United States District Court, W.D. Arkansas, Fayetteville Division
GARLAND D. MURPHY, III, M.D., and PHYLLIS MURPHY, Individually and on behalf of all others similarly situated PLAINTIFFS
GOSPEL FOR ASIA, INC.; GOSPEL FOR ASIA-INTERNATIONAL; K.P. YOHANNAN; GISELA PUNNOSE; DANIEL PUNNOSE; DAVID CARROLL; and PAT EMERICK DEFENDANTS
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
TIMOTHY L. BROOKS, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
before the Court are a Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings
(Doc. 68) and Brief in Support (Doc. 69) filed by Defendants
Gospel for Asia, Inc. ("GFA"), Gospel for
Asia-International, K.P. Yohannan, Gisela Punnose, Daniel
Punnose, David Carroll, and Pat Emerick. Plaintiffs Garland
Murphy and Phyllis Murphy have filed a Response in Opposition
(Doc. 89). For the following reasons, Defendants'
Motion is DENIED.
lawsuit centers on Plaintiffs' allegations that
Defendants and their international partners have defrauded
donors by diverting donations earmarked for specific purposes
to different uses without these donors' knowledge.
Plaintiffs have brought several causes of action against the
named Defendants, including an alleged violation of the
Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations
("RICO") Act and fraud.
initial matter, the difference between a motion for judgment
on the pleadings brought under Federal Rule of Civil
Procedure 12(c) and a motion to dismiss brought under Rule
12(b)(6) "is purely formal, because we review [a] 12(c)
motion under the standard that governs 12(b)(6)
motions." Westcott v. City of Omaha, 901 F.2d
1486, 1488 (8th Cir. 1990).
with a motion to dismiss, to survive the motion for judgment
on the pleadings, Plaintiffs' Complaint must provide
"a short and plain statement of the claim that [the
plaintiff] is entitled to relief." Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2).
The purpose of this requirement is to "give the
defendant fair notice of what the ... claim is and the
grounds upon which it rests." Erickson v.
Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 93 (2007) (quoting Bell Atl.
Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007)). The Court
must accept all of a complaint's factual allegations as
true, and construe them in the light most favorable to the
plaintiff, drawing all reasonable inferences in the
plaintiff's favor. See Ashley Cnty., Ark. v. Pfizer,
Inc., 552 F.3d 659, 665 (8th Cir. 2009). The complaint
"must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as
true, to 'state a claim to relief that is plausible on
its face.'" Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S.
662, 678 (2009) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570).
"A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff
pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the
reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the
misconduct alleged." Id.
on the pleadings is not properly granted unless the moving
party has clearly established that no material issue of fact
remains to be resolved and the party is entitled to judgment
as a matter of law." United States v. Any & All
Radio Station Transmission Equip., 207 F.3d
458, 462 (8th Cir. 2000); see also Wishnatsky v.
Rovner, 433 F.3d 608, 610 (8th Cir. 2006).
allege that Defendants have violated the RICO Act, codified
at 18 U.S.C. § 1962(c). That section makes it
"unlawful for any person employed by or associated with
any enterprise engaged in, or the activities of which affect,
interstate or foreign commerce, to conduct or participate,
directly or indirectly, in the conduct of such
enterprise's affairs through a pattern of racketeering
activity or collection of unlawful debt." As a result of
the statutory language, two principles are clear. First,
"the person named as the defendant cannot also be the
entity identified as the enterprise." Atlas Pile
Driving Co. v. DiCon Fin. Co., 886 F.2d 986, 995 (8th
Cir. 1989). Second, "[plaintiffs] cannot circumvent the
distinctness requirement by 'alleging a RICO enterprise
that consists merely of a corporate defendant
associated with its own employees or agents carrying on the
regular affairs of the defendant.'" Anatian v.
Coutts Bank (Switzerland) Ltd., 193 F.3d 85, 89 (2d Cir.
1999) (emphasis added).
premise their Rule 12(c) motion on an argument that
Plaintiffs' Complaint fails to satisfy this enterprise
element because it does not allege a separate "RICO
person" and "RICO enterprise, " and because
the alleged enterprise does not meet the
"distinctness" requirement noted above. The Court
considers each argument in turn.
the Court rejects the argument that the Complaint names the
same entity as a RICO person and a RICO enterprise and is
thereby deficient as a matter of law. Under governing law, a
RICO enterprise is defined as "any individual,
partnership, corporation, association, or other legal entity,
and any union or group of individuals associated in fact
although not a legal entity." 18 USC § 1961(4). The
latter part of this description, representing so called
"association-in-fact" enterprises, may be proven by
evidence that a "group of persons associated together
for a common purpose of engaging in a course of conduct"
committed predicate acts necessary to establish a violation.
United States v. Turkette, 452 U.S. 576, 583 (1981);
Nelson v. Nelson, 833 F.3d 965, 968 (8th Cir. 2016).
the Complaint holistically and drawing all reasonable
inferences in Plaintiffs' favor, as it must on a 12(c)
motion, the Court concludes that the allegations in the
Complaint make clear that GFA was simply one member of a RICO
enterprise consisting of all of the named Defendants. This is
more than sufficient to allege a plausible
association-in-fact enterprise. Atlas, 886 F.2d at
second argument fares no better. They assert that
Plaintiffs' Complaint alleges a RICO enterprise that
consists merely of a corporate defendant associated with its
own employees or agents carrying on the regular affairs of
the defendant. (Doc. 69, pp. 1-2). That contention ignores
the Complaint's discussion of other entities, such as
Believers Church, Gospel for Asia-India, Last Hour
Ministries, and Love India Ministries. See Doc. 1,
p. 3. It also ignores that this Court has already ruled on a
Motion to Stage Alter Ego Issues After Verdict (Doc. 60),
which centered around the discovery of at least 76 foreign
entities, all of which are alleged to be affiliates or