Articles Posted in Commercial and Business

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vintage tvJust because you file your lawsuit here doesn’t necessarily mean that your case will be resolved here, even if the Florida courts have jurisdiction. A battle between some Spanish-language movie channels produced an opinion recently issued by the Third District Court of Appeal that re-affirms that Florida courts follow the federal standard for granting motions that allow actions to proceed somewhere else. In the case of the movie channels, the appeals court here in Miami concluded that a court in Mexico was better equipped to take on and resolve the case than Florida was. The ruling is a reminder of the many procedural hurdles you may face in your commercial litigation dispute, which is why it pays to have experienced Florida commercial litigation counsel on your side.

At one time, a few decades ago, it was easier to bring a civil case in Florida than it is today. However, the Florida Supreme Court became concerned that the Sunshine State was becoming the “courthouse for the world.” With that concern in mind, the Supreme Court issued a ruling in 1996 that adopted the federal standard for forum non conveniens.

Forum non conveniens, which is Latin that translates into “forum not agreeing,” is a motion a party to a lawsuit may make in order to argue that another court, or forum, is in a better position to handle the case. Under the federal standard for forum non conveniens, a court must look at four things:  whether another forum exists that is both sufficient and has jurisdiction, the private interest factors of each side, whether “the relevant public interests” point in favor of another court, and whether or not the plaintiffs can bring suit in the alternative forum.

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steel pilingsThere are lots of minute items and details that go into putting together a successful commercial litigation case. For example, if you are pursuing a breach of contract case, it is important to have proof that the defendant’s alleged improper actions or inactions related to the contract you’ve cited in your case. That issue proved to be key in a successful appeal and a reversal of a $776,000 judgment handed down by a Broward County court. This case demonstrates that, whether your case is a $7,000 one or a $70 million one, it is vital to, with the help of experienced Florida contract litigation counsel, ensure that you have covered all of the necessary details.

The dispute underlying this case focused on a rental contract between a construction company and a company that provided steel sheet pilings. The pilings in question were ones used by the construction company on its work on the Interstate 595 project in Broward County. The agreement called for the pilings company to lease pilings to the construction company and for the construction company to pay the pilings company in periodic invoices.

A year later, with the construction company roughly $500,000 behind on its payments, the pilings company sued for breach of contract and unjust enrichment. In its amended complaint, the plaintiff attached the rental contract but did not attach any invoices or any other contracts. The plaintiff followed that up by filing a motion for summary judgment. The plaintiff argued that the construction company signed the deal, took delivery of the pilings, and did not pay the invoices. These facts alone established that it was entitled to judgment in its favor on the breach of contract claim, it argued.

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houseWhenever you go to court to seek relief based upon an alleged breach of contract, there are several keys to success. There is establishing liability. There is also establishing your damages. Both are essential parts of a positive outcome. Experienced Florida contract litigation attorneys can help with regard to crafting a winning case on both of these vital components.

The latter of these two was a major problem in one recent breach of contract case from the Second District Court of Appeal. The case involved two LLCs with very similar names that had entered into a contract to engage in a business venture. One LLC was responsible for finding “distressed mortgages that holders were typically willing to sell for less than face value.” The other LLC provided the capital to finance the purchase of the mortgages, and the first LLC serviced the loans for the second LLC. The parties executed the deal in 2003.

Then, the housing collapse happened, and the LLC responsible for finding the properties and servicing the loans fell deeply into debt. The parties worked out an oral agreement in which the servicing entity would not service any more loans and would transfer all of its existing files to its contract partner.

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AppleYour commercial litigation case can involve many battles, some of which may not always be expected. You may have to litigate items that go beyond just the contractual dispute that started your case. In one recent case, a plaintiff in a breach of contract case even had to litigate in order to use the attorney it preferred. Whatever the twists and turns in your case, it pays to have experienced Florida contract litigation attorneys on your side who can help you be prepared for anything.

