The oceanfront Surf Club sued three Miami law firms and attorneys Thursday over what it called a “botched effort” to reduce its property taxes.
The collective actions of Charles Kline, partner at White & Case; Stanley Price of Bilzin Sumberg Baena Price & Axelrod; and Steven Zelkowitz, managing partner of GrayRobinson cost the private club in Surfside more than $50 million, said the complaint filed in Miami-Dade Circuit Court.
The club accuses Zelkowitz, Kline and their firms of professional malpractice, breach of oral contract and breach of fiduciary duty. Price and his firm are accused of professional malpractice, breach of contract and breach of fiduciary duty.
“It’s absolutely outrageous. It’s silly,” said Kline, who had not seen the complaint. “I’m going to have to take a look at it and see what it says.”
Price said he wasn’t aware of the lawsuit and had no comment.
Zelkowitz did not return a phone call for comment by deadline.
“The lawsuit speaks for itself,” said Surf Club general counsel and club member Robert Zarco.
The complaint said the defendants all played roles in amending the club’s bylaws and obtaining a historic designation from Miami-Dade County for the club without counseling its board of governors and equity members on the “significant negative impact” the designation would have on the value of the club.
“This negligence is all the more disturbing in light of the fact that defendants were acutely aware that the Surf Club was, during that time, considering a potential sale of its real property,” the lawsuit said.
Had it been properly advised, “the club would have never agreed to proceed to amend its bylaws and obtain the historic designation regardless of the expected property tax reductions,” it said.
In addition, none of the lawyers hired by the club researched the laws enough to learn the Surf Club would not be eligible for lower taxes with a historic designation.
The lawsuit described the club at 9011 Collins Ave. as a private social club “whose storied roots date back to the early 1930s and has hosted such guests as Winston Churchill, General Douglas MacArthur and Tony Bennett.”
The club’s tax bill this year was $752,921. It still owes $182,582.