United States District Court, D. South Carolina, Anderson/Greenwood Division
Beattie B. Ashmore, in his capacity as court-appointed receiver for Ronnie Gene Wilson and Atlantic Bullion & Coin, Inc., Plaintiff,
Brigitte Owens, Defendant.
ORDER AND OPINION
Beattie B. Ashmore (“Plaintiff”), in his capacity
as court-appointed receiver for Ronnie Gene Wilson
(“Wilson”) and Atlantic Bullion & Coin, Inc.
(“AB&C”), filed the instant Complaint against
Defendant Brigitte Owens (“Defendant”) asserting
claims of unjust enrichment and fraudulent conveyance under
S.C. Code Ann. § 27-23-10 (2017) and/or N.C. Gen. Stat.
§ 39-23.1 et seq (2017). (ECF No. 1 at 6.) This
matter is before the court pursuant to Plaintiff's Motion
to Strike (“Motion”) Defendant's demand for a
jury trial. (ECF 35.) Defendant made a timely response
opposing the Motion (ECF No. 37), and Plaintiff has replied
(ECF No. 39). Plaintiff contends that, because the instant
Complaint involves only equitable claims, there is no right
to a jury. (ECF No. 35 at 1.) Defendant asserts that the
claims in the case are subject to a jury trial. (ECF No. 37
at 1.) For the following reasons, the court GRANTS IN PART
and DENIES IN PART Plaintiff's Motion.
Seventh Amendment provides that, “In suits at common
law, where the value in controversy shall exceed twenty
dollars, the right of trial by jury shall be preserved . . .
.” U.S. Const. amend. VII. The Supreme Court has
interpreted the phrase “Suits at common law” to
refer to “suits in which legal rights were to
be ascertained and determined, in contradistinction to those
where equitable rights alone were recognized, and equitable
remedies were administered.” Granfinanciera v.
Nordberg, 492 U.S. 33, 43 (1989) (emphasis added in
Granfinanciera) (internal quotations omitted)
(citing Parsons v. Bedford, 28 U.S. 433, 447
(1830)). When equitable rights and remedies alone are at
issue, parties have no right to a jury trial. Yadkin
Valley Bank & Trust Co. v. McGee (In re
Hutchinson), 5 F.3d 750, 757 (4th Cir. 1993). The court
can thus proceed without a jury, notwithstanding a
party's request for one. Francis v. Dietrick,
682 F.2d 485, 487 (4th Cir. 1982). However, when legal rights
or remedies are at issue, the “Seventh Amendment . . .
requires a jury trial upon demand.” Curtis v.
Loether, 415 U.S. 189, 194 (1974); see also
Fed.R.Civ.P. 39(a)(2) (“The trial on all issues so
demanded must be by jury unless . . . the court, on motion or
on its own, finds that on some or all issues there is no
federal right to a jury trial.”).
sitting in diversity must apply the substantive state law of
the state in which it sits. See Erie R.R. v.
Tompkins, 304 U.S. 64 (1938). However, in federal court,
“the characterization of [a] state-created claim as
legal or equitable for purposes of whether a right to jury
trial is indicated must be made by recourse to federal
law.” Simler v. Conner, 372 U.S. 221, 222
(1963). If the parties “seek to enforce statutory
rights that are analogous to common-law causes of action or
seek remedies analogous to those available in common-law
courts, ” they do not have a right to a jury trial.
McGee, 5 F.3d at 757. In Granfinanciera,
the Supreme Court set out a two-part test for determining
whether a party asserting statutory rights has a right to a
jury: “First, we compare the statutory action to
18th-century actions brought in the courts of England prior
to the merger of the courts of law and equity. Second, we
examine the remedy sought and determine whether it is legal
or equitable in nature.” Granfinanciera, 492
U.S. at 42. It is thus necessary to subject both of
Plaintiff's claims to Granfinanciera's
two-part test and determine whether each of them separately
is a claim that must be submitted to a jury.
The fraudulent conveyance claim
court begins with the fraudulent conveyance claim.
Granfinanciera's first step is to determine
whether Plaintiff's claim is one comparable to an
“18th-century action brought in the courts of England
prior to the merger of the courts of law and equity.”
