(CN) - The owner of a Puerto Rican taco shop may get another chance to sue Don King's boxing production company for repossessing her car, just not in federal court, the 1st Circuit ruled.
Don King Productions repossessed Delia Esquilin-Mendoza's 1995 Toyota 4 Runner after obtaining a judgment against her shop. Delia's Tacos had been one several restaurants and bars in Puerto Rico that intercepted a closed-circuit transmission of a boxing match produced by the celebrated boxing promoter, according to that underlying lawsuit.
In the March 1, 2003, pay-per-view event, John Ruiz, a fighter of Puerto Rican descent, lost the world heavyweight champion title to Roy Jones Jr. Two years earlier, Ruiz had become the first Latino to win the coveted title. Another bout of the March 1 event featured Puerto Rican fighter Fres Oquendo, who defeated Maurice Harris in an International Boxing Federation heavyweight elimination match.
The District Court of Puerto Rico awarded Don King Productions $12,000 in damages after the various shop owners never answered its complaint.
Esquilin-Mendoza and her boyfriend, Alberto Lopez, were among those defendants. The original complaint names them as a married couple, Delia and Alberto Lopez, doing business as Delia's Tacos.
Pursuant to that judgment, Don King Productions seized Esquilin-Mendoza's sports utility vehicle. Esquilin-Mendoza later won an order to vacate the judgment because of errors in the complaint, namely that her name is not Lopez and that her boyfriend only works for the taco shop.
Despite a court order to return the car to Esquilin-Mendoza in September 2006, Don King Productions did not do so until October 2007.
Esquilin-Mendoza then sued the company for gross negligence and illegal embargo, seeking $1 million in damages for deprivation of the vehicle, depression, mental anguish and stress that exacerbated her heart problems.
The District Court dismissed this case, finding that Esqulin-Mendoza failed to establish a causal connection between the repossession of her car and her alleged suffering.
A federal appeals panel for the Boston-based 1st Circuit vacated that decision on Feb. 18, but did so only to dismiss Esquilin-Mendoza's suit on alternate grounds.
Although Esquilin-Mendoza sought $1 million in damages, the three-judge panel said the maximum amount she could have paid to rent a car was $22,500 - an amount that is only about a third of the $75,000 required for federal jurisdiction.
Esquilin-Mendoza has no case for emotional injury, and Don King had a right to repossess her car even if it misstated her name as Lopez on the complaint, according to the ruling.
She may have a claim for Don King's 11-month delay in restoring her car, but she'll have to raise that claim in another venue, Judge Pierre Leval, sitting by designation from the 2nd Circuit, wrote for the court.
Subscribe to Closing Arguments
Sign up for new weekly newsletter Closing Arguments to get the latest about ongoing trials, major litigation and hot cases and rulings in courthouses around the U.S. and the world.