Commercial Litigation

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Miami Attorney Tom J Manos Wins Dismissal of $60 Million Fraud Case in Miami Court Against His Client in Favor of Venezuelan Forum

Tom J. Manos, representing a Miami defendant who was doing business with a failed stock brokerage in Venezuela, won an appeal affirming the dismissal of a case in Miami-Dade Circuit Court alleging a $60 million fraud, civil theft and conspiracy against his client in favor of litigation in the courts of Venezuela on forum non conveniens grounds.

The doctrine of forum non conveniens permits defendants to move to dismiss cases filed in Florida where a foreign forum would be more convenient for the defendant and the court finds the alternative forum to be available and adequate to hear the case.

In this case, Manos obtained a dismissal in the trial court for his client in favor of litigating in the courts of Venezuela, arguing at an evidentiary hearing that Venezuela's court system was an adequate alternative forum for the litigation and that other factors also favored Venezuela's courts over Miami's courts. On appeal of the dismissal order, and after oral argument, the Third District Court of Appeal affirmed without opinion on February 26, 2014, and on March 31, 2014 denied a motion by the plaintiff for rehearing and rehearing en banc, or in the alternative for a written opinion. See, Vasquez-Estrella v. Camperos, Case No. 11-035080, Miami-Dade Circuit Court, Third District Court of Appeal case No. 13-2342. The appllate court's order is now final.

Monday, March 31, 2014

Social Media, Defamation and Your Rights

Anyone familiar with Facebook, Twitter and other social media knows that these communication tools can be used to air grudges, disseminate questionable information and hurt feelings. But when do embarrassing claims and potentially damaging statements cross the line, legally, to the level of defamation, slander, libel and illegality?

An international civil case that resolved in March of this year helps illustrate what constitutes defamation conducted via social media.

In 2008, the head of an Australian school’s music department left his position for health reasons. He was replaced by veteran instructor Christine Mickle. For reasons that remain unclear, the retired department leader’s son made numerous tweets suggesting that Mickle bore responsibility for his father’s need to leave the school. Mickle sued for defamation.

The district court judge handling the case concluded, after an investigation, that the defendant had feelings of resentment against the plaintiff, "apparently based on a belief that she had something to do with his father leaving the school" and that there was "absolutely no evidence to substantiate that belief." The court awarded Mickle $100,000 in damages, stating:

  • The defamatory statements had a “devastating” effect (the plaintiff needed to take sick time to deal with the effects of the defamatory statements and was able to return to work only on a limited basis)
  • The type of communication used (Twitter) had an “evil,” “grapevine effect” that allowed lies to spread easily.

The ease of which defamatory statements can spread via “the simple manipulation of mobile phones and computers” may have played a role in the judge’s decision.

What Steps Can You Take in the Face of Defamatory Statements?

Everyone has a right to their opinion, but when businesses and careers are hurt by inaccurate and damaging misstatements and overt untruths, victims often have a right to financial compensation. The attorneys of Manos Alwine, PL have extensive commercial litigation experience in the Miami and all south Florida communities. If you need legal help regarding a possible defamation case involving Facebook, Twitter or any other form of print, verbal or electronic communication, contact us for a consultation by calling 305-341-3100.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

"Pink Slime" Case Illustrates Legal Protection Against Defamation

Most individuals and organizations in Miami and beyond have a passing understanding of their rights and responsibilities regarding what they can and cannot say about others, and what can and cannot be said about them, they're familiar with the terms: “Defamation.” “Liability.” “First Amendment rights.” “Free speech.” “Anticompetitive practices.” “The marketplace of ideas.”

Yet, the lines can seem blurred between free speech, liability, and the like when there is a possible defamation case at hand. Do potentially defaming statements truly equal defamation or are they perhaps merely offensive? Did damages occur and, if so, what are their value? And how can potential legal issues be resolved?

A recent case covered by the Miami Herald demonstrates that, despite a vigorous defense, potentially defaming statements based on questionable assertions can cause real damage and lead to potentially high-value legal outcomes.

In 2012, ABC broadcast a story questioning the safety of the beef product “lean, finely textured beef,” also known as  “pink slime”, which is a beef product made with the trimmings left over when a cow is butchered. In the broadcast, ABC:

  • Brought attention to the then little-known and derogatory term “pink slime”
  • Claimed that lean, finely textured beef is “not meat” but, rather, “filler”
  • Implied that the U.S. Department of Agriculture was not a credible source to certify that lean, finely textured beef is safe because it “overruled scientists” when approving the food’s use
  • Named only one producer of lean, finely textured beef- that producer was Beef Products Inc.

