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Derek Bell v. Tampa Bay Downs

December 21, 2011

DEREK BELL, PLAINTIFF,
v.
TAMPA BAY DOWNS, INC., A FLORIDA PROFIT CORPORATION; PETER N. BERUBE, INDIVIDUALLY AND IN HIS OFFICIAL CAPACITIES AS VICE PRESIDENT AND GENERAL MANAGER OF TAMPA BAY DOWNS, INC.; THOROUGHBRED RACING PROTECTIVE BUREAU, INC., A NEW YORK DOMESTIC BUSINESS CORPORATION; FRANKLIN J. FABIAN, INDIVIDUALLY AND IN HIS OFFICIAL CAPACITY AS PRESIDENT, THOROUGHBRED RACING PROTECTIVE BUREAU, INC.; JOHN DOE, INDIVIDUALLY AND IN HIS OFFICIAL CAPACITY AS AGENT OF THE THOROUGHBRED RACING PROTECTIVE BUREAU, INC., DEFENDANTS.



ORDER

THIS CAUSE comes before the Court upon the Defendants' Motions to Dismiss (Dkts. #25, #25) the First Amended Complaint (Dkt. #18). Upon consideration, the Court concludes that the Motions should be granted in part and denied in part.

Plaintiff, a professional thoroughbred horse racing jockey, rode horses at Tampa Bay Downs, Inc. and other horse tracks around the country. He possessed an occupational license issued by the State of Florida. In his Amended Complaint, he alleges that the Defendants unjustifiably and without reason accused Bell of being involved in fixing a horse race, and, on December 19, 2006, banned Bell from riding at Tampa Bay Downs. Bell further alleges that this ban was issued without a hearing or any due process.

Bell asserts three causes of action in his Amended Complaint:

(1) Count one for tortious interference,

(2) Count two for a violation of his constitutional right of due process pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, and

(3) Count three for injunctive relief requiring Defendants to reinstate his riding privileges at Tampa Bay Downs.

Defendants move to dismiss all three counts.

Defendants contend the tortious interference count should be dismissed because: Plaintiff had no existing contractual rights in place, only the hope of future employment, any interference would have been qualifiably privileged as justified because of the business relationship between Tampa Bay Downs and the owners and trainers, and that as a private enterprise, Tampa Bay Downs has the right to exclude anyone it chooses from its property. This portion of Defendants' Motions to Dismiss will be denied.

The required elements of a tortious interference claim under Florida law has been described in Ethan Allen, Inc. v. Georgetown Manor, Inc., 647 So.2d 812, 814-815 (Fla. 1994) as follows:

The elements of tortious interference with a business relationship are "(1) the existence of a business relationship ... (2) knowledge of the relationship on the part of the defendant; (3) an intentional and unjustified interference with the relationship by the defendant; and (4) damage to the plaintiff as a result of the breach of the relationship." Tamiami Trail Tours, Inc. v. Cotton, 463 So.2d 1126, 1127 (Fla. 1985). A protected relationship need not be evidenced by an enforceable contract. Id. However, "the alleged business relationship must afford the plaintiff existing or prospective legal or contractual rights." Register v. Pierce, 530 So.2d 990, 993 (Fla. 1st DCA 1988).

In Florida, a plaintiff may properly bring a cause of action alleging tortious interference with present or prospective customers but no cause of action exists for tortious interference with a business's relationship to the community at large. Southern Alliance Corp. v. Winter Haven, 505 So.2d 489, 496 (Fla. 2d DCA 1987). As a general rule, an action for tortious interference with a business relationship requires a business relationship evidenced by an actual and identifiable understanding or agreement which in all probability would have been completed if the defendant had not interfered.

The Amended Complaint sufficiently alleges existing (see paragraph 38) and prospective contractual rights.

Defendants do indeed enjoy a qualified privilege to interfere with the business relationships of jockeys that ride at Tampa Bay Downs. But where such a qualified privilege exists, a plaintiff may still recover if he can prove express malice. Here, Plaintiff has alleged malice on part of the Defendants including the allegations that Defendants issued the ban without reason. Acting without reason or investigation may be sufficient to indirectly prove malice. McCurdy v. Collis, 508 So.2d 380 (Fla. ...


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