492 U.S. at 42.
statutes mentioned in the Complaint trace their origins to
England's Statute of Elizabeth. See Oskin v.
Johnson, 735 S.E.2d 459, 467 (S.C. 2012) (Hearn, J.,
dissenting) (tracing the law to the original English Statute
of Elizabeth); see also Starnes v. Comm'r, 680
F.3d 417, 430 (4th Cir. 2012) (referring to the North
Carolina law as “North Carolina's version of the
Uniform Fraudulent Transfer Act”); Unif. Fraudulent
Transfer Act Prefatory Note (tracing the origins of the
Uniform Fraudulent Transfer Act to the original Statute of
Elizabeth). Thus, though the laws might have different titles
and minor differences, for the purposes of this analysis they
are essentially fraudulent conveyance statutes. See Coder
v. Arts, 213 U.S. 223, 242 (1909) (referring to the
Statute of Elizabeth as a fraudulent conveyance law);
DWC3, Inc. v. Kissel, 2016 N.C.App. LEXIS 261, at
*11 ( N.C. Ct. App. Mar. 15, 2016) (referring to the law as
“North Carolina's fraudulent transfer
statute”); Lebovitz v. Mudd, 358 S.E.2d 698,
700 (S.C. 1987) (referring to the law as the state's
“fraudulent conveyances statute”).
18th-century England, courts of law and courts of equity
often had concurrent jurisdiction over fraudulent conveyance
actions. Granfinanciera 492 U.S. at 43. However,
fraudulent conveyance actions which prayed for
“monetary relief would not have sounded in equity 200
years ago in England.” Id. Here, Plaintiff is
seeking “an award of actual damages in the amount of
$255, 190.00, interest as allowed by law, consequential and
incidental damages in amounts to be determined by the trier
of fact, and . . . reasonable attorney's fees.”
(ECF No. 1 at 8.) This is thus a fraudulent conveyance action
for money damages, which would have been brought in a court
of law in 18th-century England.
analysis above informs the second part of the
Granfinanciera test, “which is more important
than the first.” Id. at 492 U.S. 42. Step two
of Granfinanciera's requires a court to examine
the remedy sought and determine whether it is legal or
equitable in nature.” Id. at 42. Numerous
Supreme Court cases have held that a request for damages is a
legal remedy. See Pernell v. Southall Realty, 416
U.S. 363, 370 (1974) (“[W]here an action is simply for
the recovery . . . of a money judgment, the action is one at
law.”) (quoting Whitehead v. Shattuck, 138
U.S. 146, 151 (1891)); Dairy Queen, Inc. v. Wood,
369 U.S. 469, 476 (1962) (“Petitioner's contention
. . . is that insofar as the complaint requests a money
judgment it presents a claim which is unquestionably legal.
We agree with that contention.”); Gaines v.
Miller, 111 U.S. 395, 397-398 (1884) (“Whenever
one person has in his hands money equitably belonging to
another, that other person may recover it by assumpsit for
money had and received. The remedy at law is adequate and
complete.”) (citations omitted). Damages are thus a
legal remedy. Here, Plaintiff has prayed for monetary
damages, (ECF No. 1 at 8), and thus the requested remedy is a
Plaintiff here has brought a fraudulent conveyance action for
the recovery of a fixed sum of money, which is the same fact
pattern of Granfinanciera. The court concludes, as
did the Supreme Court in Granfinanciera, that
Defendant has a right to a jury determination of her
fraudulent conveyance claim.
The unjust enrichment claim
second cause of action is unjust enrichment. (ECF No. 1 at
6.) The court notes that Defendant never responded to
Plaintiff's motion to strike Defendant's jury demand
as to the unjust enrichment claim. (ECF No. 37.) Under
federal law, unjust enrichment is an equitable action.
See Fed. Power Comm'n v. Interstate Nat. Gas
Co., 336 U.S. 577, 588 (1949) (discussing a court of
equity's role in “preventing unjust
enrichment”); Spring Constr. Co. v. Harris,
614 F.2d 374, 378 (4th Cir. 1980) (referring to the
“equitable doctrine of unjust enrichment”). As
unjust enrichment is an equitable claim, there is no right to
a jury trial on that claim.
Procedure in a case involving both legal and ...