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Augusta National, Inc. v. Green Jacket Auctions, Inc.

United States District Court, S.D. Georgia, Augusta Division

July 16, 2018

AUGUSTA NATIONAL, INC., Plaintiff,
v.
GREEN JACKET AUCTIONS, INC., and GREG WAUNFORD-BROWN, Defendants.

          ORDER

          BRIAN K. EPPS UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         Before the Court is Plaintiff Augusta National, Inc.'s (“ANI”) motion for jurisdictional discovery regarding Defendant Greg Waunford-Brown's motion to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction, (doc. no. 112). For the reasons stated below, the Court DENIES ANI's motion for jurisdictional discovery. (Doc. no. 115.)

         I. COMPLAINT ALLEGATIONS

         The second amended complaint alleges Mr. Waunford-Brown is a “citizen of a foreign state, ” who “resides in England and maintains a home in Florida.”[1] (Doc. no. 85, p. 2.) Personal jurisdiction over Mr. Waunford-Brown is allegedly proper because Mr. Waunford-Brown is “a citizen of a foreign state and this action arises out of wrongful acts committed by Waunford-Brown in the United States and England. Specifically, Waunford-Brown transferred funds for the Nelson Green Jacket to New Jersey, and Waunford-Brown obtained possession of the Nelson Green Jacket in England.” (Id. at 3.)

         ANI purportedly owns the 1966 Champions Green Jacket of Mr. Byron Nelson. (Id. at 4-5) Sometime after 2009, ANI discovered the Nelson Green Jacket was missing. (Id. at 5.) Mr. Waunford-Brown is the current cosignor of the Nelson Green Jacket, claiming ownership because Defendant Green Jacket Auctions, Inc., (“GJA”) conveyed it to him in 2012, when he purchased the Nelson Green Jacket and transferred funds to GJA in New Jersey. (Id. at 6.) In exchange, GJA “hand delivered the stolen Nelson Green Jacket to Waunford-Brown in England.” (Id.) Mr. Waunford-Brown is allegedly in wrongful possession of the Nelson Green Jacket and does not hold legal title. (Id.)

         ANI seeks declaratory relief its right to the Nelson Green Jacket is “valid, enforceable, and superior to any claim of Waunford-Brown.” (Id. at 22.) ANI contends it is entitled to possession of the jacket under the theory of “trover/return of property/conversion.” (Id. at 5, 23.) ANI also seeks an injunction prohibiting Mr. Waunford-Brown from selling ANI's property. (Id. at 25.)

         II. THE MOTION TO DISMISS AND MOTION FOR JURISDICTIONAL DISCOVERY

         On May 31, 2018, Mr. Waunford-Brown, through counsel, filed a motion to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction, explaining he is a “citizen and resident of the United Kingdom with no ties to Georgia.” (Doc. no. 112, p. 1.) Mr. Waunford-Brown argues there are no facts in the second amended complaint tying him to Georgia and states by affidavit the following: (1) he has never lived in Georgia; (2) he does not conduct any business in Georgia; (3) he does not maintain a bank account, books, or records in Georgia; (4) he does not own or lease property in Georgia; and (5) he does not pay taxes in Georgia. (Id. at 4; doc. no. 112-1, p. 1.) Mr. Waunford-Brown's only Georgia activities are (1) attending the Masters Golf Tournament as a spectator six times in the last sixteen years, most recently in April 2017, and (2) playing the Augusta National Golf Course (“ANGC”) as a guest in 2005. (Id. at 1-2.)

         On June 19, 2018, ANI filed a motion for jurisdictional discovery claiming Mr. Waunford-Brown and GJA were “part of a conspiracy to remove the Green Jacket from ANI's property and hide it overseas, ” and seeking jurisdictional discovery to uncover additional factual support for this claim. (Doc. no. 115, pp. 2-3.) ANI also contends Mr. Waunford-Brown's statements regarding his seven visits to Augusta National “leav[e] open the possibility of other contacts with Georgia and business interests.” (Id. at 3.) Finally, ANI states Mr. Waunford-Brown has spent more than $180, 000 on ANGC and Masters memorabilia with GJA. (Id. at 3-4.) ANI argues discovery will “certainly reveal other transactions of ANI-related items and other business dealings with persons in the State of Georgia, including potentially the persons who orchestrated the theft of the Green Jacket at issue in this case.” (Id. at 4.) ANI attached to its motion thirty-two pages of invoices sent to Mr. Waunford-Brown from GJA between 2007 and 2017, seeking payment for purchases of ANGC and Masters memorabilia. (Doc. no. 115-1.) All invoices directed remittance of payment to GJA in New Jersey. (Id.)

         In response, Mr. Waunford-Brown argues ANI's allegations in its motion are irrelevant to personal jurisdiction because they are not in the second amended complaint. (Doc. no. 122, p. 5-8.) Additionally, Mr. Waunford-Brown argues, even if the Court were to consider the new information, it would not be sufficient for personal jurisdiction because: (1) the invoices evidence business transactions between England and New Jersey and do not relate to Georgia; and (2) ANI's allegations regarding a conspiracy and additional business contacts are speculation unsupported by evidence. (Id. at 8-10.)

         At the July 5, 2018 telephone conference, ANI argued there is circumstantial evidence Mr. Waunford-Brown knew the Nelson Green Jacket was stolen from ANI when he purchased it from GJA in 2012. (Court's recording system, For the Record, (FTR) 2:23:02 - 2:23:50.) ANI argues specific jurisdiction is appropriate because Mr. Waunford-Brown purposely availed himself of the forum by obtaining the stolen Green Jacket and the impact of his actions were predominantly felt by ANI in Georgia. (FTR 2:14:22 - 2:14:33; 2:40:26 - 2:40:53.)

         In his post-hearing brief, Mr. Waunford-Brown argues, even if he were knowingly involved in a conspiracy to obtain the stolen Green Jacket, personal jurisdiction would not be appropriate because ANI does not allege Mr. Waunford-Brown purposely performed acts in Georgia in connection with the alleged conspiracy. (Doc. no. 125, p. 3.)

         III. ANALYSIS

         Generally, a plaintiff “should be given the opportunity to discover facts that would support his allegations of jurisdiction.” Majd-Pour v. Georgiana Cmty. Hosp., Inc., 724 F.2d 901, 903 (11th Cir. 1984) (citations omitted). However, where “the complaint [is] insufficient as a matter of law to establish a prima facie case that the district court [has] jurisdiction, ” granting jurisdictional discovery is an abuse of discretion. Butler v. Sukhoi Co., 579 F.3d 1307, 1314 (11th Cir. 2009). ...


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