Month: February 2023

No Rule 11 Sanctions Where Lawyers Had Reasonable Basis To Make Alter Ego Claim

In Jingdong Logistics United States Company v. Ready Acquisition, Inc, Case No. 5:22-cv-01018-ODW (SHKx), Central District of California, plaintiff alleged that Ready Acquisition was the alter ego of its two owners. The owners alleged that the allegations were baseless and sought Rule 11 sanctions. The court denied sanctions by reasoning that there was an adequate factual and legal basis for the alter ego claim.

Here, the Court finds that the alter ego allegations in Jingdong’s Complaint were neither factually nor legally baseless “at the time that the position [was] adopted,” that is, at the time Jingdong filed its Complaint. Golden Eagle Distrib. Corp. v. Burroughs Corp., 801 F.2d 1531, 1538 (9th Cir. 1986). In reaching this conclusion, the Court “avoid[s] using the wisdom of hindsight,” limiting its inquiry to whether a reasonable basis for alter ego allegations existed at the time the Complaint was filed, regardless of what Jingdong learned or discovered after it filed the Complaint. Id. at 1537 (quoting Fed. R. Civ. P. 11 advisory committee’s note to 1983 amendment).

Prior to filing the Complaint, Jingdong’s attorneys investigated Ready Acquisition by sending a field agent to Ready Acquisition’s registered principal office address and to Lawrance’s personal address. (See Decl. Sijiu Ren ISO Opp’n (“Ren Decl.”) ¶¶ 3-5, ECF No. 22-1.) In so doing, Jingdong discovered that (1) Ready Acquisition’s office was occupied by new tenants, and that (2) packages addressed to Ready Acquisition were located on the front porch of Lawrance’s residence. (Id.; Decl. Greg Lawrance ISO Reply (“Lawrance Decl.”) ¶¶ 6-7, ECF No. 28.) Jingdong’s attorneys conducted additional research and determined that Ready Acquisition’s business status in the State of New Hampshire was “Not In Good Standing.” (Ren Decl. Ex. A (“Business Information Inquiry”), ECF No. 22-2; Ren Decl. ¶ 6.) These discoveries provided Jingdong’s counsel with a reasonable factual basis for including alter ego allegations against Lawrance and Gunter in Jingdong’s Complaint.

Lawrance and Gunter argue otherwise, pointing to facts and developments that occurred after Jingdong filed its Complaint, (Mot. 6-8), but these facts are not relevant to whether the Court should sanction Jingdong for allegations made in the Complaint. Fed. R. Civ. P. 11(b); Golden Eagle, 801 F.2d at 1538.

Lawrance and Gunter further argue that Jingdong is withholding $400,000 of Ready Acquisition’s inventory and thus contributing to the very insolvency Jingdong alleges supports alter ego liability. (Reply 5.) This argument is not well taken because there is no actual evidence of a causal link between Jingdong’s withholding of inventory and Ready Acquisition’s purported insolvency; and in any case, this attack on one component of Jingdong’s alter ego theory, even if successful, would not render the alter ego theory factually or legally baseless.

The court also held that the legal theory did not merit sanctions either.

Comment: Plaintiff did an extensive investigation of the facts before it brought the alter ego claim. That investigation and the facts that were discovered was a sufficient basis to bring an alter ego claim.