, the plaintiff ultimately bears the burden of persuading the court that jurisdiction exists.” Astro-Med, Inc. v. Nihon Kohden Am., Inc., 591 F.3d 1, 8 (1st Cir. 2009), and cases cited. “When a district court rules on a motion to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction without holding an evidentiary hearing, as in this case, the ‘prima facie' standard governs its determination.” United States v. Swiss Am. Bank, Ltd., 274 F.3d 610, 618 (1st Cir. 2001). Under this standard, plaintiffs must “demonstrate the existence of every fact required to satisfy both the forum's long-arm statute and the Due Process Clause of the Constitution.” Id. (quotations and citation omitted). Thus, to meet their burden in this case, plaintiffs must “proffer evidence which, taken at face value, suffices to show all facts essential to personal jurisdiction.” Baskin-Robbins Franchising LLC v. Alpenrose Dairy, Inc., 825 F.3d 28, 34 (1st Cir. 2016). The court will “take the facts from the pleadings and whatever supplemental filings (such as affidavits) are contained in the record, giving credence to the plaintiff's version of genuinely contested facts.” Id. It will “then add to the mix facts put forward by the defendants, to the extent that they are uncontradicted.” N. Laminate Sales, Inc. v. Davis, 403 F.3d 14, 24 (1st Cir. 2005) (quoting Daynard v. Ness, Motley, Loadholt, Richardson & Poole, P.A., 290 F.3d 42, 51 (1st Cir. 2002)) (additional quotations and citation omitted).

         Applying this standard to the instant case, the relevant facts are as follows.[4]

         The Parties

         Kris Bohnenberger is a resident of Mashpee, Massachusetts (Bohnenberger Aff. ¶8) and is friends with Richard and Terry Smith, a married couple who reside in Falmouth, Massachusetts. (Smith Aff. ¶ 1; Bohnenberger Aff. ¶ 19).[5] Plaintiff Geico is a Virginia corporation with a principal place of business in Alexandria, Virginia. (SAC ¶ 2). Plantation Boat Mart & Marina, Inc., a boat dealership, is a Florida corporation with a principal place of business in Tavernier, Florida. (de la Torre Aff. ¶¶ 6, 8). There is no dispute that Plantation is not registered to do business in Massachusetts (Id. ¶ 11); has no registered agent for services of process in Massachusetts (Id. ¶ 13); maintains no office or bank account in Massachusetts (Id. ¶¶ 10, 22); has never had a mailing address or telephone listing in Massachusetts (Id. ¶ 16); does not own or lease, have interest in or use or possess any real or personal property in Massachusetts (Id. ¶ 17); has conducted no corporate meetings in Massachusetts (Id. ¶ 15); and has had no officer or director who was a resident of Massachusetts while holding that position. (Id. ¶ 14).

         Contract Negotiations

         In February 2013, Bohnenberger attended the Miami Boat Show. (Bohnenberger Aff. ¶ 3). There he spoke with and provided his email address to an individual who identified himself as the President of Hydrasports Custom Boats, LLC. (Id. ¶ 4). On March 9, 2013, Bohnenberger received an email at home in Massachusetts from a Plantation salesperson named Scott Warnike (“Warnike”). (Id. ¶ 8). Warnike wrote that he had heard from the President of Hydrasports that Bohnenberger “ha[d] some interest in the New 3400 CC [boat].” (Id. ¶ 9). Warnike's email was the first communication between Plantation and Bohnenberger. (Id. ¶ 8). Over the course of March and April 2013, Warnike and Bohnenberger negotiated the terms of an agreement for the sale of a 2013 Hydrasports 3400 cc boat (the “vessel”) by email and phone. (Id. ¶ 10; Bohnenberger Aff. Ex. A). At least 14 emails were exchanged and one phone call was made. (Id. Ex. A). During the negotiations, Warnike offered to have Plantation fly Bohnenberger to Florida to “sea trial” the vessel. (Bohnenberger Aff. ¶ 11). Warnike agreed to take Bohnenberger's current boat as a “trade in” to offset the price of the vessel (Id. ¶ 12) and offered to arrange for the transport of Bohnenberger's trade-in boat from Massachusetts to Florida, and the transport of the vessel from Florida to Massachusetts. (Id. ¶¶ 13-14). Bohnenberger and Warnike ultimately agreed that Bohnenberger would arrange for the transport of the boats and Plantation would reduce the purchase price accordingly. (Id. ¶ 14). Bohnenberger and Warnike also agreed that the vessel would be outfitted with a larger “live well” and an autopilot system. (Id. ¶ 23; Bohnenberger Aff. Ex. A). The installation of the larger live well required installation of either a larger or an additional seawater pump. (Bohnenberger Aff. ¶ 24).

