Florida commercial fishing industry, meet the Supreme Court of the United States. The Supreme Court has agreed to hear three cases from Florida in its current term, two of which involve commercial fishing.

In the most recently granted case, the state of Florida is set to do battle with the state of Georgia, in

With the collapse of multiple large scale Ponzi schemes in recent years, Federal courts in Florida and elsewhere have been wrestling with so-called “clawback” suits. The way Ponzi schemes work is that the schemers induce investors to give them money that is supposed to be invested, usually with high returns promised.

But because the promised

As I mentioned in my last post, the Florida Supreme Court’s decision to approve the Florida Senate’s amended redistricting plan wasn’t the only late April 2012 decision to bring a measure of closure to unsettled legal issues. The stars seem to have aligned such that our state appellate courts as well the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit all released decisions in late April bringing a measure of closure on prominent, unsettled issues.

First, in Geico General Insurance Co. v. Virtual Imaging Services, Inc. (a/a/o Maria Tirado), No. 3D11-581,the 3rd DCA went a long way toward finding closure on the hotly contested issue of whether PIP insurers can take advantage of the reimbursement rate caps provided in the 2008 amendments to Florida’s No Fault/Personal Injury Protection Law if their policies don’t expressly state that the caps will be used. That issue, on which the 4th DCA had the first word among Florida appellate courts in its 2011 decision in Kingsway Amigo Insurance Company v. Ocean Health, Inc., has pre-occupied PIP lawyers ever since. I’ve also written multiple posts about it, including this one, this one, and this one.

In its Tirado decision, the Third District did a tremendous favor for opponents of the rule set down in Kingway Amigo (PIP insurers and their lawyers chief among them) by certifying the issue as a question of great public imporance. You may recall that the lack of an express and direct conflict among the District Courts of Appeal on the issue has prevented the Florida Supreme Court from stepping in end the controversy.

But now the issue has been certified as a question of great public importance, the Florida Supreme Court can exercise jurisdiction to review Tirado even without a conflict among the DCAs. If the Supreme Court chooses to do so, as the ultimate arbiter of Florida law, it can bring closure to this ongoing PIP battle. I’m guessing that it will.

Second, in the parallel cases of Calder Race Course, Inc. v. Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation, West Flagler Associates, Ltd. v. Fla. DBPR, and Florida Gaming Centers, Inc. v. Fla. DBPR, the Florida Supreme Court brought closure on the issue of whether the legislature validly exercised its Constitutional authority in enacting 2009 legislation that allowed Hialeah Race Track to operate slot machines. That legislative enactment had been challenged by the three Miami-Dade facilities that were already licensed to operate slot machines prior to the legislation, as discussed in this post. On the same day as its redistricting decision was released, the Supreme Court declined to exercise its discretionary jurisdiction over the competitors’ appeal from the 1st DCA’s decision upholding Hialeah Race Track’s authorization to operate slot machines.

Third, the 11th Circuit released its long awaited decision in FTC v. Watson Pharmaceuticals, Inc., (a/k/a In re: Androgel Antitrust Litigation) addressing the prominent antitrust/patent/health care law issue of the validity of so-called “reverse payment” or “pay for delay” settlements between pharmaceutical patent holders (i.e. name brand drug makers) and competing drug makers seeking to market generic alternatives. The FTC and the Antitrust Division of the DOJ, in addition to certain academics have fretted for years about such arrangements, and their effects on drug prices…


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Appellate courts often struggle with the tension between allowing for consideration of the individual circumstances of each case and establishing clear dividing lines between conduct that violates the law and conduct that does not. Courts have assigned varying amounts of weight to each of these considerations at different points in history. Particularly in recent years

Despite the annual slow down in appellate courts (as in the rest of the world) at this time of year, December 2011 has seen a spate of major antitrust decisions being handed down. As I know from experience, antitrust cases are about as complex as it comes, and as a result, they often require long opinions to decide. It may be that these decisions’ release dates might have something to do with busy judges putting off these time-consuming decisions to the end of the year, but wanting to get them out before they became part of year-end unresolved case statistics. But that would only be a guess.

In any event, major decisions have recently come down at the federal level from the 3rd and 11th Circuits, and on the state level from Florida’s 4th District Court of Appeal.

