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Fertical Guayana, C.A. v. Maverick Equipment Manufacturing, Inc.

United States District Court, D. Rhode Island

September 3, 2014

FERTICAL GUAYANA, C.A., a Foreign Corporation, Plaintiff.
v.
MAVERICK EQUIPMENT MANUFACTURING, INC., a Delaware Corporation, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OF DECISION

MARY M. LISI, District Judge.

The plaintiff in this breach of contract litigation, Venezuelan corporation Fertical Guayana, C.A. ("Fertical"), was-at the time the pertinent events occurred-engaged in dolomite mining in Venezuela. To avoid using dynamite for the extraction process, Fertical purchased two hydraulic hammers from defendant Maverick Equipment Manufacturing, Inc., a Delaware corporation. Fertical had the hammers shipped to Miami, where it engaged Meco Miami, Inc. ("MECO") to install the hammers on two Caterpillar excavators Fertical had purchased for that purpose. The excavators with the installed hammers were then shipped to Venezuela; shortly thereafter, the mine where Fertical conducted the dolomite excavation was expropriated by the Venezuelan government. For reasons that are at the heart of this dispute, Fertical was never able to use the hammers as intended.

I. Procedural History

On November 28, 2012, Fertical filed a complaint in this Court[1] against Maverick for breach of contract (Count I), breach of warranty (Count II), and unfair or deceptive acts in violation of Florida's "Little FTC" Act (Count III). (Dkt. No. 1). Two months after discovery closed, on the date dispositive motions were due, Fertical sought to amend its complaint to (1) include Maverick's sole shareholder, Sean M. Raimbeault as an additional defendant; and (2) add certain allegations regarding the labeling and origins of the hammers. (Dkt. No. 18). Following a telephonic hearing, the motion was denied. Text Order from March 18, 2014.

On April 24, 2014, this Court issued a "Trial Notice, " setting jury empanelment for June 11, 2014. (Dkt. No. 26). On May 16, 2014, the Court ordered Fertical to file its pretrial memorandum on or before May 23, 2014. (Dkt. No. 30). Instead of filing a pretrial memorandum, Fertical attempted to "voluntarily" dismiss without prejudice its claims against Maverick pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 41(a) by unilaterally filing a "Notice" to that effect. (Dkt. No. 31). After Fertical was advised that Maverick would not agree to a dismissal without prejudice, Fertical filed its pretrial memorandum on June 2, 2014. (Dkt. No. 35). Trial commenced on June 12, 2014.

The Court conducted the two-day trial without a jury.[2] Fertical presented the testimony of four witnesses, including that of Francisco Fernandez ("Fernandez"), principal of Fertical; Alvaro Michael Vazquez ("Vazquez"), V.P. of MECO; Luis Melgar-Agostino ("Melgar"), an agronomic engineer in whose care the excavators were eventually placed; and Sean Raimbeault ("Raimbeault"), Maverick's president and sole shareholder, who was also the sole witness testifying on Maverick's behalf.

At the close of Fertical's case, Maverick made a motion for judgment on partial findings pursuant to Rule 52(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. The Court reserved on the motion and Maverick proceeded with the presentation of its defense.

In accordance with the Court's instruction, Maverick filed a post trial brief on July 2, 2014 (Dkt. No. 38), and Fertical filed its corresponding post trial brief on July 16, 2014 (Dkt. No. 39).

II. Standard of Review

Federal Rule 52(a)(1) provides that "[i]n an action tried on the facts without a jury or with an advisory jury, the court must find the facts specially and state its conclusions of law separately. The findings and conclusions may be stated on the record after the close of the evidence or may appear in an opinion or a memorandum of decision filed by the court. Judgment must be entered under Rule 58." Fed.R.Civ.P. 52(a)(1).

As explained by the First Circuit Court of Appeals, "Rule 52(a)(1) is designed to ensure not only that the parties are adequately apprised of the district court's findings and rationale but also that a reviewing court will thereafter be able to evaluate the bona fides of the district court's decision." Valsamis v. Gonzalez-Romero , 748 F.3d 61, 63 (1st Cir. 2014). The directive of Rule 52(a) "impose[s] on the trial court an obligation to ensure that its ratio decidendi is set forth with enough clarity to enable a reviewing court reliably to perform its function.'" Sierra Fria Corp. v. Donald J. Evans, P.C. , 127 F.3d 175, 180 (1st Cir. 1997)(quoting Touch v. Master Unit Die Prods., Inc. , 43 F.3d 754, 759 (1st Cir. 1995)). "When the evidence presented at a bench trial supports plausible but competing inferences, the court's decision to favor one inference is not clearly erroneous." Torres-Lazarini v. United States , 523 F.3d 69, 72 (1st Cir. 2008)(citing Cape Fear, Inc. v. Martin , 312 F.3d 496, 500 (1st Cir.2002)).

