Four law firms practicing in the Tampa Bay area will be recognized tonight in the Daily Business Review’s Litigation Department of the Year program.
GrayRobinson has been named recipient of the Editor’s Choice award for its work on four cases, including winning a federal dismissal for its client, SunTrust Bank, of a putative class action filed by victims of a Ponzi scheme organized by a German fraud suspect who was later convicted of fraud in a German court.
The plaintiffs, who claimed losses of $318 million, contended SunTrust provided substantial assistance to Ulrich Engler’s scheme because he and his companies moved money through SunTrust accounts,
Lead partners David Hendrix and Alissa Ellison filed a motion to dismiss on behalf of the bank based in part on the statute of limitations. A federal judge in the Middle District of Florida dismissed all claims against SunTrust with prejudice last year.
In a related bankruptcy proceeding, SunTrust was accused of inappropriately using a federal law to conceal documents. The bankruptcy court held last year that SunTrust and GrayRobinson acted correctly and document production was prohibited by federal law.
“The early disposition of the claims against SunTrust was significant as SunTrust was able to quickly dispose of the claims asserted against it, avoid any class discovery as well as the associated certification process,” the firm said in a statement.
GrayRobinson has 18 litigation partners and four associates in its Tampa office.
Trenam Kemker was selected in the general litigation category for its work on four cases in 2013.
One involved fallout from the construction of a new First District Court of Appeal building, a project dubbed the Taj Mahal and criticized for its opulent design, expensive fixtures and cost overruns.
Lead partner Robert Buesing successfully represented the project’s general contractor in seeking payment for the installation of framed historical photographs. The state sought to deny payment based on a Florida Administrative Code rule prohibiting spending state money for decorative items.
An administrative law judge found the rule was an invalid exercise of legislative authority delegated to the state’s chief financial officer because the enabling legislation did not explicitly authorize the prohibition. Buesing also demonstrated the rule was vague. The Fifth District Court of Appeal agreed and struck the rule, enabling Peter R. Brown Construction Inc. to collect $392,658.
Noting many issues surrounding the new courthouse were politically charged, Buesing said, “When anyone is caught in a political problem with their state government, it is a good thing when legal rulings are obtained that make clear state government has to follow the law just like everyone else.”
Trenam Kemker has 25 litigation partners and five associates in its Tampa office.
Greenberg Traurig’s Tampa litigation team is the real estate winner for its work on five cases, including representing Mosaic Fertilizer LLC on transfers of mined land.
Mims Properties Investments LLC claimed Mosaic, whose Florida phosphate operations are based near Lithia, breached a transfer agreement by not restoring the property before the transfer, entitling Mims to more than $50 million in damages.
Greenberg Traurig lead shareholders David Weinstein, Chris Torres and Kimberly Mello, in a motion for summary judgment, argued that Lakeland-based Mims was not entitled to recover the costs of restoration. Damages were limited to the alleged diminution of property value.
The federal court in the Middle District of Florida federal court ruled last August that Mims’ claim for lost income was barred and it could recover only on the reduced property value. The court reduced other claims before the case went to the jury, which returned with a split verdict awarding Mims about $1.5 million in damages.
“Plaintiffs recovered only a small fraction of their alleged damages, and motions remain pending that could further reduce their recovery or eliminate it entirely,” Weinstein said in a statement.
Greenberg Traurig has four litigation shareholders and four associates in its Tampa office.
Jackson Lewis was chosen in the labor and employment category after winning discrimination cases for Ann Taylor Retail Inc. and two other corporate clients.
An Ann Taylor saleswoman, who suffered from bipolar disorder and narcolepsy, quit after a heated meeting with her manager in which she said the manager berated her about her disability and gave her the option of a demotion or the near certainty of being fired later. The former employee filed suit, alleging disability discrimination.
Representing Ann Taylor, lead shareholder Richard Margulies and associate Colin Thakkar filed a motion for summary judgment. A district judge granted the motion, and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit affirmed the decision in December.
In the summary judgment proceedings, the judge was required to assume the plaintiff’s allegations were true. The dispositive issue was whether the saleswoman suffered an adverse employment action because of her disability.
Margulies and Thakkar successfully argued there was no adverse employment action because the plaintiff’s work hours were not reduced and she was not forced to resign. The judge also agreed a single heated meeting was insufficient to create a hostile work environment or support her claims of disability harassment.
After alleging discrimination, “the plaintiff must additionally establish an adverse employment action and, in the case of hostile work environment or constructive discharge claim, give the employer an opportunity to investigate and resolve the alleged wrongdoing,” Thakkar said in a statement.
Jackson Lewis’ Tampa office has eight litigation partners and, with its Jacksonville office, has four litigation associates.
An event for the honorees begins at 6 p.m. at the Westin Harbour Island Hotel at 725 S. Harbour Blvd. in Tampa.