         Bohnenberger paid a $25, 000 deposit for the vessel, and Warnike referred Bohnen-berger to a finance company in order to obtain financing for the rest of the purchase. (Id. ¶¶ 15-16). When Bohnenberger was denied financing, Warnike suggested that Bohnenberger have a friend apply for the financing and purchase of the vessel. (Id. ¶ 18). Bohnenberger asked the Smiths to obtain financing for the vessel, and the Smiths ultimately agreed. (Smith Aff. ¶¶ 2, 5). Bohnenberger gave Warnike the Smiths' contact information. (Bohnenberger Aff. ¶ 20). At some point before the sale of the vessel, Warnike and Richard Smith spoke over the phone. (Smith Aff. ¶ 3). During this call, Warnike represented that the vessel was “a very good boat” and that “any and all warranty work would take place in Massachusetts.” (Id.). The Smiths' financing was approved (Id. ¶ 6). Warnike emailed Bohnenberger a sales contract to be executed by Richard Smith. (Bohnenberger Aff. ¶ 21). The plaintiffs have alleged that on April 29, 2013, Richard Smith executed the buyer's agreement for the vessel at his home in Falmouth, Massachusetts “and forwarded it back to Plantation.” (SAC ¶ 34). The vessel, installed with the larger live well, was to be fully operational and ready for pick up in Florida on the agreed-upon date of May 15, 2013. (Bohnenberger Aff. ¶ 25).

         When Bohnenberger and Richard Smith arrived at Plantation on or about 6:30 a.m. on May 15, 2013, the vessel was not ready for pick up. (Smith Aff. ¶ 8). The live well installation was not complete, the autopilot was not operational, and Plantation employees were working on the vessel. (Id. ¶¶ 8-9). While Bohnenberger and Richard Smith waited, Warnike told Richard Smith again that the vessel was “a great boat” and that Plantation “was going to service the boat . . . in Massachusetts.” (Id. ¶ 11). At 8:45 p.m., the vessel was ready to be transported back to Massachusetts, but the live well installation was still not complete and the autopilot system was not operational. (Id. ¶ 13). Warnike promised to send a Plantation technician to Massachusetts to complete the work. (Id. ¶14).

         Repairs to the Vessel

         Three days later, a Plantation employee named Kyle Rosenblatt (“Rosenblatt”) arrived in Mashpee, Massachusetts to make repairs to the boat. (Bohnenberger Aff. ¶ 31). Rosenblatt told Bohnenberger that he was the Plantation technician who would “fly around the country making repairs to Hydrasport boats sold by Plantation” and that “while he was in Massachusetts” he had “stopped at another harbor” to make repairs to another Hydrasport. (Bohnenberger Aff. ¶ 37). Rosenblatt worked on the vessel for two days (Id. ¶ 32) during which time he worked “with wiring components” and had “every panel open, inside and outside of the center console [of the vessel], exposing electrical wiring.” (Id. ¶ 33). When Rosenblatt could not make the autopilot functional, Plantation arranged for Marine Electronic Installers (“MEI”), a subcontractor of Plantation[6], to service the vessel in Mashpee, Massachusetts, in order to try to make the autopilot work properly. (Id. ¶¶ 38-40). When the representative from MEI was unable to fix the autopilot, Plantation arranged for Bosun's Marine, in Mashpee, Massachusetts, to fix the autopilot. (Id. ¶ 41-43). Bosun's Marine was eventually successful in making the autopilot functional. (Id. ¶ 44).

         Later, Plantation continued to maintain contact with Bohnenberger and the vessel in Massachusetts. In March 2014, an issue arose with the boat's spreader lights, and in response, Plantation shipped replacements to Bohnenberger's Massachusetts home. (Id. ¶¶ 46-48). In April 2014, Bohnenberger informed Plantation about mold and/or discoloration on the vessel's seat cushions, and Plantation coordinated the replacement of the cushions by three local Massachusetts companies - Bosun's Marine in Mashpee, Massachusetts; Shamrock Boat Works of Waquoit, Massachusetts; and Ocean Designs, Inc. of East Falmouth, Massachusetts. (Id. ¶¶ 49-51).

         The Fire [[7]]

         On October 11, 2015, the vessel was tied to Bohnenberger's dock in Massachusetts and was connected to electrical shore power. (See SAC ¶¶ 40-41). At approximately 11:35 a.m., a wiring component on the vessel allegedly malfunctioned, causing an electrical short, which in turn ignited a fire. (Id. ¶¶ 42-43). The plaintiffs allege that the electrical short occurred between two wires that were not properly installed. (Id. ¶ 42). The fire destroyed the vessel and personal property on it, and spread to Bohnenberger's dock and the Grady White which was also tied to the dock. (Id. ¶¶ 44-46). The Grady White, which was owned by Andrew Klane and insured by Geico, was destroyed by the fire. (Id. ΒΆ 47; 50). The dock and its electrical system sustained severe fire-related damage. ...


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