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Orion Seafood International, Inc v. Supreme Group B.V.

August 29, 2012

ORION SEAFOOD INTERNATIONAL, INC., PLAINTIFF
v.
SUPREME GROUP B.V., SUPREME LOGISTICS, AND SUPREME FOODSERVICE GMBH, DEFENDANTS



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Steven J. McAuliffe United States District Judge

Opinion No. 2012 DNH 146

ORDER

Plaintiff, Orion Seafood International, Inc. ("Orion") brought this suit against Supreme Foodservice, GmbH ("Supreme Foodservice"), Supreme Logistics FZE (UAE), and Supreme Group B.V., for breach of contract, breach of the duty of good faith and fair dealing, promissory estoppel, equitable estoppel, fraudulent misrepresentation, and violation of the New Hampshire Consumer Protection Act, N.H. Rev. Stat. Ann. ("RSA") ch. 358--A. As recounted more fully in a contemporaneous order denying defendants' motion to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction, Orion alleges that defendants failed to perform their contractual obligation to purchase some 750,000 pounds of lobster tail and, further, fraudulently assured Orion of their continuing intent to perform.

Pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6),*fn1 Supreme Foodservice seeks dismissal of three counts of the complaint for failure to state a claim. Because Supreme Foodservice "filed an answer on the same day it filed this motion, the pleadings are closed and the court will treat [the] motion to dismiss as a motion for judgment on the pleadings" under Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(c). Conto v. Concord Hosp., Inc., 2000 WL 36935, at *1 (D.N.H. Sept. 19, 1999) (DiClerico, J.). See also Level 3 Communications, LLC v. Webb, Inc., 2012 WL 2199262, at *1 (E.D. Va. June 14, 2012) ("Because Accumark filed its Motion to Dismiss contemporaneously with its Answer, the Court will treat the motion as seeking judgment on the pleadings pursuant to Rule 12(c)"). Accordingly, in ruling on Supreme Foodservice's motion, all of the pleadings will be considered, not just the complaint. Perez-- Acevedo v. Rivero--Cubano, 520 F.3d 26, 29 (1st Cir. 2008).

Standard of Review

"A motion for judgment on the pleadings under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(c) is treated much like a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss." Estate of Bennett v. Wainwright, 548 F.3d 155, 163 (1st Cir. 2008) (citing Perez-- Acevedo, 520 F.3d at 29). When ruling on a motion for judgment on the pleadings, the court takes the facts pled in the light most favorable to the plaintiff and "draw[s] all reasonably supported inferences in [its] favor." Abraham v. Woods Hole Oceanographic Inst., 553 F.3d 114, 115 (1st Cir. 2009).

"To survive a Rule 12(b)(6) motion (and, by extension, a Rule 12(c) motion) a complaint must contain factual allegations that raise a right to relief above the speculative level." Gray v. Evercore Restructuring L.L.C., 544 F.3d 320, 324 (1st Cir. 2008) (quotation omitted). In other words, except where heightened pleading is otherwise required by rule or statute (such as by Rule 9(b)), a Rule 12(c) motion will be denied where the complaint alleges "facts sufficient to establish a 'claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'" Id. (quoting Trans--Spec Truck Serv., Inc. v. Caterpillar Inc., 524 F.3d 315, 320 (1st Cir. 2008)).

Discussion

Supreme Foodservice seeks dismissal of Orion's fraudulent misrepresentation (Count VI) claim on the ground that it does not meet the heightened pleading requirements of Fed. R. Civ. P. 9(b).*fn2 Defendant also says that Orion's CPA claim (Count VII) must be dismissed because the complaint does not plausibly allege the requisite level of "rascality." See George v. Al Hoyt & Sons, Inc., 162 N.H. 123, 129 (2011).

I. Fraudulent Misrepresentation To state a claim for fraud, the complaint "must meet the special pleading requirements of Fed. R. Civ. P. 9(b)." Gross v. Summa Four, Inc., 1995 WL 806823, at *6 (D.N.H. Nov. 8, 1995). Rule 9(b) requires that a party alleging fraud "must state with particularity the circumstances constituting fraud . . . ." Fed. R. Civ. P. 9(b). Specifically, the complaint must "allege at a minimum the identity of the person who made the fraudulent statement, the time, place, and content of the misrepresentation, the resulting injury, and the method by which the misrepresentation was communicated." Clearview Software Int'l Inc. v. Ware, 2009 WL 2151017, at *1, n. 3 (D.N.H. July 15, 2009) (quotation omitted).

Although Rule 9(b) allows "intent" and "knowledge" (such as fraudulent intent or scienter) to be "alleged generally," Fed. R. Civ. P. 9(b), pleading these "conditions of a person's mind," id., must still meet the minimum requirements of Rule 8(a), and therefore, Iqbal's "plausibility" standard. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 686-87 (2009) ("Rule 9 merely excuses a party from pleading" state of mind "under an elevated pleading standard. It does not give him license to evade the less rigid - though still operative - strictures of Rule 8."). Indeed, in this circuit, consistent with Iqbal, it has long been the rule that a complaint must allege the scienter element of fraud by "'set[ting] forth specific facts that make it reasonable to believe that defendant knew that a statement was materially false or misleading.'" North Am. Catholic Educ. Programming, Inc. v. Cardinale, 567 F.3d 8, 13 (1st Cir. 2009) (quoting Greenstone v. Cambex Corp., 975 F.2d 22, 25 (1st Cir. 1992)).

The complaint here alleges that "Supreme" fraudulently misrepresented its intention to fulfill its obligation under the parties' agreement. Complaint ¶¶ 119-125, doc. no. 20, pgs. 20-21. It recites the following statements in emails from "Supreme" employees reassuring Orion of Supreme's intention to place purchase orders for lobster tail:

* In an email dated August 23, 2011, Diana Komarova (alleged in the complaint to be working for "Supreme") stated that Supreme would place its first purchase order in September of 2011.

* In an email dated September 20, 2011, Komarova stated that a purchase order would be placed "on ...


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