The breakup of a for-profit medical school founder’s 50-plus-year marriage helped fuel a multitude of legal actions, with the founder’s wife seeking to freeze the assets of the university through the equitable distribution process, while the husband accused the wife of abusing the legal process to tie up money that belonged to the school and other companies. A Florida court recently ruled against the wife, ordering her to pay roughly $6.8 million in damages for wrongfully seeking and obtaining an injunction that froze nearly $100 million in assets, as dailybusinessreview.com reported.
The award came down as part of a series of complicated cases spanning both the federal and Florida courts. All of the cases related back to one couple, Paul Tien and Ming Tien, and the breakdown of their marriage. The couple married in Taiwan in 1952. In 1978, the husband founded a for-profit medical school, American University of the Caribbean. The university was highly successful and generated a substantial amount of wealth.
While the school flourished, the Tiens’ marriage ultimately did not. In 2006, the husband filed for divorce. Prior to that filing, however, it was discovered that one of the couple’s sons had transferred roughly $90 million of money that belonged to the university to other bank accounts in South Florida without proper authorization. The university demanded the return of the money, and the institution holding the money, Wachovia Bank, commenced what’s called an interpleader action in federal court. (This is a court procedure by a holder of a piece of property to initiate litigation among various people or entities, each of whom has asserted a claim of ownership over the property.)
While the money was frozen as part of this interpleader action, the wife sought an injunction from a state court. She successfully obtained an ex parte injunction that froze the funds, with the judge ruling that the funds were a marital asset. However, the Third Circuit reversed that injunction, concluding that the money actually belonged to the school and some of the business entities owned by the Tien family. The injunction could not stay in place because the wife’s claim seeking to subject the funds to equitable distribution as part of her divorce actually violated the rights of the Tien family-owned entities.
The husband then attacked the wife’s pursuit of the injunction, claiming that it was improper and had inflicted millions of dollars in financial damages upon him. A Miami-Dade County Circuit Judge agreed this past April, concluding that the wife’s pursuit, and obtaining, of the injunction freezing the assets was wrongful, which meant that the husband and the family-owned companies were entitled to an award of damages, costs, and attorneys’ fees. The damages award was $6.2 million, with the total amount climbing to $6.8 million when costs and attorneys’ fees were also included.
Most recently, the wife scored a partial legal victory. The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals sent the federal case back to the District Court for another hearing. The lower court had found that the wife committed civil theft regarding the accounts and ordered her to pay almost $3.8 million in damages. The appeals court sent that case back to the trial court because the statute of limitations may have already expired on one of the bases for damages asserted against the wife.
Whether you have a few million dollars or 100 million dollars, you should take the utmost care in protecting yourself in a high-asset divorce. The South Florida high-asset divorce attorneys at Stok Folk + Kon have the experience and the skill you need to ensure that your rights and interests are protected. Our attorneys have many years of helping other clients in similar situations and are ready to help you too.
Contact us online or by calling (305) 935-4440 to schedule your consultation.
More blog posts:
New Florida Supreme Court Decision Offers Beneficial Information for High-Asset Individuals Contemplating Prenuptial Agreements, Florida Business Lawyers Blog, Jan. 14, 2016
South Florida Wife Loses Claim Based Upon Increased Value of Husband’s Auto Dealership, Florida Business Lawyers Blog, Dec. 18, 2015