The 4th DCA’s decision in MYD Marine Distributor, Inc. v. International Paint Ltd. (released on December 14, 2011) takes on the U.S. Supreme Court’s major decisions in Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544 (2007), which requires plaintiffs pleading claims based on antitrust conspiracies to include detailed factual allegations supporting the assertion that the defendants entered into an unlawful agreement, and Leegin Creative Leather Prods., Inc. v. PSKS, Inc., 551 U.S. 877 (2007), which set down standards for pleading that a conspiracy harmed competition. The 4th DCA held that both decisions apply to cases filed in Florida state court asserting claims under the Florida Antitrust law. But it also held that MYD’s complaint, which alleged that its competitor marine paint distributors had conspired with one another as well as with the manufacturer of a premium paint for boats to have MYD cut off as a distributor of that paint because MYD was undercutting their prices. 

The 11th Circuit’s decision, FTC v. Phoebe Putney Health System, Inc. (released on December 9, 2011) threw a wrench in the Federal Trade Commision’s campaign to take on consolidation among large healthcare facilities that threaten competition and contribute to rising healthcare costs. In the Phoebe Putney case, the FTC sought to enjoin the acquisition by a public hospital of its only competitor in Dougherty County, Georgia, and thereby create a monopoly in that market.

In an opinion authored by Judge Tjoflat, the 11th Circuit agreed that the transaction would create a monopoly but affirmed the dismissal of the FTC’s case, holding that the “state action doctrine” made antitrust laws inapplicable and rendered the FTC powerless to challenge the transaction. In essence, the court held that in authorizing public hospitals like Phoebe Putney to acquire other hospitals, the Georgia legislature had contemplated and authorized even acquisitions that created monopolies. The state action doctrine therefore exempted the transaction from antitrust scrutiny. This decision essentially forecloses the FTC and DOJ from challenging any merger in Georgia involving a public hospital, and its reasoning could result in foreclosing challenges to acquisitions involving public hospitals in other states as well. 

The 3rd Circuit’s en banc decision in Sullivan v. DB Investments, Inc. (released on December 20, 2011), is a significant decision dealing with antitrust class actions brought by alleged “indirect purchasers” of price-fixed goods. The en banc court held that it is appropriate (at least in the settlement context) to certify a nationwide class of indirect purchasers asserting antitrust claims under the laws of all 50 states, even though class members from certain states did not have the right to sue for damages for antitrust violations.

A more thorough discussion of Sullivan follows. 


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It’s been almost 5 years since the Florida Supreme Court issued its grand compromise decision in Engle v. Liggett Group, Inc., 945 So. 2d 1246 (Fla. 2006).  As contemplated by that decision, many individual suits have been filed by Engle class members.  Some have been tried to a verdict or have been dismissed, and are now on appeal.  Can it be long before the Florida Supreme Court is compelled to step in to definitively resolve the next round of Engle issues?  

The District Courts of Appeal have recently been grappling with the thorny issues resulting from the Court’s decision to decertify the class, but allow class members to take advantage of 8 findings made by the Engle jury by way of res judicata

The 1st DCA gave an early interpretation of how to apply Engle in R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. v. Martin, decided in December 2010, in upholding a $28.3 million judgment in favor of a deceased smoker’s widow.  The Florida Supreme Court denied review in Martin in July. (RJR v Martin_07-19-2011_Order_Denying Review.pdf). 

Although the 11th Circuit had earlier offered its own thoughts on Engle, Martin stood as the only state appellate court decision on this score.  That changed on September 21, 2011, when the 4th DCA weighed in on Engle in R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. v. Brown, expressing some (but in my view, not much) disagreement with the 1st DCA’s application of it.  The tobacco industry defendants, which can’t be too happy with Engle or its aftermath, are no doubt chomping at the bit to use any disagreement among the DCAs to convince the Supreme Court to take up the case. 

Although it’s dangerous to try to read tea leaves, the differences between Martin and Brown, understood in context, don’t seem to me to be the type of conflict that would ordinarily win review, particularly while the issues are still percolating in the other Districts.  On the other hand, the defendants may take a bit more hope from Chief Judge May’s stinging concurrence in Brown, which questioned whether Engle can be applied as written without violating due process, an implication that could give the justices more of an impetus to address these issues sooner rather than later. 

