FORT EDWARD A manufacturer of prefabricated buildings for the U.S. military wants $3 million in punitive damages from a local man who allegedly participated in an armed raid on its plant in Afghanistan in a contract dispute.
Reading in part like a Hollywood action script, the lawsuit filed by MAKS Inc. General Trading & Contracting Co. of Kuwait claims that James Pearson entered the company’s compound in Kabul “without authorization, for the purpose of assaulting MAKS personnel and stealing MAKS property.”
The complaint, lodged last month in state Supreme Court in Washington County, charges trespass to land, trespass to chattel, conversion and negligence. In addition to MAKS, the plaintiffs include two Indian nationals who are identified as supervisors at the plant and various “John Does” who worked there on the day of the alleged early-morning raid in October 2009.
The lawsuit identifies Pearson as living in Greenwich, Washington County, but his attorney, Stephen Rehfuss of Rehfuss, Liguori & Associates of Latham, said he now lives in Albany County. Pearson makes his living as a dog trainer, Rehfuss said.
He said that was Pearson’s job, too, when he worked in Kabul for EOD Technology Inc. “My guy is a dog trainer,” Rehfuss said Friday. “He had nothing to do with MAKS.”
The lawsuit says EOD Technology had a contract with the U.S. Air Force to supply temporary housing and office buildings at Bagram Airfield outside Kabul. The company subcontracted with MAKS for the actual units.
EODT, based in suburban Knoxville, Tenn., provides security, munitions management, construction, logistics and disaster response “in austere and hostile environments,” according to its website. The site says the company was founded by two retired U.S. Marines, and has done work for the U.S. Department of State, Department of Defense and Army Corps of Engineers, as well as defense contractor SAIC and oilfield services firm Halliburton.
The lawsuit indicates EODT and MAKS had two contracts: one for the prefab units, called RLBs or relocatable buildings, and another for security services, under which EODT protected the MAKS plant and personnel in Kabul. Both were signed in 2009, according to the lawsuit.
EODT and MAKS “became embroiled in a dispute” over performance and payment on the prefab contract, the complaint contends, and that led to the alleged raid on Oct. 23, 2009.
Early that morning, it claims, “Defendant Pearson and others invaded MAKS’s compound for the purpose of stealing RLBs.” The “armed trespass” put co-plaintiffs Gopalakrishna Pillai Ajeesh Kumar Kammarayil and Mohammed Azad Shabbir, citizens of India and plant supervisors, as well as the John Does “in fear of bodily harm” if they interfered.
Ninety prefab units were taken from the MAKS facility in the alleged raid, according to the complaint.
The lawsuit says Pearson, “as a private security contractor operating in the Afghanistan theater of operations, … had a duty of care with respect to unarmed civilians — a duty of care that he violated to the detriment of plaintiffs Azad and Ajeesh.”
They claim his conduct during the alleged raid amounted to negligence.
“Not only were defendant Pearson’s acts not justified under the laws of the United States, defendant Pearson’s acts were negligent under governing rules of engagement governing private, U.S. contractors that were promulgated by the United States Armed Forces operating in the Afghanistan theater of operations,” the complaint states.
Rehfuss, Pearson’s attorney, disputed the lawsuit’s portrayal of events. “That’s not what happened at any level,” he said. Rehfuss said he expected to file an answer to the complaint on Friday.
In the lawsuit, MAKS seeks an award of the value of the 90 prefab units allegedly stolen and damages for the income lost on the sale of the units. It also wants damages for labor force disruptions and “injuries to MAKS’s reputation caused by cash-flow difficulties when the RLBs were removed without payment.”
The company also wants $3 million in punitive damages “to punish defendant Pearson for the conversion he perpetrated and to deter such conduct in the future.” The complaint says his actions “demonstrated a reckless and wanton disregard” for MAKS’s property and personnel.
The lawsuit was filed by attorneys Audrey Bedolis of New York City and Joseph Hennessey of Beins, Goldberg & Hennessey of Chevy Chase, Md.
Hennessey also is listed as an attorney in a lawsuit MAKS brought against EODT and EODT General Security Co. in U.S. District Court in Knoxville in 2010. That lawsuit contains many allegations in common with the Washington County case.
It says MAKS contracted with EODT to build 224 prefab units for $4.15 million. Construction and delivery to Bagram Airfield was to occur in two groups of 112 units each. The units were to be “fashioned from shipping containers” — a common building material for military housing and offices in Afghanistan.
The Knoxville lawsuit describes the alleged raid on the MAKS facility in Kabul as “a stunning display of raw force” in which EODT “deployed a team of paramilitaries equipped with assault weapons,” loaded 90 of the units onto 15 flatbed trucks, and took them away.
Hennessey declined on Friday to talk about the specifics of the lawsuits, but called the actions against MAKS “egregious.”
He said an early November trial date was likely for the Knoxville case.
Pearson was not named as a defendant in that lawsuit, but two officials of EODT were, along with three security guards who were identified as “Jack Doe” 1-3.
MAKS asked in March to amend the defendant list by replacing the Jack Does with seven names — including Pearson’s — but the motion was denied by U.S. District Judge Thomas A. Varlan, documents show.
Asked how the lawsuit came to be filed in sleepy Washington County, Hennessey said the plan was “to pursue each person who participated in this.”