Alvin B. Davis and Jonathan R. Weiss of Squire Patton Boggs in Miami beat back the last of eight claims against perfume maker and distributor Parlux Fragrances Inc., dispelling allegations that it owed former business consultant Lucien Lallouz $8.8 million in license renewal fees.
As a consultant, Lallouz helped Parlux arrange licensing agreements with high-profile brands, including fashion store Perry Ellis, tennis star Maria Sharapova and socialite Paris Hilton. Those perfume contracts brought Lallouz more than $1 million in commission, but when they were later renewed, Lallouz claimed he’d missed out on additional fees promised via oral agreement.
Lallouz sued Parlux in 2010, on the heels of a separate defamation lawsuit brought by the company against him. According to Parlux, Lallouz wrote several anonymous posts disparaging the company on its website. Parlux was acquired by Sunrise-based Perfumania Holdings Inc. in 2012.
“Whatever you could say that was bad about a company, he said it,” Davis told the Daily Business Review.
Parlux’s case settled confidentially, while the contract dispute traveled through court. After eight years of litigation, the court granted summary judgment for seven of the eight claims.
That left a Miami-Dade jury to decide whether Lallouz was entitled to renewal fees for his work on a Paris Hilton perfume deal, which had been a roaring success for Parlux.
Defense lawyers Davis and Weiss had one main problem: The former chariman and CEO of Parlux had defected, becoming the plaintiff’s primary witness.
“We were faced with the plaintiff and the former CEO of the company saying there was an oral agreement, and we had to disprove the existence of the agreement,” Davis said.
According to Davis, CEO Ilia Lekach was pushed out of Parlux after another lawsuit, brought by the principal shareholder. The suit settled under a few conditions — one being that he had to resign.
At trial, Lekach testified that he’d verbally agreed to pay Lallouz for the renewal of his contracts.
Counsel to the plaintiff, Fort Lauderdale solo practitioners Thomas F. Luken and Grafton Carlson, did not respond to requests for comment before deadline.
The simplest solution
The case presented a problem that needed solving. Specifically, a problem that needed the Occam’s razor problem-solving principle, which says that the simplest solution tends to be the correct one.
Davis introduced the theory Occam’s razor to the jury. First, he asked jurors to consider whether there was any reason why Parlux didn’t pay Lallouz.
“Did they not pay him because they hadn’t paid him in the past?” Davis said. “No, they always paid him. Did they not pay him because he owed them money? No, he didn’t owe them money. Did they not pay him because they didn’t have the money? No, there were millions of dollars. Did they not pay him because they had some vendetta against him? There’s no evidence of that.”
If none of those reasons apply, Davis argued, then why wasn’t Lallouz paid?
“Occam’s razor would suggest that they didn’t pay him because they didn’t owe him anything, because there was no contract,” Davis said.
Lallouz argued in a deposition that many of his agreements with Parlux weren’t physically documented, and claimed he’d written a note on one copy of the Paris Hilton license agreement that mentioned the renewal fee.
But the way Davis saw it, if Lallouz had such a note he’d bring it to court.
“If I were him I would have been dancing in front of the jury, waving the document at them,” Davis said.
Davis then reminded the jury that he’d asked the plaintiff to bring any and all documentation outlining an agreement.
“I said, ‘We asked you for it. you didn’t bring it. Occam’s razor, it didn’t exist,’” Davis said. ”I challenged the notion that there was such an agreement because none of the indicia that you would expect existed.”
Davis and co-counsel Weiss also put two Parlux board members on the stand, who testified that Lekach, the former CEO, did sometimes enter into oral agreements. But whenever he did, according to the board members, he would advise them about it during meetings, and that would be recorded in the minutes.
At trial, Davis produced the minutes from a meeting discussing the Paris Hilton deal, and pointed out that there was no mention of a renewal fee agreement.
Read the verdict form:
The jury ultimately found no breach of contract, deciding Lallouz wasn’t entitled to any renewal fees.
Davis credits this to the strategy he and Weiss devised, of “going at it by indirection.” And according to Davis, his co-counsel’s vast trial experience went a long way.
“He was my Jiminy Cricket,” Davis said. “He completely mastered the documents, which were voluminous, and mastered all of the nuances of the case. And he always kept me from doing certain things I wanted to do because he said, ‘You can’t do that.’”
Davis cross-examined the plaintiffs’ witnesses, while Weiss put on Parlux’s witnesses.
According to Davis, Parlux hopes the ruling will be the end of an unwelcome, eight-year distraction for the company, which has moved for attorney’s fees and costs.
Lallouz has filed a notice of appeal in the Fourth District Court of Appeal, seeking to quash the verdict and resintate all eight claims against Parlux.
Case: Lucien Lallouz et al v. Parlux Fragrances Inc.
Case No.: 10-490032
Description: Breach of contract
Filing date: Dec. 30, 2010
Verdict date: Oct. 31, 2018
Judge: Broward Circuit Judge Sandra Perlman
Plaintiffs attorneys: Solo practitioners Thomas F. Luken and Grafton Carlson
Defense attorneys: Alvin B. Davis and Jonathan R. Weiss, Squire Patton Boggs, Miami
Verdict amount: Defense verdict