Apple, Inc., the maker of many popular technological devices like iPhones and iPads, maintains a program in which it licenses certain businesses to operate as what it calls “Apple Authorized Resellers.” In order for a business to be licensed as an Apple Authorized Reseller, it must sign a contract with Apple. A Doral-headquartered business that maintained several locations in South Florida signed such a deal with Apple to sell and service Apple products as an Apple Authorized Reseller.

In 2012, that company signed a separate deal that granted to its new contract partner the right to use the authorized reseller’s trade name to sell Apple products in Fort Lauderdale. As part of their contractual relationship, the authorized reseller forced the Fort Lauderdale company to make certain purchases. Those forced purchases and the debt they caused the Fort Lauderdale company to incur eventually led those two businesses into court in Broward County, with the Fort Lauderdale company accusing the authorized reseller of breach of contract, among other things.

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magnifying glassIn any commercial contract litigation case, the difference between success and defeat can be as small as a single word or word pair. That’s why it is so important to work with experienced Florida commercial litigation attorneys. It is vital to the protection of your business interests to make sure that each and every term of your commercial contract is carefully and fully negotiated after it has been assessed and approved by you and your knowledgeable attorney. In one recent case from Miami, the key to the case was one pair of words within one clause of the document.

In this case, the underlying contract that led to this lawsuit was a licensing agreement. Within the final version of the licensing agreement that the parties signed was a mandatory forum selection clause. Forum selection clauses can be helpful provisions within commercial contracts, potentially helping the parties avoid facing litigation in some far-flung location.

The mandatory forum selection clause in this agreement said that any “action or proceeding between Licensor and Licensee relating to this Agreement, whether pertaining to the interpretation or enforceability hereof or others, may only be brought in the courts of the State of New York, county of New York or the federal courts located therein, and both parties consent to the exclusive jurisdiction of such courts.”

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Gardens MallAn “anchor” tenant at a South Florida shopping mall won its case seeking to sublease part of its space to a sporting goods retailer. The commercial tenant was successful because of the way its agreement with the landlord was worded. (The contract clearly allowed the store to sublet to other retailers, and there was nothing in the contract that said that the store had to get the landlord’s approval at any point in the process of obtaining a subtenant.) The store’s success is a clear example of the paramount importance of ensuring proper wording in your commercial lease, which is but one of many ways that a South Florida business attorney can help you.

The store, Sears, leased a large “anchor” space within the Gardens Mall in Palm Beach Gardens. At some point, Sears decided to sublease part of its space to Dick’s Sporting Goods. The landlord did not approve of the sublease. In an attempt to prevent the sublease from coming to fruition, the landlord began to collaborate with the City of Palm Beach Gardens. Eventually, the city passed a resolution that required tenants to obtain both landlord and city approval before subleasing space in Gardens Mall.

Sears sued. Sears argued that its original agreement with the landlord, signed in 1987, gave it the right to sublease its space. According to the department store’s complaint, the landlord improperly impaired the store’s ability to contract by coordinating with the city to prevent the subleasing of Sears’ space at the mall.

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dirt truckWhen you are hauled into court in a commercial litigation situation, there are many things you seek to accomplish. Ideally, you seek to avoid a finding of liability and avoid an award of damages. At a minimum, if the court awards damages against you, you want to ensure that your legal obligations from the judgment do not result in paying out a double recovery, which is one situation in which your Florida commercial litigation attorney can help. A recent case involving an owner of undeveloped land and its providers of materials (like fill dirt) eventually presented exactly such an issue of double recovery.

The case began after the property owner contracted with another entity, Outdoor Site Solutions, for the provision of “labor, services and materials which included fill dirt.” That entity then, in turn, contracted with another business, Hicks Trucking and Fill, for the labor, services, and fill dirt.

Eventually the owner and Outdoor wound up in a dispute, and that dispute led to a cessation of work on the project and then a breach of contract lawsuit (which was filed by Outdoor). At first, the case was only a breach of contract action. Later, however, Hicks joined the case, asserting a claim of unjust enrichment against the owner.

