Rodolfo Castro said he and his son were accosted by security personnel at a Ross Dress for Less in Coral Gables more than seven years ago, accused of shoplifting when they were only browsing.
Castro sued the discount chain and U.S. Security Associates Inc. after a charge of stealing a $77.91 item was dropped. He claimed the loss prevention manager at the store hurled invectives at the father and son, calling them “thieves.”
But a three-judge panel on the Third District Court of Appeal said Wednesday that it was the Castros who were abusing the retailer based in Pleasanton, Calif., in a bad faith effort to punish the defendant for not complying with a request for information on other shoplifting arrests.
The court overturned a ruling by Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Rosa Rodriguez finding the defendants in contempt and entering a default judgment in favor of the Castros.
“It also bears repeating that a constant chant by an attorney of fraud, misrepresentation, bad faith and other wrongdoing does not make it so, no matter how often and how loudly the refrain is repeated,” Judge Linda Ann Wells wrote in the unanimous 35-page opinion.
The Miami appellate court chastised the Castros and their attorney, Sina Negahbani, for their repeated attempts to seek sanctions against Ross Dress for Less and the security company in the lawsuit claiming wrongful arrest.
“Relying on the solitary, uncorroborated comment of a single nonparty, respondents’ counsel, employing hyperbole and declared outrage, set out on a quest to collect hundreds of apprehension reports,” Wells said.
These efforts continued even after the defendants swore they had handed over all such reports in their possession, leaving unanswered the real issues before the court, as counsel chased the nonexistent and irrelevant,” the judge wrote.
Chief Judge Frank Shepherd and Judge Vance Salter concurred.
Shepherd added a one-paragraph concurrence, saying, “Tactics of the type exhibited in this case are corrosive to the rule of law.”
The Castros’ lawsuit claimed false imprisonment, malicious prosecution and slander. They said they were mistakenly arrested in July 2006. The plaintiffs sought the retailer’s policy manuals and documents related to their arrest and any other lawsuit making similar claims.
Rodriguez granted the sanctions motion based on Ross’ failure to provide discovery. Relying on the orders of three earlier judges, she struck the defendants’ pleadings and entered a default judgment against them.
Rodriguez also allowed the Castros to amend their complaint to add a claim for punitive damages and assessed a $200-per-day fine against Ross until it produced the documents.
The appellate court said Rodriguez’s order departed from the essential requirements of the law “in ways that will result in irreparable harm” and the Castros never had a good faith basis to seek the discovery documents.
The Castros “went on a five-year quest to acquire these documents, and the failure to produce these documents did not justify the Draconian sanctions imposed on U.S. Security and Ross or to obligate them to pay for this fruitless hunt,” Wells wrote.
Negahbani, a solo practitioner in Miami, did not return a call or email seeking comment by deadline.
The office of Scott Cole, a partner at Cole, Scott & Kissane in Miami representing Ross, declined comment.