The Ford Plantation Club, Inc. et al v. Scott et al, No. 4:2016cv00309 - Document 33 (S.D. Ga. 2017)

Court Description: ORDER granting 6 Motion to dismiss. As a result, Defendants' counterclaim for deceit is DISMISSED. Signed by Judge William T. Moore, Jr on 9/22/17. (jlm)
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The Ford Plantation Club, Inc. et al v. Scott et al Doc. 33 IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF GEORGJAg DISTRICT COURT SAVANNAH DIVISION Southern District of Ga. Flied in Office M THE FORD PLANTATION CLUB, 2(0. INC. and THE FORD PLANTATION ASSOCIATION, INC., Deputy Clerk Plaintiffs and Counter- Defendants, CASE NO. CV416-309 V. MICHAEL L. SCOTT and NANCY J. SCOTT, Defendants and CounterClaimants. ORDER Before the Court is Plaintiffs and Counter-Defendants The Ford Plantation Club, Inc. and The Ford Plantation Association, Inc.'s Motion to Dismiss Counterclaim. (Doc. 6.) For the following reasons. Plaintiffs' motion is GRANTED. As a result. Defendants and Counter-Claimants Michael L. Scott and Nancy J. Scott's counterclaim for deceit is DISMISSED. BACKGROUND This case involves Defendants' purchase of real property in the Ford Plantation development. Plaintiff Ford Plantation Association ("Association") is responsible for the operation and maintenance It 2.) of Plaintiff the common Ford areas Plantation in Club the development. ("Club") is the (Doc. 4 entity Dockets.Justia.com responsible amenities for the offered management to of various individuals that social own and leisure property in the development and have been accepted for membership in the Club. (Doc. 1, Compl. SI 5.) Both Plaintiffs Association and Club charge monthly fees and periodic assessments for the maintenance of these common areas and amenities. (Id. SISI 11, 19.) In 2002, Defendants purchased property within the development, later becoming members of Plaintiff Club. (Doc. 4, SISI 6, 9.) As a result. Defendants were obligated to pay the various required fees and assessments. (Doc. 1, Compl. ISI 8, 9.) However, Defendants have failed to pay these expenses. (Id. SISI 12, 20.) Plaintiffs filed suit in the Superior Court of Bryan County alleging that Defendants breached their contracts Plaintiffs. (Id.) The complaint seeks over $150,000 in with unpaid fees, assessments, late fees, and interest. (Id. 1 25.) Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1332, Defendants invoked this Court's diversity jurisdiction and removed the case to this Court. (Doc. 1.) In their answer, Defendants included a counterclaim for deceit.^ (Doc. 4 at 7.) Defendants contend that at the time they ^ Defendants also included two counterclaims requesting declaratory judgments that the club membership obligation is unenforceable and that any member may resign from the club at any time. (Doc. 4 at 11-22.) Because Plaintiffs do not seek dismissal of those counterclaims not discuss them in this order. at this time, the Court will entered into affirmative these contracts. representations Plaintiffs to the "made a Defendants number regarding of the manner in which the Club and The Association would be operated, the manner in which amenities would be provided and the manner in which the Defendants current property also and allege future would that value be maintained." Plaintiffs of the (Id. provided property, at them 8.) with including a its marketability and resale value. (Id. at 9.) Defendants maintain that these statements misrepresentations [] were made for "false the sole and fraudulent purpose Defendants to enter into the contract for the of inducing purchase of the property in The Ford Plantation with the resulting obligations to The Club and The Association." (Id. at 10.) In their Defendants' the Motion to counterclaim applicable Dismiss, fails four-year because statute of Plaintiffs it was argue not filed limitations that within contained in O.C.G.A. § 9-3-31. (Doc. 6 at 2.) Also, Plaintiffs maintain that even if Defendants' allegations are true, the alleged statements are only result, opinions those on future statements are performance. merely (Id. sales at 3.) puffery and As a not actionable as fraud. (Id.) In their short response. Defendants appear to argue that the statute of limitations was tolled pursuant to O.C.G.A. § 93-96 because Plaintiffs' failure to sue members until 2014 "constitutes so as to a fraud render that the [] would toll the counterclaim statute of limitations timely." (Doc. 7 at 2.) Surprisingly, this is really the extent of Defendants' response, which fails to include a single citation to any legal authority at all, much Moreover, less one Defendants contention that that would completely the facts support failed alleged in to their address support of position. Plaintiffs' Defendants' counterclaim are only sales puffing and not an actionable fraud claim. ANALYSIS I. STANDARD OF REVIEW Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a)(2) requires a complaint to contain "a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief." "[T]he pleading standard Rule allegations,' 8 announces but it does demands defendant-unlawfully-harmed-me not more require than Metailed an accusation." factual unadorned, Ashcroft v. the- Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007)). "A pleading that offers '"labels and conclusions' or a "formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do.' " Id. (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555). "Nor assertion[s]' does devoid a complaint of "further suffice factual if it tenders "naked enhancement.' " Id. (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 557) (alteration in original). "To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to to relief Twombly, that 550 at the the plausible U.S. plausibility, "allows is 570). plaintiff court to on draw its For must the ^state a claim face.' " Id. a claim plead to have factual reasonable (quoting facial content inference that that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Sinaltrainal v. Coca-Cola Co., 578 F.3d 1252, 1261 (11th Cir. 2009) (quotations omitted) (quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678). Plausibility does not require probability, "but it asks for more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully." Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. "Where a complaint pleads facts that are ^merely consistent with' a defendant's liability, it ^stops short of the line between possibility and plausibility of entitlement to relief. " Id. (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 557). Additionally, ' a complaint is sufficient only if it gives "fair notice of what the . . . claim Sinaltrainal, 578 is and F.3d the at grounds 1268 upon (quotations which it rests." omitted) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555). When the Court considers a motion to dismiss, it accepts the well-pleaded facts in the complaint as true. Sinaltrainal, 578 F.3d accept 1252 as allegation." at true 1260. a Iqbal, However, legal 556 this conclusion U.S. at 678. Court is "not couched as Moreover, a bound to factual "unwarranted deductions of fact in a complaint are not admitted as true for the purpose of testing the sufficiency of [plaintiff's] allegations." Sinaltrainal, 578 F.3d at 1268 (citing Aldana v. Del Monte Fresh Produce, N.A., Inc., 416 F.3d 1242, 1248 (11th Cir. 2005)). That is, "[t]he rule Moes not impose a probability requirement at the pleading stage,' but instead simply calls for enough facts to raise will reveal evidence Int'1 Univ., 495 F.3d a reasonable of the expectation that discovery necessary element." Watts v. Fla. 1289, 1295-96 (11th Cir. 2007) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 545). II. PLAINTIFFS' MOTION TO DISMISS While Defendants style their counterclaim as one for deceit. Defendants actually allege that Plaintiffs fraudulently induced them to purchase real property. This type of claim is subject to the O.C.G.A. four-year § 9-3-31. City statute of of limitations McCaysville v. contained in Cardinal Robotics, LLC, 263 Ga. App. 847, 848, 589 S.E.2d 614, 615 (2003) (citing Kerce v. Bent Tree Corp., 166 Ga. App. 728, 729, 305 S.E.2d 4 62 (1983)). This limitations period is tolled if the defendant is "guilty of a fraud by which the plaintiff has been debarred or deterred from bringing an action." O.C.G.A. § 9-3-96. Under these circumstances, "[t]he period of limitation shall run only from the time of the plaintiff's discovery of the fraud." Id. The limitations period is only tolled by fraud that conceals the cause of action, not the original fraud that gave rise to the claim. Cardinal, 263 Ga. App. at 848, 589 S.E.2d at 615 (quoting Kerce, 166 Ga. App. at 729, 305 S.E.2d operates to conceal a cause of action artifice to into, mislead and information prevent hinder related inquiry the to 462). Fraud that utilizes some trick or elude potential the at investigation plaintiff underlying claim. from Id. of, or obtaining at 848, 589 S.E.2d at 615-16 (quoting Kerce, 166 Ga. App. at 729, 305 S.E.2d at 463). In this case. Defendants have not identified or even alleged any trick or artifice Plaintiffs employed in an attempt to obfuscate Defendants' claim for fraudulent inducement. Defendants did not even bother to identify the five elements of a fraud claim: (1) a false statement; (2) scienter; (3) the intention to induce a party to act or refrain from acting; (4) justifiable reliance by the defrauded party; and (5) damages. See Serchion v. Capstone Partners, Inc., 298 Ga. App. 73, 76-77, 679 S.E.2d 40, 43 (2009) (quoting Stiefel v. Schick, 260 Ga. 638, 398 639, exacerbated by S.E.2d 194, Defendants' 195 (1990)). failure to This address shortcoming any of is these elements in their two-page brief. As best the Court can decipher. Defendants' basic theory is that Plaintiffs' failure to earlier collect the fees and assessments prevented Defendants from bringing their claim for 7 fraudulent belief inducement that because Plaintiffs would Defendants never were seek lulled payment. into a However, Plaintiffs' decision to forego collection of those debts did not prevent Defendants from investigating their claim for fraudulent inducement, which accrued when they contracted to purchase the real property. See Kerce, 166 Ga. App. at 729, 305 S.E.2d at 462 ("A claim of fraudulent inducement in the execution of a contract accrues on the date of the execution of the contract." (citing Sears, Roebuck & Co. v. Green, 142 Ga. App. 770, 237 S.E.2d 10 (1977)). Absent some type of fraud that concealed or prevented Defendants from investigating their counterclaim. Defendants have long since missed the limitations deadline. Defendants decry the horrible outcome of their real-estate investment and advance the general notion that they never would have purchased the property had they known that Plaintiffs would actually collect the fees and assessments Defendants agreed to pay. While the Court is empathetic to the poor state of Defendants' investment. Defendants have not advanced any legal argument sufficient to avoid the statute applicable to their fraudulent inducement of limitations counterclaim. As a result, Plaintiffs' request for this counterclaim to be dismissed must be granted.^ CONCLUSION For (Doc. 6) the foregoing is GRANTED. As reasons. a Plaintiffs' result. Motion Defendants' to Dismiss counterclaim for deceit is DISMISSED. SO ORDERED this day of September 2017. WILLIAM T. MOORE, JRT UNITED STATES SOUTHERN DISTRICT COURT DISTRICT OF GEORGIA ^ Because the Court has determined Defendants' counterclaim to be untimely, the Court will not address whether Plaintiffs' alleged statements qualify as fraudulent inducement. 9