Following the ABC story, Beef Products Inc.’s sales plummeted, leading to the closing of three production plants, the laying off of 700 workers and reduced profits. In response, Beef Products Inc. sued ABC for $1.2 billion. ABC claimed, in response to the lawsuit, that it “never quoted critics saying the product is unsafe,” that the term "pink slime" is not incorrect and that Beef Products Inc. “doesn't get to choose ABC's words.” Despite ABC’s defense, the judge handling the case refused to throw out the case, stating that ABC wasn’t protected against liability by claiming in its news reports that lean, finely textured beef is beef and that it is safe and nutritious. Though the case has not yet concluded, Beef Products Inc. may potentially recover significant compensation for its losses.

As this case illustrates, laws against defamation have the ability to offer real protection. If you or your organization has suffered losses from a damaging statement made by another party, or you suspect that an individual or entity has made defaming statements about you, protect your rights and bottom line by obtaining sound legal advice. The attorneys of Manos Alwine PL in Miami have extensive civil litigation experience, including experience successfully handling defamation claims, and can be contacted at 305-341-3100.

Friday, January 31, 2014

Florida Museum Served with Contract Lawsuit

Business people in Miami and the surrounding area strive to establish contracts only with people and companies they know they can depend on, but sometimes a company doesn't live up to its reputation and problems arise with a contract. Such was the case (allegedly) for Volusia County-based marketing company Markalyst LLC, when they entered into an agreement with a Florida museum...

Things just got surreal for the museum that houses the artwork of Salvador Dalí, "the father of surrealism." The Dalí Museum is being sued by consulting company Markalyst for breaching their contract agreement and abandoning an unpaid balance of more than $230,000.

Markalyst filed a suit against the museum in late 2013, claiming breach of contract and unjust enrichment, and is seeking a jury trial. The reason for their lawsuit is pretty clear- Markalyst didn't receive the money owed to them for services rendered. Under Florida law (and other states), a plaintiff has to allege that a contract actually existed in the first place in order to file a breach. They must argue that:

  • a valid contract existed
  • there was a material breach of the contract. Meaning the plaintiff did not receive the "substantial benefit" of the deal- in this case it was money
  • damages resulted from the breach, and
  • there are no valid defenses for the breach

Are oral contracts considered valid? Yes, but a plaintiff must allege offer, acceptance and consideration. 

According to the lawsuit, the museum hired the consulting company to develop recommendations for new marketing objectives, strategies and processes, for which the museum originally planned to pay $300,000 over an extended period of time. Payments were to be made in installments due to the museum's "cash position" - a point which was not elaborated in the suit. Though Markalyst completed the work in July 2013, the museum told the company they would not be making any further payments on the project, despite the remaining balance of $233,200. The museum only paid a fraction, just $66,800, of the project's total cost, between January and August of that year.

If you are concerned you might be the victim of a contract breach, call the offices of Manos, Alwine, PL in Miami, Florida at 305-341-3100. 

Thursday, December 26, 2013

A Fair Outcome Following Alleged Trademark Infringement

Any business that owns a valuable patent, trademark or other intellectual property has likely taken considerable risk or expended a considerable sum to obtain it. When another business decides that it, too, can profit from the property or material without permission or a license, it’s important to take action to:

  • Protect your property
  • Obtain any compensation owed by law

A recent case in South Florida illustrates that, in the case of blatant trademark infringement, legal action can bring both a fair outcome and a high-value result.

For years, booth holders at the Fort Lauderdale-based Swap Shop flea market allegedly served as a source for counterfeit luxury items, including Coach purses, handbags and other items. Earlier this year, Coach responded to the alleged trademark infringement by filing a lawsuit not against alleged sellers and makers of the knock-off goods but against Swap Shop owners Preston and Betty Henn. The Henns, Coach claimed, “willfully turned a blind eye” to vendors illegally selling counterfeit Coach products on their property.

After just two days in court, the Henns capitulated and agreed to a settlement that included a $5.5 million payment to Coach due no later than December 27, 2013. For its legal efforts Coach obtained intellectual property protection, sent a message to other would-be trademark infringers and won a high-value sum that will significantly boost its 2013 bottom line.

The attorneys of the law office of Manos &Alwine, P.L., applaud the outcome of this lawsuit. Coach expends vast sums annually designing, marketing and distributing its coveted products. It deserves compensation from any party complicit in trademark infringement.

