A woman who says she is the first Asian person of her gender to fly a single-engine plane around the world by herself lost a round in court Tuesday in her lawsuit alleging the chairman of a Los Angeles private equity firm reneged on a 2014 promise of a six-figure award to the initial Chinese female to accomplish the task.
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Michael Rafael granted a motion by defendant Wei Chen to set aside an entry of default against the businessman, finding that plaintiff Zheng (Julie) Wang had not properly served the complaint by presenting it to Chen’s parents at their Rowland Heights home. The judge on June 4 had granted an entry of default against Chen, opening the door to a possible default judgment that has been closed for now with Tuesday’s ruling.
Wang’s lawsuit, filed March 1, seeks triple and punitive damages, including the $163,000 prize money, from Chen on allegations of fraud, negligent misrepresentation and breach of contract. The promoter that helped prepare her financially for the flight, China General Aviation LLC, also is named as a plaintiff.
Chen, the chairman of Sun Capital Investment Bank in Los Angeles, has a net worth of more than $30 million, according to the plaintiff’s court papers.
A process server for Wang served the court papers on Chen’s parents on March 18. Plaintiff’s lawyer Keith Wesley maintained the substitute service was proper because Chen knew about the existence of the lawsuit, because he allegedly co-owns the home and because his parents told the process server their son was “not home” at the time.
In addition, Chen’s Facebook profile called Los Angeles his “current city,” the plaintiff’s attorney said.
However, Chen’s lawyer, Jeffrey Farrow, said his client has lived in Tennessee for 22 years and that it was not enough for the Wang process server to drop the court papers off at the home of his client’s parents. He said the lawsuit should have been filed in Tennessee or China and that none of the facts alleged occurred in California.
Farrow also said that Wang has never provided any fuel receipts or other evidence to support her claim to the prize, but has instead filed the current lawsuit along with two others in New York.
According to the complaint, Chen announced in September 2014 at the International Aircraft Owner and Pilot Association in Beijing that he was willing to pay the prize — which amounts to a million Chinese yuan — to the “first Chinese woman to complete an around-the-world flight.”
Chen said he was holding the contest to encourage more females to learn to fly, the suit states.
Wang, a certified flight instructor experienced in flying fix-wing aircraft, says she entered the contest in May 2016. The Palm Beach, Florida resident and CGA spent more than $230,000 getting her ready for the trip, according to her complaint.
Wang, then 43, embarked on her flight from Addison Airport near Dallas on Aug. 17, 2016, and successfully returned from the global trip at the same airport on Sept. 19, 2016, according to her lawsuit.
Wang says she became not only the first Asian woman to accomplish such a task, but also the first person of Chinese descent to do so by herself and the eighth woman of any ethnicity to fly around the world solo.
Although Chen acknowledged Wang as the contest winner, and praised her in public, he began a “strategy of stringing Wang along,” the suit alleges.
Wang claims she traveled to China to attend what Chen said would be an award ceremony in October 2016, only to found out that no festivities were scheduled. Wang later met with Chen, who told her “these things take time,” according to her lawsuit, which also alleges that Chen told CGA manager James Frechter, “When people win the lottery, they often have to wait six months to receive their money.”
An award ceremony was finally held in China in November 2016 and Wang says she was presented with a large replica check and a trophy. But Chen, despite acknowledging Wang’s accomplishments and admitting she is entitled to the prize, has refused to pay her the money and instead has given her “a host of frivolous, nonsense excuses for non-payment,’ the suit alleges.
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