The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit has affirmed the dismissal of malicious prosecution and racketeering claims against international gun manufacturer Glock, Inc., its Georgia subsidiary and two attorneys who worked as outside counsel for Glock.
In a Jan. 4 unpublished opinion, the federal appellate panel upheld U.S. District Chief Judge Thomas Thrash’s decision to dismiss a 2015 suit filed by Paul Jannuzzo despite what the panelists described as “the perturbing circumstances of Mr. Jannuzzo’s investigation and prosecution.” The joint opinion was issued by Judges Charles Wilson and William Pryor and Senior Judge Robert Lanier Anderson.
From 1999 to 2003, Jannuzzo worked for Glock’s North American operations in Atlanta as its general counsel and, later, as chief operating officer.
Jannuzzo’ claims against the gunmaker and its lawyers stemmed from Glock’s decision in 2007 to seek criminal charges against Jannuzzo, which resulted in his 2012 conviction on theft and racketeering conspiracy charges. In 2013, the Georgia Court of Appeals overturned Jannuzzo’s conviction, finding that the statute of limitations had expired on the criminal allegations long before Jannuzzo’s 2009 indictment.
After he was released from prison, Jannuzzo sued Glock Inc.; Consultinvest, the company’s Georgia subsidiary; Glock’s longtime New York outside counsel, John Renzulli; and Washington lawyer and former FBI agent Robert Core, who was hired by the gun company to spearhead the investigation that led to Jannuzzo’s prosecution.
On Monday, Jannuzzo called the ruling “disappointing.”
“It’s hard to believe that the court can use words such as ‘perturbing’ to describe the process and note that the complaint was filed with law enforcement ‘despite’ the fact it was so untimely and determine there is no cause of action,” he said. “But they did, so it’s time to close this incredibly unpleasant chapter and continue to build a future with my amazing and loyal best friend; my wife.”
Jannuzzo’s lawyer, Atlanta attorney John Da Grosa Smith, said that while malicious prosecution claims “are disfavored under the law, the tort exists for a reason.”
“The complaint alleges that these defendants manufactured a criminal case against Mr. Jannuzzo with the specific intent to circumvent a necessary element that they always knew to be lacking,” he said. “If the disturbing details of Mr. Jannuzzo’s prosecution don’t state a cognizable claim, it’s hard to fathom what the court might require to allow one to proceed.”
Ronan Doherty, a partner at Atlanta’s Bondurant, Mixson & Elmore who represented the defendants, said neither he nor his clients would comment on the ruling. Renzulli did not respond to email and voicemail requests for comment.
The charges that led to Jannuzzo’s prosecution stemmed from a criminal complaint made by Glock’s lawyers to a small suburban Atlanta police department in Smyrna, the city where Glock’s North American operations are headquartered.
Jannuzzo was charged with stealing a pistol that Glock claimed he had been loaned while he was general counsel and had never returned—although Jannuzzo’s successor as general counsel testified at Jannuzzo’s trial that he had rebuffed Jannuzzo’s efforts to return the gun after he resigned. Cobb prosecutors used the theft charge as one of two predicate acts to prosecute Jannuzzo on a broader racketeering conspiracy charge.
In an interview with the Daily Report after Jannuzzo was convicted, Robert Glock, the son of the company founder, confirmed that Jannuzzo had attempted unsuccessfully to return the gun in question shortly after resigning. Robert Glock said his father told him that he would “take care of the matter” and no further action was needed.
Jannuzzo’s 2015 lawsuit accused Glock and its lawyers of conspiring to fabricate a criminal case against him in order to discredit and ruin him, in part because Jannuzzo became engaged to and married a Glock employee who had rejected company founder Gaston Glock’s attempts to make her his mistress.
The suit also claimed the gunmaker sought to prosecute Jannuzzo to discredit him because Jannuzzo had become aware of what the suit described as “substantial evidence of illegal activities” stemming from an investigation that a former federal prosecutor in Atlanta, James Harper III, had conducted for Glock at the Austrian gun mogul’s request between 2000 and 2003 when Jannuzzo and Harper both resigned.
In its ruling, the federal appeals panel said that in order for Jannuzzo’s malicious prosecution claim to stand, the lawyer would have to show that the defendants acted with malice and without probable cause and that the prosecution was terminated in his favor.
But, the panel said, in Georgia, “a guilty verdict is conclusive evidence of probable cause—even if the conviction is later reversed” unless the original judgment is secured by fraud or perjury.
Because Jannuzzo was convicted at trial, he needed to make a “plausible claim that his trial was corrupted by fraud,” that panel determined. And that, the judges held, he was unable to do.
Moreover, the appellate panel held, “Jannuzzo does not claim that any witness committed perjury that corrupted his trial. Instead, he argues that the defendants collectively orchestrated the testimony so that no individual had to commit perjury, while ensuring that Glock Inc.’s corporate knowledge would not be accurately represented.”
In considering Thrash’s dismissal of the racketeering claims, the appellate panel branded Jannuzzo’s complaint as consisting of “mostly vague and conclusory allegations.”
“These conclusory statements are not supported by specific facts sufficient to plausibly constitute the alleged predicate offenses, ” the panel concluded.