Bilzin Sumberg litgation department. Photo: J. Albert Diaz/ALM
Richard A. Wood, Christopher E. Knight and Edward J. Briscoe, with Fowler White Burnett. Courtesy photo
From left, standing, Andrew Zelman, Anthony Carriuolo, Gavin Gaukroger, James Gassenheimer, Ken Waterway, Marianne Curtis, and Stephanie Chaissan. Sitting, Leonard Samuels, Nicole Levy Kushner, Ben Zuckerman and Mitchel Berger of Berger Singerman. Photo: J. Albert Diaz/ALM

Three midsize law firms in South Florida are being recognized for their powers of persuasion in the courtroom.

The honorees will receive awards at the Daily Business Review’s annual Professional Excellence Awards event taking place May 23 at the Rusty Pelican in Miami.

 

LITIGATION DEPARTMENT OF THE YEAR

BILZIN SUMBERG

Take your pick from cases involving coconut water, cathode ray tubes, real estate or air conditioners, and Bilzin Sumberg attorneys came up winners.

Melissa C. Pallett-Vasquez, Lori Lustrin, Raquel M. Fernandez, Jerry Goldsmith and Jennifer Junger prevailed in a federal consumer fraud class action against All Market Inc. The maker of Vita Coco coconut water was accused of not living up to its “Born in Brazil” label since some products came from Southeast Asia. The case fell apart last September when class certification was denied and the case was dismissed.

The firm’s antitrust group led by Robert W. Turken, Scott N. Wagner and Lustrin recovered more than 150 percent of Tech Data Corp.’s damages on a price-fixing conspiracy claim against makers of cathode ray tubes, the predecessor technology to flat-panel displays. After segments of the case moved from Florida to California and finally New York, the legal team won a plaintiff-friendly ruling that paved the way for settlement of the $47 million claim.

On the real estate front, nine years of litigation ended with a $6.3 million award in damages and attorney fees on a defective construction claim. Attorneys Michael N. Krietzer, Pallett-Vasquez and Shalia Sakona represented the owners and developers of a Miami Beach hotel on claims dating back to previous owners. The Third District Court of Appeal affirmed the final judgment last November.

In a products liability class action handled by Mitchell E. Widom and Junger, U.S. District Judge Robert Scola dismissed a lawsuit potentially worth hundreds of millions of dollars. Lennox International Inc. was accused of producing air-conditioning units with faulty heating systems that could cause fires. The Bilzin Sumberg team proved as a matter of law that Lennox didn’t violate any regulations or industry standards.

 

INSURANCE

FOWLER WHITE BURNETT

The law firm’s insurance practice team is fixated on what keeps insurers awake at night to prepare their defense in high-stakes litigation.

Among Fowler White Burnett’s 2018 successes was its representation of St. Paul Fire and Marine Insurance Co. in a coverage dispute based on a data breach under a personal injury provision of a general liability policy held by Rosen Hotels & Resorts Inc.

U.S. District Judge Carlos Mendoza ruled St. Paul, represented by Rory Jurman and Steven S. Cula, had no duty to defend Orlando-based Rosen Hotels & Resorts Inc.’s information technology subsidiary Rosen Millennium against allegations that the company was to blame for the breach that exposed hotel customers’ credit card data.

The court also rejected Millennium’s theory of coverage based on property damage for the credit cards and the costs of complying with notification laws because those claims were not in the resort company’s demand letter to Millennium.

Jurman also won summary judgment for Hartford Steam Boiler Inspection and Insurance Co. on a policy offering equipment breakdown coverage. Menada Inc., operator of the Seacoast Suites hotel in Miami Beach, sought more than $1 million to replace a chiller after one of two broke down.

Hartford offered $142,000 for repairs under a settlement proposal. In court, the company argued there was no factual dispute and maintained it was responsible for payment of only $89,273. U.S. District Judge Ursula Ungaro ruled for the insurer.

 

REAL ESTATE/OTHER

BERGER SINGERMAN

The dispute resolution team at the 80-attorney law firm is noted for its work in commercial, bankruptcy and real estate litigation and often deals in complex bet-the-company cases.

Berger Singerman represents Soneet Kapila as Chapter 11 trustee of Universal Health Care Group Inc., a Tampa-based health insurance company. The firm is special counsel in an adversary proceeding against the private equity firm Warburg Pincus LLC, one of its funds and an affiliated individual.

The lawsuit claims Warburg Pincus and others improperly benefited from the $33 million repurchase by Universal Health Care Group of preferred stock when the stock was of no value and a former Warburg Pincus principal was a member of United’s board.

Complex issues of Delaware corporate law and bankruptcy law have been addressed, dismissal motions have been rejected, and summary judgment motions are due in November. Berger Singerman attorney James D. Gassenheimer is leading the litigation for Universal with Paul Singerman and David L. Gay.

Gay, Singerman and attorneys for other parties negotiated the release of most of the proceeds from the $39 million bankruptcy sale last August of an unfinished Fort Lauderdale hotel to the first lienholder, free of claims by EB-5 investors who claimed they were defrauded on the project. The investors are pursuing recovery in a parallel action in state court.