Goldman, Antonetti, Ferraiuoli, Axtmayer & Hertell v. Medfit Intern., Inc.

Decision Date06 January 1993
Docket NumberNo. 92-1458,92-1458
Citation982 F.2d 686
PartiesGOLDMAN, ANTONETTI, FERRAIUOLI, AXTMAYER & HERTELL, A PARTNERSHIP, Plaintiff, Appellee, v. MEDFIT INTERNATIONAL, INC., et al., Defendants, Appellees, Hector Rodriguez, Defendant, Appellant.
CourtU.S. Court of Appeals — First Circuit

Juan R. Marchand Quintero with whom Rivera Cestero & Marchand Quintero and Miguel J. Rodriguez-Marxuach were on brief for appellees.

Before TORRUELLA, Circuit Judge, CAMPBELL, Senior Circuit Judge, STAHL, Circuit Judge.

STAHL, Circuit Judge.

Defendant-appellant Hector Rodriguez ("Rodriguez" or "defendant") appeals from the entry of a default judgment against him in the amount of $91,294.38 plus interest. We affirm.

I. RELEVANT PROCEDURAL AND FACTUAL BACKGROUND

On June 6, 1990, the Puerto Rico law firm of Goldman, Antonetti, Ferraiuoli, Axtmayer & Hertell ("GAFAH") 1 filed a complaint against Rodriguez, Randy Smith ("Smith"), George and Lorin Croce, and Subsequently, Rodriguez moved to dismiss the complaint pursuant to Rules 4(e) and 12(b)(1)-(7) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. After reviewing the record, the district court treated Rodriguez's motion as a motion for summary judgment, and denied it on May 8, 1991.

                Medfit International, Inc.  ("Medfit"), seeking payment of legal fees totalling $101,294.38. 2  The complaint alleged that defendants had breached an agreement with Ferraiuoli, Axtmayer & Hertell ("GAFAH's predecessor firm") calling for plaintiff to provide defendants with professional legal services relative to the formation, development, and financing of a latex glove manufacturing business. 3
                

On August 2, 1991, the district court issued a scheduling order setting a pretrial and settlement conference for November 14, 1991, and a bench trial for December 16, 1991. That order warned the parties that any failure to comply with its provisions could result in the imposition of sanctions under Fed.R.Civ.P. 16(f). This warning was repeated in an October 18, 1991, order which rescheduled the pretrial and settlement conference to November 15, 1991. 4 Despite these warnings, Rodriguez failed to appear for the November 15, 1991, pretrial and settlement conference. Consequently, the district court entered a partial judgment dismissing Rodriguez's counterclaims and cross-claim. 5

On January 17, 1992, Rodriguez telephoned the district court's chambers to notify the court that he would not appear for the January 21, 1992, trial. Rodriguez did not, however, request a continuance or provide the court with a valid justification for his anticipated absence. Accordingly, when Rodriguez failed to appear for trial, the district court found that he was in default. The district court then held a bench trial on the question of damages, and determined that plaintiff was entitled to recover $91,294.38 plus interest from Rodriguez and the previously defaulted Smith and Medfit. The district court found all three defendants jointly and severally liable for this judgment.

II.

DISCUSSION

On appeal, Rodriguez makes three principal arguments: (1) that the district court erred in failing to grant his motion to dismiss; (2) that the district court abused its discretion in dismissing his counterclaims and cross-claim; and (3) that the district court abused its discretion in entering default judgment against him. 6 We discuss each argument in turn.

A. Rodriguez's Motion to Dismiss

Rodriguez first challenges the district court's denial of his motion to dismiss, arguing that the district court erroneously relied on certain allegations contained in Jose A. Axtmayer's unsworn statement signed under penalty of perjury to find: (1) that a genuine, material factual dispute existed over the substance of the oral fee agreement; (2) that Rodriguez was subject to the in personam jurisdiction of the district court; and (3) that MPPR was not an indispensable party under Fed.R.Civ.P. 19(b). We disagree with Rodriguez's contentions.

1. Standard of Review

There is no dispute that Rodriguez's motion to dismiss was properly treated as a motion for summary judgment. See Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(c). Appellate review of a district court order denying a motion for summary judgment is plenary. Federal Deposit Ins. Corp. v. World Univ. Inc., 978 F.2d 10, 13 (1st Cir.1992). Summary judgment shall be granted only when the record demonstrates that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c); see also Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 2552, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986). The party moving for summary judgment "bears both the initial and the ultimate burden of demonstrating its legal entitlement to summary judgment." Lopez v. Corporacion Azucarera de Puerto Rico, 938 F.2d 1510, 1516 (1st Cir.1991). Furthermore, like the district court, we " 'must view the entire record in the light most hospitable to the party opposing summary judgment, indulging all reasonable inferences in that party's favor.' " Mesnick v. General Elec. Co., 950 F.2d 816, 822 (1st Cir.1991) (citing Griggs-Ryan v. Smith, 904 F.2d 112, 115 (1st Cir.1990)), cert. denied, --- U.S. ----, 112 S.Ct. 2965, 119 L.Ed.2d 586 (1992). "Nonetheless, the nonmovant cannot content himself with unsupported allegations; rather, he must set forth specific facts, in suitable evidentiary form, in order to establish the existence of a genuine issue for trial." Rivera-Muriente v. Agosto-Alicea, 959 F.2d 349, 352 (1st Cir.1992).

