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Societe dAmenagement et de Gestion de lAbri Nautique v. Marine Travelift Inc.

United States District Court, E.D. Wisconsin

May 30, 2018

SOCIETE DAMENAGEMENT ET DE GESTION DE LABRI NAUTIQUE, Plaintiff,
v.
MARINE TRAVELIFT INC., Defendant.

          DECISION AND ORDER GRANTING SUMMARY JUDGMENT

          William C. Griesbach, Chief Judge

         This is an action by a French corporation to recognize a judgment entered by a French court against a Wisconsin corporation. The underlying dispute arises out a the 2004 sale of a boat hoist by Defendant Marine Travel Lift (MTI) to Plaintiff Societe dAmenagement et de Gestion de lAbri Nautique (Sagan) at its facility in Saint-Marie-La-Mere, France. Sagan filed suit in a French court and ultimately obtained a judgment against MTI. While MTI seeks to re-litigate the dispute in this court, Sagan has filed a motion for summary judgment seeking recognition of the judgment it has already obtained. This court has jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1332(a)(2). For the reasons that follow, Sagan's motion will be granted.

         BACKGROUND

         Sagan is a French corporation with its principal place of business located in Saint-Marie-La-Mere, France. Plaintiff's Proposed Findings of Fact (PPFOF), ECF No. 23, at ¶ 1. MTI is a Wisconsin corporation with its principal place of business located in Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin. Id. at ¶ 2. In December 2003, Sagan ordered an MTI-manufactured boat hoist and related equipment through a third-party supplier, CEI. Id. at ¶ 3. The boat hoist was installed and inspected at a marina in Saint-Marie-La-Mere, France on April 22, 2004. Id. at ¶ 4; Defendant's Proposed Findings of Fact (DPFOF), ECF No. 29, at ¶ 2. Sometime after the boat hoist was installed and before April 2005, Sagan began to complain about corrosion to CEI. PPFOF at ¶ 5. CEI ultimately contacted MTI about the concerns. Id. at ¶ 6. By mid-2006, CEI entered into bankruptcy receivership. Id. at ¶ 8.

         Sagan petitioned the Perpignan Commercial Court in France to appoint an independent expert to inspect the boat hoist and determine the cause of the defect. Id. On November 17, 2006, MTI was notified of the court-ordered expert evaluation of the boat hoist. Id. at ¶ 9. On December 4, 2006, a second inspection of the equipment took place at MTI's request. Id. at ¶ 10. On March 7, 2007, the court-ordered expert filed his report. Court of Appeals of Versailles Op. (English translation), ECF No. 24-4 at 2. The expert's report prompted Sagan to initiate a product-liability suit against CEI and MTI in the Commercial Court of Perpignan, alleging claims under Articles 1641[1] and 1647[2] of the French Civil Code. PPFOF at ¶ 13. The Commercial Court of Perpignan was later deemed an incompetent court, and the case was transferred to the Commercial Court of Chartres. Id. MTI appeared and was represented by French counsel. Commercial Court of Chartres Op. (English translation), ECF No. 24-3 at 3.

         On September 20, 2011, the Commercial Court of Chartres rendered its judgment. Id. at 3. The Chartres Court found Sagan's claim to be admissible but without merit and dismissed the case. Id. Sagan appealed the decision to the Versailles Court of Appeals. Versailles Opinion, ECF No. 24-4 at 4. MTI, again represented by counsel, participated in the Versailles Court of Appeals proceedings. PPFOF at ¶ 22. The Versailles Court of Appeals deliberated the case in a public hearing on January 29, 2013, without objection from either party. Id. at ¶ 23. On March 28, 2013, the Versailles Court issued its decision, reversing the Chartres Court and finding MTI liable for defects in the boat hoist. Id. at ¶ 24. The Versailles Court declared MTI was liable to Sagan for 58, 665 €, not including tax, plus interest at the legal rate beginning on April 9, 2004, plus 4, 000 € for non-legal costs, and the costs of Sagan's attorneys' fees throughout the proceedings, as set by the Court's discretion. ECF No. 24-4 at 10-11. MTI did not appeal the Versailles Judgment to the French Supreme Court. PPFOF at ¶ 29. To this date, MTI has not paid any of the damages determined by the Versailles Court. Id. at ¶ 30. On June 22, 2016, Sagan filed this complaint seeking recognition of the Versailles Judgment. ECF No. 1. Sagan amended its complaint on September 12, 2016. ECF No. 2. On November 14, 2017, Sagan filed a motion for summary judgment to recognize the Versailles Judgment. ECF No. 21. The matter is fully briefed and ripe for decision.