In addition, a Court may render a judgment on partial findings pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 52(c), "[i]f a party has been fully heard on an issue during a nonjury trial;" however, the Court may decline to do so "until the close of the evidence." Fed.R.Civ.P. 52(c). Judgment under Rule 52(c) is appropriate "[w]hen a party has finished presenting evidence and that evidence is deemed by the trier insufficient to sustain the party's position." Morales Feliciano v. Rullan , 378 F.3d 42, 59 (1st Cir.2004). In making a determination pursuant to Rule 52(c), the Court "need not consider the evidence in a light favorable to the plaintiff and may render judgment for the defendant if it believes the plaintiff's evidence is insufficient to make out a claim." Geddes v. Northwest Missouri State Univ. , 49 F.3d 426, 429 n. 7 (8th Cir.1995). Moreover, the Court is tasked with resolving any conflicts in the evidence and "decide for itself where the preponderance lies.'" Morales Feliciano v. Rullan , 378 F.3d at 59 (citing 9C Wright & Miller, Fed. Prac. & Proc. Civ. ยง 2573.1, at 497-99).

The following constitutes the Court's findings of facts and conclusions of law after considering all the testimony and evidence introduced by the parties at the two-day bench trial before the Court.

III. Findings of Facts

In 2008, Fertical operated a dolomite mine near Upata in the state of Bolivar, Venezuela. Tr. I 9:23-10:13. After Fertical's principal Fernandez decided to employ hydraulic hammers in order to avoid using dynamite, he purchased two Caterpillar excavators to which such hydraulic hammers were to be attached. Tr. I 10:13-15, 11:23-25, 15:9-13. In January 2009, Fernandez contacted Chrystian Estrada ("Estrada"), whose name he found on a website. Tr. I 16:1-17:1. Following a telephone conversation, Estrada followed up with an e-mail dated January 19, 2009 to Fernandez, in which he provided additional information on hydraulic hammers. Ex. 14[3]. Estrada stated in his e-mail that "Maverick is a 100% American manufacturer which ensures product quality and it guaranties its equipment for 3 years." Id . Subsequently, Fernandez met Estrada as well as Maverick's president, Raimbeault, at a machinery auction in Florida. Tr. I 22:3-10.

Fernandez expressed to Estrada that he required support for the equipment, Tr. I 24-8-15. According to his testimony at trial, Fernandez expected that Maverick's mechanics would install the hammers to the excavators and that Maverick would offer support, training, and warranty. Tr. I. 25:24-26:6, 26:21-25. Fernandez acknowledged, however, that Maverick was not supposed to do anything "regarding the pressure of hydraulic fluid." Tr. I 27:1-4. After speaking to Estrada, Fernandez sent an e-mail to the Maverick sales department, in which he explained the reason for purchasing the hammers and requested additional information, including (1) sales or services in Venezuela; (2) the applicability of a warranty in Venezuela; (3) training in operation and maintenance; (4) a visit from Maverick to Venezuela; and (5) whether it would "be possible to installed the equipment and left it operative in Miami before embarking the machine."[sic] Ex. 22 at 3.

Fernandez eventually bought the hammers from Maverick directly, after Raimbeault recommended to him a different model than the one Estrada had recommended. Tr. I 32:20-22, 33:1-7, 34:16-36:6. In response to Fernandez's inquiry, Raimbeault informed him that Maverick was connected with the Sunimca dealer and service center in Venezuela; the warranty would run for three years; training and maintenance was included at no charge; and someone from Maverick would spend two days with Fertical's staff to conduct training. E-mail dated January 23, 2009, Ex. 22, 1-2. Raimbeault also made a recommendation for a model that would suit Fernandez's needs. With respect to installation of the hammers, Raimbeault's e-mail reads as follows:

We will install and test the Hammers on your machines in Miami at no charge, as we have a dealer and service center in Miami. Our factory technicition [sic] will fly to Miami to personaly [sic] set up your excavators with the hammers, test your hydraulic pumps and relief settings, and install the hammers on ...

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