Donald Trump, the lone remaining defendant in a lawsuit over a failed Fort Lauderdale beachfront tower, is asking a judge to dismiss the lawsuit.
Both sides in the five-year lawsuit have submitted motions for summary judgment to be heard in January. Plaintiffs attorney Joe Altschul of Pembroke Pines said there is enough evidence to bring the investors’ allegations of misrepresentation to trial.
On April 18, Broward Circuit Judge Jeffrey Streitfeld ruled on a previous Trump motion to dismiss. Streitfeld declared Trump wasn’t the developer of the stalled Trump International Hotel & Tower but let stand most causes.
Trump still faces counts of fraud in the inducement, violations of Florida’s Deceptive and Unfair Trade Practices Act, negligent misrepresentation and fraudulent concealment.
Altschul said Trump is making the same arguments he made in April.
“Procedurally, this motion is at a different stage in the case. Substantively, there’s no difference, and we should have the same result,” he said.
Trump attorney Herman Russomanno III of Russomanno & Borrello in Miami emphasized in his motion the court’s previous finding that Trump was not the project developer. Since Trump wasn’t the developer, Russomanno argued, “Trump can no longer be held liable for any of these alleged misrepresentations.”
Even assuming Trump falsely represented his role, Russomanno insisted there was no evidence condo contract holders were harmed by Trump because they knew through disclosures that SB Hotel Associates LLC was the developer, purchase agreements warned against relying on promotional materials, and it was common knowledge the real estate crash was the primary reason their deposits were lost.
New York developer Roy Stillman, as head of SB Hotel, directed the project. He and other defendants settled with about 100 investors who paid deposits for condo units that were never finished in the tower at 551 N. Fort Lauderdale Beach Blvd.
Trump was involved with the project as the licensor. The original intent was that the finished project would carry the Trump name and be managed by Trump’s company.
Altschul argued it was not as obvious to investors, as Trump claims, that he wasn’t the developer. Looking at the case through the lens of pre-crash 2005, Trump had done very few licensing agreements. He was better known as a developer.
Altschul acknowledged SB Hotel was named as the developer, but investors didn’t know who its officers were. Meanwhile, the promotional materials described Trump as one of the developers in partnership with the project.
Florida records for SB Hotel track corporate management through a series of limited liability companies back to New York-based Bayrock Group LLC without naming any company officials.
“Trump testified that he never developed property in his name. He always used shell companies. Was it unusual not to see his name? No, not at all,” Altschul said.
When Trump was deposed for the case Nov. 5, he said, “These people were very lucky that they didn’t close on their units. Because they would have lost a lot of money had they closed. Because of the market, the value of their unit was tremendously less than they agreed to pay or would have agreed to pay.”
Altschul called it a “bogus argument” because it presumes the buyers would have tried to flip their units shortly after or just before closing.
Damages being sought total about $8 million for out-of-pocket losses, Altschul said. He noted Trump is describing “benefit of the bargain” losses that might have been reaped by profiting from a sale.
In September, Streitfeld refused to allow investors to seek punitive damages.
Trump claimed in the same deposition that his involvement in the project was limited to design features such as room and window sizes that distinguish a Trump hotel from competitors.
He pulled out of the project in 2009, but he disagreed with a statement by Stillman that his exit torpedoed the project.
“If he said it, it’s ridiculous,” Trump said. “Because the way we benefit mostly is to have the project open.”
When the project dragged past its 2009 projected completion, Trump grew increasingly frustrated. His daughter, Ivanka Trump, met with Stillman in May 2008 and came back with a depressing report.
“She thought he was going down the tubes,” Trump said. “He was bust. He just didn’t seem to have very much spirit left.”
Toward the end of the relationship, Trump appeared to be baffled.
“I’ll be honest. I didn’t understand what he was doing because he was so close,” Trump said. “I’ve seen jobs where they go up to the 50 percent mark and they fold. But this guy, he was on the one-yard line.”
Conrad, a Hilton luxury brand, has a tentative agreement to buy the tower from Corus Construction Venture, which took control of the unfinished Trump Tower after its lender, Corus Bank, was closed by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. Conrad FLB Partnership LLC plans a $100 million renovation next year.