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Brunner v. 19 Parker Brothers Shotguns

United States District Court, E.D. Virginia

November 12, 2018

CHARLES E. BRUNNER, Plaintiff,
v.
19 PARKER BROTHERS SHOTGUNS, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          HON. LIAM O" GRADY JUDGE

         On October 19. 2018. the Court issued an Order transferring this case to the United Stales District Court for the Middle District of Florida. Dkt. 23. This Memorandum Opinion accompanies that Order.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Mr. Brunner brought an in rem action to determine the ownership of 19 Parker Brothers Shotguns (''Defendant Shotguns") located in the Faslern District of Virginia. After Mr. Brunner posted notice of this lawsuit, Carol Cameron Mc Kinney and Sherri Wharthan McClendon ("Judgment Creditors") filed an answer and counterclaim, then moved to transfer this case to the United States District Court for the Middle District of Florida, Tampa Division.

         The shotguns at issue were originally owned by Roland Askins. In April 2016, while Mr. Askins still owned the shotguns. Judgment Creditors obtained two judgments against Mr. Askins and his sons in Florida state court. That same month. Judgment Creditors perfected judicial liens against the physical and personal property of Mr. Askins and his sons. When the Askins failed to satisfy their judgments to Judgment Creditors, the Florida state court issued a break order and a levy took place on February 22, 2017. The Sheriff executing the levy was unable to seize the Defendant Shotguns because the Askins had moved the guns to another location not subject to the state court's break order.

         On May 22, 2017, Roland Askins filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy in the United States Bankruptcy Court for the Middle District of Florida. See In re Roland V. Askins, Jr., Case No. 8:17-bk-04431-RCT. At that time, the Defendant Shotguns became property of the Chapter 7 bankruptcy estate. See 11 U.S.C. § 541(a) (stating that the bankruptcy estate, subject to exceptions not applicable here, includes property of the debtor "wherever located and by whomever held").

         In October 2017, Mr. Brunner was contacted by a Florida real estate expert claiming that Mr. Askins's sons desired to sell a shotgun collection that included the Defendant Shotguns to pay for their father's health expenses. Mr. Brunner alleges that he believed at that time that a company formed by the Askins brothers, WKH Investments, LLC, was the owner and seller of the shotgun collection.

         The following month, in November 2017, Mr. Brunner traveled to Sarasota, Florida to purchase the shotgun collection for $332, 500.00. The parties dispute whether that sum represented the actual value of the shotguns. Mr. Brunner then transported the shotguns to his home in Loudoun County, Virginia and began reselling them.

         On March 5, 2018, Judgment Creditors received an anonymous letter stating that the Askins still had and were trying to sell the guns, and that the Askins had filed for bankruptcy to gain more time to sell the guns. The Judgment Creditors later acted on this tip and, pursuant to break orders, seized over 220 firearms that did not include the Defendant Shotguns.

         On March 26, 2018, Judgment Creditors' counsel informed Mr. Brunner about the bankruptcy proceedings and that the sale of the shotguns to him was (allegedly) fraudulent. Mr. Brunner was also directed to "cease and desist" any further sale of the shotguns. By that time, Mr. Brunner had already sold thirty of the shotguns he had obtained from the Askins and only retained possession of the nineteen Defendant Shotguns.

         On July 20, 2018, Mr. Brunner filed an in rem complaint to determine the proper ownership of the Defendant Shotguns. Mr. Brunner then published notice of the suit in the Washington Post six times. On September 10, 2018, Judgment Creditors filed an answer and counterclaims. Four days later, Judgment Creditors filed the Motion to Transfer at issue. After briefing on the Motion to Transfer was complete, Judgment Creditors filed a Notice of Related Case, attaching a complaint filed in the Askins bankruptcy case against Mr. Brunner regarding Mr. Brunner's purchase of the Defendant Shotguns. This Court heard oral argument on the Motion to Transfer on October 12, 2018. During the hearing, the Court stated that the Motion to Transfer would be granted and the case would be transferred to the United States District Court for the Middle District of Florida, Tampa Division. An order to that effect was entered on October 19, 2018. This memorandum opinion accompanies the Court's ruling from the bench and transfer order.

         II. DISCUSSION

         The Court transferred this case because (1) courts in Florida exercised prior exclusive jurisdiction over the Defendant Shotguns, and (2) convenience and justice factors favored transfer under 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a).

         1. The Florida Courts Have Prior Exclusive Jurisdiction ...


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