A judge dismissed a lawsuit filed by a woman who maintained a businessman’s estate was liable for a reward she was owed for becoming the first Chinese female to fly a single-engine plane around the world.
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Dennis Landin on Monday rejected arguments by plaintiff Zheng (Julie) Wang, who said her case against Wei Chen’s estate should take place in Los Angeles, not China. Landin dismissed Wang’s case “with prejudice,” meaning she cannot bring the case in California again.
Wang sued Chen in March 2018, alleging he reneged on a 2014 promise of a six-figure award to the initial Chinese female to accomplish the task.
Chen was a passenger on a small plane headed to Memphis when it crashed in a northwest Atlanta park, killing him and everyone else on board on Dec. 20, 2018. A well-known Memphis businessman, he founded Sunshine Enterprises, which focuses on the wholesale distribution of Chinese construction and industrial equipment, in 1998.
In August 2019, Landin granted Wang’s motion to substitute Chen’s wife, Zhaohui Xu, as the defendant in the lawsuit. Xu is the executor of Chen’s estate, which was opened in Memphis.
The defense moved to dismiss Wang’s case for failing to instead file it in China. Landin heard arguments on July 30 and again Monday before taking the case under submission and ruling Monday afternoon.
Wang, who has lived in Palm Beach County, Florida, since 2010, argued the coronavirus made China the wrong place to try the case, despite defense arguments to the contrary.
Wang scoffed at the estate executor’s argument that the relevant proof in the case is in China, not the United States.
“The executor’s assertion that all the evidence is in China is preposterous,” Wang said. “Actually, there is almost no relevant evidence to be found in China. Without waiving my attorney-client privilege, I can say that, to the contrary, all the documents, emails, social media conversations, video, photos that I will rely on to prove my case at trial were either generated by me prior to and during my 2016 global circumnavigation flight.”
Chen had significant commercial ties to Los Angeles, according to Wang.
“Filing this action against Wei Chen in Los Angeles County was not an afterthought,” Wang said. “His connections to Los Angeles were extensive. He owned several businesses operating in Los Angeles, including a scaffolding business and an investment bank of which he was chairman.”
Chen had a home in Rowland Heights, kept three of his four personal aircraft in a private hangar at Brackett Field in La Verne, hosted an event by the Orange County Chinese American Chamber of Commerce in his hangar and took part in numerous aviation events throughout Southern California, according to Wang.
Wang sought triple and punitive damages, including the $163,000 prize money, 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 was named as a plaintiff.
Chen had a net worth of more than $30 million, according to the plaintiff’s court papers.
According to Wang’s 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.”
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.