final until disposition of timely filed motion for rehearing.
from a non-final order from the Circuit Court for Miami-Dade
County Lower Tribunal No. 15-19884, John W. Thornton, Jr.,
Cotton Wollan & Greengrass and Lionel F. Rivera and
Brooke D. Oransky (Fort Lauderdale) and Barry Temkin (New
York, NY); Akerman LLP and Kathy M. Klock and Jonathan B.
Butler (West Palm Beach); Greensfelder, Hemker & Gale and
Donald D. McBride and David W. Ybarra and Garrett C. Reuter,
Jr. (St. Louis, MO), for appellants.
Tropin & Throckmorton and Charles W. Throckmorton and
Vincent Alexander; Shapiro, Blasi, Wasserman and Aram C.
Bloom (Boca Raton), for appellees.
WELLS, ROTHENBERG and SALTER, JJ.
three consolidated appeals were commenced by fourteen of
twenty defendants from a non-final circuit court order
denying their motions to dismiss for lack of personal
jurisdiction. We affirm the order of denial as to twelve of
those defendants, reversing the order only as to two of the
defendants, Marc R. Chenot and Kevin J. Haberberger.
The Third Amended Complaint
Third Amended Complaint, referred to in this opinion as the
"Complaint, " was brought by three plaintiffs
(appellees here) against the fourteen defendant/appellees and
six other Florida-resident or Florida-connected defendants.
The underlying dispute involves individuals and companies
alleged to have: severed affiliations with plaintiff/appellee
The Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance Company
("NML"); wrongfully used confidential information
regarding NML insureds and policies; "twisted" or
"churned" NML's insureds and policies;
tortiously interfered with the appellees' advantageous
business relationships; and conspired as a group to engage in
those activities in order to derive commissions from their
new relationships with The Massachusetts Mutual Life
Insurance Company ("Mass Mutual"). The other two
plaintiffs are Michael Kevin Lawhon ("Lawhon"), an
NML general agent individually and through South Florida
Group, LLC, a Florida LLC owned and operated by Lawhon.
Complaint includes 230 numbered paragraphs in 92 pages of
detailed allegations, sixteen separate causes of action, and
36 numbered exhibits comprising another 450 pages. The
appellants filed motions to dismiss for lack of personal
jurisdiction, together with affidavits in support of those
motions. In addition, jurisdictional discovery was
taken, and each side relies on answers to interrogatories,
documents, and deposition testimony to support its position
Denial of the Motions; Three Separate Appeals
2016, the trial court entered a ten-page omnibus order
denying the various motions to dismiss the Complaint for lack
of personal jurisdiction. Three groups, a total of fourteen
defendants, filed separate appeals and are represented by
separate counsel in these consolidated appeals.
Case No. 3D16-1675
appellees in this appeal (the "Missouri-Illinois
Defendants"),  were agents and field managers for NML
working primarily in St. Louis, Missouri, and nearby areas of
Missouri and Illinois. Each of them left NML in 2014 and
became agents of Mass. Mutual working under the direction of
former NML general agent, and later Mass. Mutual general
agent for the St. Louis area, appellee Damon Phelan
("Phelan"). Phelan (who has appealed individually
in Case No. 3D16-1858, as detailed below) left NML and became
the Mass. Mutual general agent for that area in August 2013.
The Complaint alleges that Phelan was responsible as general
agent for reviewing the suitability and marketing of the
Mass. Mutual policies and products recommended by the
the Missouri-Illinois Defendants, except Chenot and
Haberberger, became members of defendant Visionary Wealth
Advisors, LLC ("VWA"), a Delaware limited liability
company authorized to conduct business in Florida. VWA's
officers and managing members include defendants and
appellees (in consolidated Case No. 3D16-1838, also detailed
below) Brett G. Gilliland ("Gilliland") and Timothy
G. Hammett ("Hammett"). The Complaint alleges that
VWA regularly conducts substantial business operations out of
offices in Miami, St. Louis, and Edwardsville, Illinois. Two
Florida-resident defendants, who did not seek dismissal for
lack of personal jurisdiction and thus are not appellees
here, Ricardo J. Ludert ("Ludert") and Charles R.
Downs, Jr. ("Downs"), also conduct VWA business
from their office in Miami.
Complaint alleges that Downs, also an NML agent for many
years, became a co-general agent for Mass. Mutual in Miami
shortly after Phelan and other defendants left NML. The
Complaint also alleges that Downs breached NML regulations
applicable to him under his contract by copying,
electronically and physically, trade secrets of NML regarding
hundreds of NML policyholders, before his July 2014
termination. The Complaint further alleges that
Missouri-Illinois Defendants Clinard, Fox, Jones, and Scott
Vieregge also copied and stole electronic and physical copies
of such trade secrets before their respective termination
dates with NML.