4th DCA (Melanie Bell)
The Fourth District Court of Appeal is calling an end to litigation among three children of the late Miami Dolphins founder Joe Robbie.
The state appeals court ruled Wednesday that Florida does not have jurisdiction over a breach of contract lawsuit filed by brothers Daniel Robbie and Timothy H. Robbie against their sister, Deborah Olson, in the sale of one of the family companies.
In 2011, Olson sold Nelson Laboratories LP to MWI Veterinary Supply Inc. for $7 million.
Miami Sports Corp. had a 99 percent interest in Nelson. Olson was its managing partner and as head of Nelson Management Corp. controlled a 1 percent interest.
As a result of the Nelson sale, the Robbies made multiple demands for information and documents. Olson claimed the requested materials were either provided or didn’t exist.
The Robbies, in a lawsuit filed in Palm Beach Circuit Court, alleged her failure to produce the documents was a breach of contract.
Olson contested jurisdiction, noting she has been a resident of Minnesota since 1979, hasn’t lived in Florida since 1974, owns no property in Florida and rarely visits. Also, the company she controlled was based in Sioux Falls, S.D.
Circuit Judge Catherine Brunson denied Olson’s motion, and she appealed. The Fourth District noted Brunson cited no specific facts to support her finding.
Fourth District Judge Mark Klingensmith, writing for the unanimous panel, said there was no evidence presented to the trial court that Olson ever played a substantial part in the management of Miami Sports in Florida or that she purposely established minimum contacts within Florida.
The Robbies asserted Olson has numerous ties to Florida, including the fact that she was a shareholder in Miami Sports, which owned 12.46 percent of the Dolphins, and co-trustee of a Florida trust set up by their mother and terminated in 2011.
However, Klingensmith said none of that mattered. It’s the contract terms, “not the familial relationship between these parties, that is the relevant consideration for determining whether Florida has jurisdiction over Olson.”
“This language of the contract, relied on by the Robbies to invoke jurisdiction, does not explicitly require Olson to perform any act in Florida whatsoever,” Klingensmith said. Fourth District Judges Melanie May and Cory Ciklin concurred.
Michael Begey of Rumberger, Kirk & Caldwell in Orlando, who represented Olson, did not respond to a request for comment by deadline.
James Burnham and E. Cole FitzGerald III of FitzGerald, Mayans & Cook in West Palm Beach represented the Robbies. FitzGerald said the prospect of taking the Robbies’ case to a South Dakota court remains an open question.
“It is undisputed that Miami Sports Corporation owns 99 percent of Nelson Labs. As the district court noted, my clients have a right of access to the company’s business information, and Ms. Olson is obligated to share that information with them,” FitzGerald said.
There is no practical reason why Olson can’t provide most of the requested information electronically, he said, adding she has allowed limited access since the appeal has been pending.
“But she continues to withhold access to a lot of information which my clients need to review. If it becomes clear that Florida courts cannot compel Ms. Olson to comply with her legal obligations and she does not voluntarily comply with our requests, my clients will take appropriate measures to compel compliance,” FitzGerald said.