2. The Unsworn Statement

Axtmayer's unsworn statement signed under penalty of perjury was submitted in support of plaintiff's opposition to Rodriguez's motion to dismiss. 7 Rodriguez argues that the district court's reliance on the allegations contained in Axtmayer's unsworn statement constitutes an abuse of discretion because the statement fails to conform to the requirements of Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e). We disagree.

Under federal law, an unsworn statement signed under penalty of perjury may be used, in lieu of a sworn statement or affidavit, to support or oppose a motion for summary judgment. See 28 U.S.C. § 1746; 8 see also Pfeil v. Rogers, 757 F.2d

                850, 859 (7th Cir.1985) (holding that an affidavit failing to satisfy the "technical, non-substantive requirements of execution" may be considered as part of a party's opposition to a motion for summary judgment provided the affidavit complies with 28 U.S.C. § 1746), cert. denied, 475 U.S. 1107, 106 S.Ct. 1513, 89 L.Ed.2d 912 (1986);  Davis v. Frapolly, 756 F.Supp. 1065, 1067 (N.D.Ill.1991) (holding that unsworn statements signed under penalty of perjury may be considered as evidence in support of a motion for summary judgment).   Because Axtmayer's unsworn written statement meets the requirements of 28 U.S.C. § 1746, the district court was entitled to give it the same weight as an affidavit when it considered defendant's motion.   Therefore, because Axtmayer's unsworn statement established the existence of a genuine, material factual dispute concerning the substance of the parties' oral fee agreement, the district court properly denied Rodriguez's motion to dismiss
                
3. In Personam Jurisdiction

As noted, Rodriguez also challenges the district court's ruling that it had personal jurisdiction over him. In so doing, Rodriguez first contends that the district court should not have considered the allegations in Axtmayer's statement when it decided the question of in personam jurisdiction. 9 However, Rodriguez's argument is undermined by the fact that a district court may go beyond the four corners of the pleadings and consider materials presented in support of a motion to dismiss for lack of in personam jurisdiction. See American Express Int'l, Inc. v. Mendez-Capellan, 889 F.2d 1175, 1178 (1st Cir.1989) (affidavits presented on a motion to dismiss for lack of in personam jurisdiction, which was converted to a motion for summary judgment, deemed to be "available for either motion"). Accordingly, the district court committed no error in considering the Axtmayer statement.

Rodriguez's attack on the merits of the district court's ruling is equally unavailing. "It is well established that in diversity cases, 'the district court's personal jurisdiction over a nonresident defendant is governed by the forum's long-arm statute.' " Pizarro v. Hoteles Concorde Int'l, C.A., 907 F.2d 1256, 1258 (1st Cir.1990) (quoting Mangual v. General Battery Corp., 710 F.2d 15, 19 (1st Cir.1983)). Rule 4.7(a)(1) of the Puerto Rico Rules of Civil Procedure, the Commonwealth's long-arm statute, allows Puerto Rico courts to assert personal jurisdiction over a non-resident defendant "if the action or claim arises because said person ... [t]ransacted business in Puerto Rico personally or through an agent...." P.R.Laws Ann. tit. 19, App. III, R. 4.7(a)(1) (1983); see also Pizarro, 907 F.2d at 1258. However, for such an assertion of jurisdiction to be permissible, two additional tests must be met. First, plaintiff's cause of action "must arise out of the defendant's action within the forum state." Id. (quoting Escude Cruz v. Ortho Pharmaceutical Corp., 619 F.2d 902, 905 (1st Cir.1980)). In addition, of course, the contacts among the non-resident defendant, forum, and cause of action must rise to a level where the due process requirements of "fair play and substantial justice," see International Shoe Co. v. Washington, 326 U.S. 310, 316, 66 S.Ct. 154, 158, 90 L.Ed. 95 (1945), are met. See id. 10

Here, there is undisputed record evidence that Rodriguez initiated and personally participated in the negotiations which

                led to the fee agreement which is the subject of this litigation, and that at least some portion of these negotiations took place at GAFAH's predecessor firm's offices in Puerto Rico.   Thus, it is clear that Rodriguez is subject to the reach of 4.7(a)(1) and that the cause
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