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tanning bedBusiness, like life, can be full of unexpected twists and turns. At every twist, turn, and hurdle along your path, it is important to understand what your options are, which is why you need a knowledgeable Florida business lawyer working for you. For example, take the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals case of a Southwest Florida commercial tenant whose tanning salon business encountered a hurdle when it received an unexpected and unfavorable zoning ruling. The salon tried to use the ruling as a basis for getting out of its lease, but the courts rejected that argument because the ruling did not create a valid “frustration of purpose.”

The would-be tenant was a UV and spray-on tanning salon. The salon and the landlord executed a lease in March 2013. The tenant, desiring to make certain improvements to the space, filed a permit with the City of Marco Island. The city rejected the permit, claiming that the use for which the property was zoned didn’t allow tanning salons.

The tenant promptly notified the landlord of the denial. The landlord first retained counsel on its end and then subsequently provided the tenant with a referral to a local attorney, whom the landlord claimed would give the tenant “the best shot at getting your use restriction lifted.”

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superyachtIf you find yourself in need of pursuing a civil lawsuit based upon the false statements someone made to persuade you to sign a contract, it is important that you take the proper preparations necessary to build your case. This includes retaining skilled Florida commercial litigation attorneys, who can help you collect your evidence and develop your case. For one plaintiff in a recent commercial contract case, the key to success was establishing that the presence of an “as is” clause in the contract did not bar the later assertion of a fraudulent inducement claim based upon statements made during the negotiation process.

The contract at the center of this case was one for the purchase of a yacht. A North Carolina-based LLC agreed to buy a used 105-foot luxury super-yacht from a seller in Palm Beach County. The contract included a $6.8 million purchase price. The contract also contained an “as is” clause that stated that the buyer took the vessel in as-is condition and that the seller provided no warranties whatsoever. The agreement, however, came with an addendum that inserted an express limited warranty into the deal. That warranty covered “certain manufacturing and design defects for a period of one year from the contract date.”

Unfortunately for the parties, problems emerged shortly after the completion of the sale. The buyer sued, alleging that the seller made “numerous false representations regarding the yacht’s condition” during the course of the negotiation process. First, the buyer alleged that the seller affirmatively stated that the vessel was MCA LY2 compliant. (MCA LY2, which was later superseded by MCA LY3, is a set of safety and pollution prevention standards.) The seller also told the buyer that the yacht was built to DNV standards, but that wasn’t true either, according to the buyer.

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question markA classic comedy bit from the first half of the 20th century involved Abbott and Costello and a baseball game. While “Who’s on First” may be good for a laugh, it also points to a basic truth – which is the importance of understanding the true identities of all of the essential players in a given setting. That can be very important in your Florida landlord-tenant dispute. If you, as the tenant, need to sue or defend against a lawsuit, it is very important to make sure that the litigant opposing you is legally entitled to claim to be your landlord. In a recent dispute in the Tampa Bay area, the tenant was able to use a lack of clarity on that subject matter to avoid summary judgment in an eviction action.

The owner of a St. Petersburg fish restaurant signed a commercial lease for a space in South St. Pete. The lease’s rent provision stated that the tenant was to pay either a flat amount or a percentage of gross annual revenues, whichever was greater. The restaurant timely paid all of its rental obligations in accordance with the flat-rate base rent provision. According to the landlord, the problem was that the tenant, after 2007, stopped providing its financial information to allow for a determination if the restaurant owed rent in excess of the base rate as a result of the volume of revenues it took in.

The landlord, Maximo Harborage Marina, LLC, sought an order of eviction and a determination of rents in the summer of 2014. Unfortunately for the landlord, it was not current with some of its mandatory filings with the state Division of Corporations, so it could not litigate the case. The landlord eventually substituted another LLC, JMS Marinas, LLC, as the plaintiff in the eviction case.