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IBX Jets, LLC v. Sullivan

United States District Court, D. Massachusetts

March 7, 2018

IBX JETS, LLC, CHRISTOPHER JONES, MICHAEL JONES, BRANDON COLEMAN, and IBX AIR CORPORATION, Plaintiffs,
v.
JUSTIN SULLIVAN, and UB AIR, LLC, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM & ORDER

          Indira Talwani United States District Judge.

         Plaintiffs IBX Jets, LLC (“IBX Jets”), Christopher Jones, Michael Jones, Brandon Coleman, and IBX Air Corporation (“IBX Air”) initiated an action in the Western District of Michigan against Defendants UB Air, LLC (“UB Air”), Justin Sullivan, Paradigm Jet Management Inc. (“Paradigm”), and Jetaway Air Service LLC (“Jetaway”). See IBX Jets, LLC, et al. v. Paradigm Jet Mgmt. Inc., et al., No. 16-cv-229 (W.D. Mich. Oct. 24, 2017). Finding that it probably lacked personal jurisdiction over Defendants Sullivan and UB Air, and that venue for the claims against these defendants for defamation and tortious interference with advantageous relations was improper in the Western District of Michigan, the court transferred the defamation claim (Count V) and the tortious interference claim (Count VI) to the District of Massachusetts under 28 U.S.C. § 1406(a). Now before the court is Defendants UB Air and Sullivan's Motion for Summary Judgment [#122]. For the following reasons, Defendants' motion is ALLOWED.

         I. Standard

         Upon review of a motion for summary judgment, a court must view the record in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. See Griggs-Ryan v. Smith, 904 F.2d 112, 115 (1st Cir. 1990). Summary judgment is only appropriate “if the record, so viewed, discloses that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Santiago v. Puerto Rico, 655 F.3d 61, 68 (1st Cir. 2011) (citing Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(2)). “A dispute is genuine if the evidence about the fact is such that a reasonable jury could resolve the point in the favor of the non-moving party. A fact is material if it has the potential of determining the outcome of the litigation.” Patco Constr. Co. v. People's United Bank, 684 F.3d 197, 206-07 (1st Cir. 2012) (internal quotations and citations omitted).

         II. Background

         The following facts are either undisputed in the summary judgment record, not properly disputed for summary judgment purposes, see Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 56(c) and (e)(2), or are viewed in the light most favorable to Plaintiffs.[1] UB Air is an aircraft charter broker. Def.'s Rule 56.1 Statement of Undisputed Material Facts [hereinafter “Defs.' SOF”] ¶ 5 [#123]. UB Air does not own or operate any aircraft, but instead connects customers who wish to purchase charter flights with companies providing air transportation. Id.; Defs.' Mot. Summ. J. Ex. 2 [“Justin Sullivan Aff't”] ¶ 2 [#122-2]. One such client contracted with UB Air in August 2015 to arrange for a roundtrip charter flight between White Plains, New York, and Ushuaia, Argentina. Defs.' SOF ¶ 12. As arranged, the New York to Argentina leg was to take place December 20, 2015. Id. The return flight was scheduled for January 1, 2016. Id.

         UB Air contacted IBX Jets, an air transportation provider. IBX Jets quoted a price of $186, 410.83 for a roundtrip flight aboard a Gulfstream G-V aircraft operated by Paradigm and owned by Jetaway. Pls.' Rule 56.1 Responses to Def.'s Statement Undisputed Facts [hereinafter “Pls.' SOF Responses”] ¶ 13 [#126]. A UB Air manager signed a charter flight confirmation agreement with IBX Jets on August 10, 2015, confirming that IBX Jets would provide the agreed upon air charter services for UB Air's client. Pls.' SOF Responses Ex. 2 [“Contract”] [#126-2].[2]

         UB Air wired $27, 961.50 as an installment payment on September 1. Defs.' SOF ¶¶ 15-16. UB Air wired the remaining balance of $158, 449.33 on December 9. Id.[3] The first leg of the trip took place as planned on December 20. Id. ¶ 21. On December 31, Rebecca Camacho, a representative for IBX Jets, emailed Paradigm stating that the return leg of the client's trip “has been cancelled . . . .” Defs.' SOF ¶ 22. That flight never occurred. Pls.' SOF Responses ¶ 23.

         The aircraft at issue was grounded on January 15, 2016. Defs.' SOF ¶ 29. As of January 18, Christopher and Michael Jones instructed IBX Jets's sales director, Brandon Coleman, not to quote any more trips. Defs.' SOF ¶ 30. According to Coleman, he “was directed not to quote anymore trips because they wouldn't have taken off anyway.” Defs.' Mot. Summ. J. Ex. 9 [“Brandon Coleman Dep.”] 12:22-23 [#122-9]. Describing the situation IBX Jets faced as of mid-January, Coleman testified that, “after - around the 18th or middle of the month, that timeframe, it was clear that, you know, there was a cash flow issue and kind of the immediate future as far as being able to book trips was up in the air.” Id. at 13:5-10.

         Justin Sullivan, UB Air's owner, posted an email to the National Business Aviation Association (“NBAA”) charter email forum on January 18. Defs.' SOF ¶ 25; Defs.' Mot. Summ. J. Ex. 2 [“Sullivan Aff't”] ¶ 1 [#122-2]. NBAA is a private organization whose membership consists of both owners and operators of business aircraft and air charter brokers. Defs.' SOF ¶ 11. NBAA's charter email forum, on which Sullivan posted his email, enables NBAA members to post queries, make announcements, and communicate with other members about the air charter broker business. Defs.' Mot. Summ. J. Ex. 5 [“Benjamin Schwalen Aff't”] ¶¶ 2-4 [#122-5]. The subject line of Sullivan's email was “IBX Jets: Jet Charter Terrorists.” Id. ¶ 25. In the body of the email, Sullivan wrote: “Hello. IBX Jets is an agent for Paradigm Jets G-V, N17ND. If anyone has had any issues with IBX booking a trip, cancelling it and then stealing your client's deposit, please contact me offline. Sincerely, Justin Sullivan.” Id.

         Sullivan's email was not the first time an air charter broker had posted an email critical of IBX Jets to the NBAA forum. The record includes multiple emails about IBX Jets from other NBAA members in 2015 and 2016. See Defs.' Mot. Summ. J. Ex. 6 [“NBAA Emails”] [#122-6]. For example, one NBAA member wrote in April 2015, under the subject line “SCAM!! IBX Jets - Mike & Chris Jones, ” that “[i]f anyone else has encountered a money issue with IBX Jets please contact me offline. WARNING NO ONE USE THEM!! THEY WILL TAKE YOUR MONEY AND NEVER DO THE TRIP.” Id. at 1. Numerous NBAA members responded to this email and described their similar experiences with IBX Jets. Id. at 10, 12, 14. Other emails requested feedback as to other NBAA members' experiences with IBX Jets. Id. at 5.

         Neither IBX Jets nor IBX Air has operated any flights since January 2016. Pls.' SOF Responses ¶ 31.[4] The companies are no longer in business. Id. Coleman and the Joneses no longer work in the charter business. Defs.' SOF ¶ 31.

         At some point, IBX Jets or IBX Air refunded to the client $20, 000 of the amount paid for the trip. ...


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