If your business is involved in a trademark dispute or other commercial dispute in Miami, Fort Lauderdale or elsewhere in South Florida, contact one of our business dispute attorneys to discuss your concerns. Our team of commercial litigation attorneys has resolved hundreds of trademark and contract disputes involving licensed material, unfair competition, insurance, entertainment law, distribution agreements and more. We represent both plaintiffs and defendants and have achieved numerous six- and seven-figure outcomes both in and out of court. To contact us, call 305-341-3100.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Electronic Evidence and Business Litigation

Email, intra-office messaging and digital image transference are hardly new concepts, however few business owners realize the long-term implications of this style of free-flowing communication, particularly in light of litigation and e-discovery requests. If you are a Florida business engaged in litigation or preparing for possible conflict in the future, one of the best strategies for your company is to implement and maintain an electronic evidence policy for employees. Too often, damaging information, accidental concessions or discriminatory language is casually exchanged between two employees -- believing to be engaged in a private chat -- only to be uncovered by a sweeping e-discovery request from opposing counsel. To avoid this result and protect your business from unnecessary exposure to liability, consider meeting with a business litigation lawyer about your company’s electronic information policies.

Electronically Stored Information and Business Litigation Holds

Once a civil complaint is filed, both parties are entitled to request and receive evidence from the opponent in a process known as discovery. Requests for information need not be necessarily admissible at a subsequent trial, however any non-privileged information that may be relevant to a party’s claim or defense is discoverable. In the context of electronic discovery, it is considered routine discovery practice to require opponents to place a “litigation hold” on electronically stored information, thereby preventing companies from destroying or erasing data. These holds generally include all emails, voicemails or electronically stored documents, and various software companies have developed products to help organizations manage and store data pursuant to a litigation hold.

Disastrous Consequences for Employers

In preparation for possible litigation, it is vital for your employees to carefully consider all electronic communication, as one pejorative email could bring your case to a screeching halt. In the context of employment litigation, a plaintiff claiming workplace discrimination could prevail, thereby costing your company thousands of dollars, all due to the discovery of derogatory jokes uncovered by electronic discovery. The same is true in the context of any other area of business law wherein one employee admits wrongdoing, breach or fraud in a casual email to a colleague. Once the litigation hold is in place, there is no telling what the opponent could uncover, thereby placing your business at an increased risk of liability.

Speak with a Reputable Miami Business Litigation Attorney

Electronic evidence can be a complex area of the law. However, with the proper workplace policies, businesses like yours can work to avoid the potential consequences of the vast, boundless litigation hold and can rest assured in the notion office emails do not contain inadvertent confessions, admissions or disclosures. If you are facing upcoming litigation and are seeking counsel on these issues, contact the commercial litigation attorneys at Manos Alwine PL for a consultation.


Friday, June 1, 2012

Dunkin' Donuts faces commercial litigation

By Pankaj Ladhar of Manos • Alwine P.L.

Dunkin' Donuts is a publicly traded company with many locations throughout Florida. The donut shops are typically franchises owned and operated by independent franchisees.

One franchisee has filed a lawsuit against the coffee and donut chain recently claiming that she has suffered racial discrimination by the franchise. This franchise owner happens to be a female of Indian descent. Though many Indian women work for Dunkin' Donuts, she is apparently the only female Indian multi-unit manager in her area.

Her experience is not limited to making coffee and donuts, however. This woman was a former business analyst at Ernst & Young. She currently operates two Dunkin' Donuts restaurants and was hoping to expand.

However, she alleges that Dunkin' Donuts forced her to operate her two stores 24 hours a day, even though her locations are located in high crime areas, posing a serious threat to her personal safety. She also claimed that she did not make enough money in the evening and early morning hours to justify the expense of hiring employees to work around the clock.

Despite these difficulties, the franchisee also hoped to open a third franchise. However, management at Dunkin' Donuts denied her proposal citing the lack of the possibility of a drive-thru window. However, she believes she was discriminated against because Dunkin' Donuts then allowed a male franchisee to open a store in the same location without a drive-thru window.

Now it will be left for a court to decide whether Dunkin' Donuts is violating its contract with this franchisee, or whether it is violating discrimination laws by its actions against her.

Source: New York Post, "Suit: Dunkin' did me wrong," Mark DeCambre, May 25, 2012

Friday, May 18, 2012

Miami lawsuit follows ouster of hotel management company

By Pankaj Ladhar of Manos • Alwine P.L.

Given the vibrant economic climate and recreational opportunities in Miami, there are many luxury hotels to serve visitors to the area. Of course some of them are better appointed and managed than others. But one hotel management company was taken completely by surprise earlier this year when they were cast out by the owner of the hotel for alleged poor performance. After kicking the management company out, the owners installed a new management company to run the hotel.

But the former management company claims that the ouster was a complete surprise and has initiated commercial litigation alleging breach of contract by the owner. They specifically claim that they were never given written notice of any perceived problems nor any opportunity to correct any issues. The former management company also claims that the actions of the owner damaged their reputation.

For its part, the new management company that was brought in to run the hotel does not seem interested in having any part in the dispute. Instead, in public statements they have focused on potential improvements and renovations to the property, including a revamping a restaurant that has up till now only been available for private functions.