         LEGAL STANDARDS

         Under the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, summary judgment is proper if the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with any affidavits, show that there is no genuine issue of material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). “[T]he plain language of Rule 56(c) mandates the entry of summary judgment, after adequate time for discovery and upon motion, against a party who fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial.” Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317 (1986).

         “At the summary judgment stage, the facts must be viewed in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party only if there is ‘genuine' dispute as to those facts.” Scott v. Harris, 550 U.S. 372, 380 (2007) (citing Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)). However, “when the moving party has carried its burden under Rule 56(c), its opponent must do more than simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts . . . . Where the record is taken as a whole could not lead a rational trier of fact to find for the nonmoving party, there is no ‘genuine issue for trial.'” Id. (citing Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586-87 (1986)). “The mere existence of some alleged factual dispute between the parties will not defeat an otherwise properly supported motion for summary judgment; the requirement is that there be no genuine issue of material fact.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247-48 (1986).

         ANALYSIS

         A. The French Judgment Is Final

         There is no dispute that this matter was fully litigated in France, and Sagan obtained a final judgment in its favor against MTI from the Court of Appeal of Versailles. Although MTI suggests that a factual dispute exists as to “whether the French decision constitutes a judgment that can be enforced in this Court, ” MTI Br. in Opp'n, ECF No. 28 at 15, MTI does not dispute that the Versailles Court of Appeals issued a decision finding MTI liable and awarding Sagan damages, attorneys' fees and costs. MTI Resp. to PPFOF, ECF No. 29, ¶¶ 24-28. Nor does MTI dispute that it did not appeal the decision of the Court of Appeals to the French Supreme Court. It thus follows that the judgment of the Versailles Court of Appeals is a final judgment.

         MTI also suggests that it would be irregular for an appellate decision to be considered a judgment within the United States. While it may be unusual for an appellate court in the United States to issue a judgment, the decision in question was not issued by a United States appellate court; instead, it was issued by an appellate court in France. MTI offers no evidence or argument that it is irregular for appellate courts in France to issue judgments. The appellate courts in France routinely reexamine the entire case and partake in fact-finding. Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer, France, Encyclopedia of International Commercial Litigation § A1.43 (2015). It is not irregular for a court that engages in fact-finding to issue a judgment. Mere differences in legal systems are not sufficient, standing alone, to support a refusal to recognize a final judgment.

         Under French law, a judgment by the trial court, like the Chartres Court, becomes definitive and enforceable if no appeal is lodged; if an appeal is lodged, the judgment is stayed pending the appellate court decision. Deringer, supra § A11.2. In the case of an appellate court decision, an appeal to the supreme court does not stay the judgment: “As soon as an arrêt[3] of a cour d'appel [court of appeals] is rendered and notified, it must be executed by the losing party.” Id. § A11.3. Additionally, the language of the Versailles Judgment indicates that it is not only a decision explaining the Versailles Court's rationale, but it is also “a decision that is final and non-appealable” and orders damages that MTI must pay Sagan. Court of Appeals of Versailles Op. (English translation), ECF No. 24-4 at 10-11. MTI did not appeal this decision, and even if it had, MTI was required to execute the judgment upon its issuance. I therefore conclude that the Versailles Judgment is a final and enforceable judgment under French law, and turn to the central question of whether it is entitled to recognition under Wisconsin law.

         B. Recognition of ...


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