GREENBELT, MD.- U.S. District Judge Roger Titus ruled in March that disbarred lawyer Amiel Cueto of Belleville subjected himself to Maryland jurisdiction by trying to collect St. Clair County judgments there.
"Just as civil actions voluntarily initiated by non-residents may constitute purposeful availment of the laws and protections of Maryland, so also should foreign judgment enrollment proceedings," Titus wrote.
Titus, who presides in U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland, denied Cueto's motion to dismiss the claims asserted against him in a dispute between St. Paul Mercury Insurance and American Bank Holdings, Inc. (ABHI), a Maryland business Cueto sued.
St. Paul Mercury denies responsibility for three judgments St. Clair County Associate Judge Andrew Gleeson entered in favor of Cueto and against the bank, totaling about $7 million.
Titus termed personal jurisdiction issue over Cueto an issue of first impression.
"Maryland courts have not yet addressed the question of whether enrollment of foreign judgments constitutes purposeful availment of state law," he wrote.
"Even outside of Maryland, it appears that no court has directly decided the issue under its own long arm statute or as a matter of constitutional due process," he wrote.
Titus concluded that the Maryland long arm statute conferred jurisdiction over Cueto on the basis that his enrollment of the judgments in Maryland constituted the transaction of business in that state.
He cited similarities between purposeful availment of state laws and protections when a creditor enrolls a foreign judgment and when a litigant files a lawsuit.
Cueto sued the bank and others in St. Clair County in 2008, claiming they ruined a real estate deal that would have netted him millions.
When the bank missed a deadline to respond, Cueto moved for default judgments.
Gleeson granted it three ways, initially awarding Cueto a total of about $98 million.
Cueto enrolled the judgments in courts of three Maryland counties.
American Bank Holdings reacted at last, showing up in Gleeson's court and moving to set aside the judgments.
St. Paul Mercury sued the bank in federal court at Greenbelt, claiming the tardy response to Cueto's suit voided its coverage.
St. Paul Mercury included Cueto as a defendant in the suit.
Back in Belleville, Gleeson let the judgments stand but reduced the award to the amount of the original claim.
Then he punted, by certifying questions of his jurisdiction to Fifth District Appellate Court.
In the Maryland action, Cueto moved to dismiss the claims against him for lack of personal jurisdiction.
He claimed he had nothing to do with the insurance contract, he committed no wrongful act in Maryland, and he hadn't been there since 1969.
These points didn't sway Titus, who concluded that the assertion of personal jurisdiction over Cueto was authorized by the Maryland long-arm statute and comported with constitutional due process.
"Mr. Cueto does not and cannot reasonably complain that litigating here is unduly burdensome when he enrolled three foreign judgments in the Maryland courts," he wrote.
He wrote that Maryland has great interest in a dispute between a Maryland insured and its insurer.
He wrote that St. Paul Mercury has strong interest in resolving the dispute in Maryland because it is the only forum where Cueto and the bank have sufficient contact.
He stayed further proceedings until June 7, to await a decision by the Fifth District in Mt. Vernon regarding the bank's appeal from Gleeson's refusal to set aside the default judgments.
"In this case, the outcome of the Illinois action on appeal will undoubtedly impact the insurance coverage dispute before this court," he wrote.
"Indeed, if all of the default judgments are vacated, the remaining issue in this case as to whether St. Paul has any duty to indemnify ABHI for its defense costs would not concern Mr. Cueto," he wrote.