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South Florida Real Estate Agent Wins Appeal in Contract Breach Dispute with Broker

A Palm Beach County real estate agent got a renewed opportunity to go after the large commission she alleged she was owed after working for nearly a year to sell a $4.7 million property on Palm Beach Island. As is true in many contract dispute cases, the details were key to the agent’s success. The broker whom the agent sued did not have enough of the proper type of evidence to establish that it was entitled to keep or split the commission, so it wasn’t entitled to summary judgment in the agent’s case.

This contractual dispute case pitted a real estate agent against the real estate broker for whom she worked as an independent contractor. The agreement between the two generally called for sales commissions to be split on an “80/20” basis, with the broker getting 20% of the commission and the agent the other 80%. If a sale involved more than one agent, the contract dictated that the broker could decide, in its sole discretion, how much commission each agent would receive.

In 2014, the agent was working on the sale of a 4,449-square-foot home on Palm Beach Island. After working for nearly a year on the deal, the agent was called out of state in the final stages of the sale to attend to a family medical emergency in New Mexico. One of the broker’s principals promised to handle the final stages of the deal in the agent’s absence.

After the sale closed, the broker paid the agent nothing. The agent sued, but the broker argued that two agents worked on the sale, which meant that the contract gave it sole discretion over the commission. The trial court sided with the broker and granted it summary judgment.

The agent appealed, and she won. The problem the broker faced, which led to the agent’s successful outcome in the appeals court, came down to a matter of, as the saying goes, “the devil is in the details.” Throughout the trial court proceedings, the broker’s evidence backing up its position consisted mostly of the agent’s deposition testimony, the contract the broker consummated with the agent, and proof indicating that the contract was in effect when the 2015 sale took place.

What was missing, though, was proof that the broker was entitled to split the agent’s commission at all. The contract said that if “two or more AGENTS participate in rendering a brokerage service to the public, or claim to have done so, BROKER will determine, in BROKER’s sole and absolute discretion, the amount of fees due AGENT(S).” The broker had proof that all of these conditions were met, except it offered no proof that an agent other than the plaintiff had worked on the sale. Clearly, another individual had been involved, carrying out the final steps while the plaintiff was in New Mexico. The broker, however, never presented proof to demonstrate that that individual was, in fact, an agent as that term is defined within the industry. Without that proof of another qualified agent’s involvement, the broker was missing a vital piece of evidence it needed in order to be entitled to summary judgment.

In any breach of contract case, it is important to have experienced litigation counsel on your side working for your needs. The experienced South Florida commercial litigation attorneys at Stok Kon + Braverman have been helping business clients for many years to pursue their objectives through litigation and other legal means.

Contact us online or by calling (954) 237-1777 to schedule your consultation and find out how this firm can help you protect your interests.

More blog posts:

Stok Kon + Braverman Client Secures $8M Award in Breach of Contract Litigation Victory, Florida Business Lawyers Blog, May 18, 2017

Stok Kon + Braverman Client Settles With Landlord in South Florida Breach of Contract Case, Florida Business Lawyers Blog, April 13, 2017

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