And the Supreme Court will undoubtedly be asked to take up some of the other issues percolating in the Engle progeny cases, such as the Constitutionality of the statute passed after the State’s settlement with the Tobacco industry, which reduces the bonds that industry defendants must post for appeals.  In addition, although the 3rd DCA has yet to take up the core issue addressed in Martin and Brown, last week in Rey v. Phillip Morris, Inc., it interpreted Engle (and applied traditional conspiracy principles) to hold that any class member can sue Lorillard, Liggett, and Vector Group for their role in the conspiracy to conceal information, even though the class member didn’t smoke those companies’ cigarettes, and can take advantage of the Engle findings.  The Supreme Court will no doubt be asked to review that decision as well.      

So I have no doubt that the court will wade back into this controversy sooner or later.  The question is which one.

More details below.


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If you read through all 207 pages of 11th Circuit Judge Hull and Judge Dubina’s co-authored majority opinion in Florida v. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, you’ll notice that although the state Attorneys General succeeded in having the Health Care Act’s individual mandate declared unconstitutional, it wasn’t their arguments that ruled the

If you’re like me, some mornings you’re greeted by an email that purports to be from a potential client (usually located in China, Hong Kong, or Japan) that reads something like this:

Dear Counsel [or Sir or some other generic greeting],

On behalf of XYZ Company, we request your legal services and possible representation on a Debt Recovery matter involving XYZ Company and a client in your jurisdiction.

Do let us know if you are currently accepting new clients. We look forward to a prompt response from you. Thank you very much.

Sincerely,

[Mr. ________

XYZ Company]

I’ll admit that the first time I received such an email years ago, I entertained the idea, for a brief moment at least, that maybe, just maybe, it was legitimate inquiry. But then my inner skeptic took over, and I went right to snopes.com or some similar site to see if scams of this type were going around. They were, of course.  I deleted the email and went back to the grind.

Now I just delete them as soon as they come in. As I’m sure you do. And as I thought every lawyer did.

But it seems that some lawyer or employee at a now-defunct central Florida law firm didn’t listen to his or her inner skeptic when he/she received one of those emails back in 2007. Giving that person the benefit of the doubt, let’s assume these scams weren’t so well publicized back then.

The Scam

In any event, an inquiry came from Hong Kong asking the law firm to set up a U.S. subsidiary of a supposed Hong Kong parent company. The “client” subsequently sent a cashier’s check to the law firm for a bit more than $197,000. The lawyer deposited it in the firm’s lawyer’s trust (IOTA) account. Before the check cleared, the client told the law firm to wire $180,000+ to other foreign entities.

The law firm proceeded to follow the client’s directions. And because the law firm had enough funds from other clients in its IOTA account, the bank covered the wire transfers even though the original check hadn’t cleared. The “client’s” check, of course, never did clear.

The Insurance Coverage Dispute

Realizing it was short $180,000+ to its other clients, the law firm sought coverage from its malpractice insurer for their lost funds.  [I imagine the adjuster’s reaction went something like this: “You did what? You fell for one of those scams? And you want us to indemnify you for it?!”]

The insurer denied coverage. The law firm filed a declaratory judgment action in the Middle District of Florida. Judge Virginia M. Hernandez Covington granted summary judgment to the insurer.

In Nardella Chong, P.A. v. Medmarc Casualty Insurance Co., No. 10-12237, decided May 27, 2011, the Eleventh Circuit reversed.

The Coverage Issues

The law firm’s professional liability policy indemnified it for “Damages” – defined as “any compensatory monetary judgment or award, or any settlement consented to by the” insurer, resulting from alleged “negligent acts or negligent omissions,” in “the performance of or failure to perform ‘Professional Services.’”

“Professional Services” was defined as including, among other things:

“Services performed . . . for others as an attorney;” and “services as an administrator, conservator, receiver, executor, guardian, trustee, committee of an incompetent person, or services performed in any similar fiduciary capacity, but only for those services typically and customarily performed by and attorney.”

In both the district court and the court of appeals, the case came down to two issues:

1. Did the law firm’s acts and omissions occur in the course of performing “Professional Services”?

2. Did the money the law firm owed its other clients (i.e., the funds lost in the scam that it had to repay into its trust account) amount to “damages” as defined by the policy?

The district court answered “no” to both questions, but the 11th Circuit answered “yes.”

The Court’s reasoning, and my analysis, is below.


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