A Palm Beach jury was too generous in awarding investors $405,000 after they claimed losing up to $65 million because they were blocked from selling stock, a judge ruled.
Jurors sided with William and Yessenia Soffin, who alleged they wanted to sell their shares in New York-based Clean Coal Technologies when the price was high, but were stopped by the company.
But Palm Beach Circuit Judge Richard Oftedal ruled Tuesday the Soffins shouldn’t get a dollar. At the time William Soffin claimed he wanted to sell 15 million shares, an average of 3,600 Clean Coal shares were traded each day, the judge found.
“It does not require expert testimony to conclude that at that trading volume it would be impossible to liquidate fifteen million shares within a single day on the public market,” Oftedal wrote.
Even if the Soffins proved the market could absorb their shares, “there is absolutely no way” to accurately determine the hypothetical price because it would likely be depressed by the stock dump, Oftedal added.
“The jury’s own verdict reflects that it was a product of guesswork and conjecture,” Oftedal wrote. “The jury is not at fault, however, as there was no expert or other specific, objective, or non-speculative evidence presented by the plaintiffs that would allow them to calculate lost profits with any degree of precision or reliability.”
Claims of lost profits because of delayed stock sales are rare because they’re tough to establish, said Clean Coal attorney Jan Douglas Atlas, who tried the case in April with Kristen Cardoso, both partners at KO Lawyers in Fort Lauderdale. And judges don’t usually grant motions for judgment notwithstanding the verdict.
“It’s a very, very unique kind of relief that we sought,” Atlas said. “Very few judges are disposed to interfering with a jury interpretation, but in this case, Judge Oftedal recognized the validity of our argument.”
Clean Coal denied telling its transfer agent to block the Soffins’ request to remove restrictions to allow the sale of their stock in 2009. Cardoso noted William Soffin got three times his initial investment when he ultimately sold the stock: He bought the shares for about $400,000 and sold them for $1.2 million.
After the trial, plaintiffs counsel asked the judge to add $22 million to the verdict based on the finding of liability. Oftedal denied the request.
Clean Coal and company representatives Douglas Hague and the late C.J. Douglas, whose estate did not appear at trial, would have been responsible for the award.
But plaintiffs counsel said the case is likely not over.
“The client’s still considering his options, but I think we’re going to appeal,” said Fort Lauderdale attorney Jordan Shaw of Zebersky Payne. “We were pretty happy with the verdict. We thought the jury got it right.”
Shaw tried the case with his colleague Melissa Perez and Jon Jacobson of Jacobson Law in West Palm Beach.