The details of this conflict will have to be sorted out through the lawsuit or some process of arbitration. But in many cases, there is narrow distinction between motives when one party to contract accuses the other of failure to perform. It may be that they have a good faith belief that the there has been a failure and that the only path forward is to terminate the relationship. In other cases, the accusations of failure to perform are more perfunctory and while still potentially defensible, are actually a means of negating a contract that they feel no longer best serves their interests.

Source: The Miami Herald, "As lawsuit looms, Miami's Setai hotel moves forward," May 16, 2012

Monday, April 23, 2012

Star athletes not immune from business disputes

By Pankaj Ladhar of Manos • Alwine P.L.

National Football League wide receiver Randy Moss has made his way around the league and the country. He has used his remarkable athletic ability to make great plays on the field, often out-leaping and outrunning defenders for big plays. But off the field, Moss has not proven to be quite as fleet of foot, running into several obstacles that have not been as easy to overcome as an opposing cornerback.

As you may know, Moss spends the offseason training and working out South Florida. The Miami Herald reported recently that Moss has now filed a lawsuit against the owners of a barber shop in which he invested.

According to a lawsuit Moss has filed in this matter, he invested $160,000 into a barbershop as part of an agreement that was supposed to see Moss' investment repaid in addition to receiving up to one quarter of the revenues from the barbershop.

But Moss contends that the owner of the barbers shop initially tried to repay him with checks that were worthless. Moss says the owner then tried to engage in a shell game in which he changes the name of the legal entity that owned the barbershop in an attempt to avoid paying Moss.

It is great when athletes and other entertainers that have experienced some success decide to diversify their income streams by seeking out opportunities outside of the professional sports and entertainment industries. It remains to be seen what the court decides in thisa matter, but successful athletes and entertainers must tread carefully as there are many individuals who seem them less as business partners and more as meal tickets.

Source: Miami Herald, "Return to field by Randy Moss follows salon suit," Jose Lambiet, March 18, 2012

Friday, April 13, 2012

Lawsuit arises from playground of the rich and famous

By Pankaj Ladhar of Manos • Alwine P.L.

South Florida is a popular area for those with means to come and enjoy the sun and the water. For actors and celebrities such as Eva Longoria and Jennifer Lopez, one of best places to relax in the Miami area was right offshore. The Utopia mega-yacht caters to singers and entertainers who want to spend their time in the Miami area in luxury.

But now, Market America is the defendant in a lawsuit filed by the Miami chef they employed to create fine meals for the celebrities and guests on the luxury boat.

The chef claims that the owners of the boat physically abused him while he was working on the yacht. In the lawsuit, the chef alleges that the owner would become intoxicated and throw kitchen utensils at the chef. Including at least one occasion on which the chef was knocked to the ground by the owner of the boat. The chef claims that he has sustained serious back injuries as a result of the abuse and it is now difficult for him to work.

Market America, the company that owns the boat, not surprisingly disagrees with the chef's version of events. According to a spokesperson for the company, they allege that the chef has a history of dishonesty and frivolous litigation. It should be interesting to see how this case plays out over the next few months.

Source: Miami Herald, "Yacht chef's mega lawsuit against the Ridingers," April 13, 2012

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Televangelists accused of financial misconduct

By Pankaj Ladhar of Manos • Alwine P.L.

The famed televangelists behind the Trinity Broadcasting empire are facing a $50 million lawsuit brought by their granddaughter, the company's former chief financial officer. She claims that she was fired after exposing illegal financial decisions. The suit alleges that the couple, Paul and Jan Crouch, misspent company funds on luxury mansions throughout the nation, private jets, and a mobile home for their dogs. A supporting suit has been filed by another unnamed family member.

The husband of the woman bringing the suit was accused of embezzling about $1 million from the Trinity Broadcasting Network by a debt collection agency. The agency later targeted the woman, along with two of her relatives. The woman's father, who is Paul and Jan's oldest son, resigned from the company last year. He had been the vice president and chief of staff. Experts postulate that the man's departure was attributable to the outbreak of legal action.

Despite conflicting reports, the Crouch's legal team said that the case is simple: The woman and her husband who brought the suit stole from TBN. Attorneys for the televangelists said that couple is attempting to divert attention from their crimes in order to escape punishment.

TBN is one of the most popular religious-based entertainment networks, and one of the most profitable, with the company claiming $800 million in assets in 2010. Critics have often wondered how the money is spent, but the televangelists file tax forms separately through a variety of other companies that they own and operate.

TBN has been fraught with scandal before. In 1998, a lead church official paid an accuser more than $400,000 to hide evidence about a homosexual encounter. Federal Communications Commission authorities also investigated the company as part of a five-year legal battle, during which TBN was accused of monopolizing broadcast stations.

Source: Bloomberg BusinessWeek, "Lawsuits bring scrutiny to Trinity Broadcasting," Gillian Falccus, March 22, 2012

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