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Collier County v. Holiday CVS, L.L.C.

United States District Court, M.D. Florida, Fort Myers Division

April 10, 2017

COLLIER COUNTY, a political subdivision of the State of Florida Plaintiff,
v.
HOLIDAY CVS. L.L.C. and RTG, LLC, Defendants.

          OPINION AND ORDER [1]

          SHERI POLSTER CHAPPELL UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

This matter comes before the Court on Defendant RTG, LLC's (“RTG”) Motion to Dismiss (Doc. 9) and Defendant Holiday CVS, L.L.C.'s (“CVS”) Motion to Dismiss (Doc. 12) filed on January 17, 2017. Plaintiff Collier County (“Plaintiff”) filed its Responses in Opposition on January 31, 2017. (Doc. 18; Doc. 19). With the Court's leave, CVS filed a Reply to Plaintiff's Response in Opposition (Doc. 25) on February 13, 2017. Thus, this matter is ripe for the Court's review.

         INTRODUCTION

         This case started as an eminent domain action in state court. It commenced in 2013 and resolved one year later with a jury verdict in favor of Defendants. Plaintiff is a political subdivision of Florida. RTG is the property owner of a parcel located at 6800 Collier Blvd., Naples, Florida 34114 (“the Subject Property”). CVS leases the Subject Property from RTG and operates its business there.

         This lease was interrupted years later in 2013. At that time, Plaintiff initiated an expansion project requiring it to seek an additional right-of-way. Plaintiff sought to condemn portions of the Subject Property, including eleven parking spaces and a temporary construction easement. This prompted CVS to terminate its lease with RTG and remain as a month-to-month tenant. A year later, Defendants proceeded to a jury trial on their claims for damages. The jury awarded RTG approximately $3.1 million in severance damages and CVS $1, 933, 000.00 in business damages. Additionally, Plaintiff claims it paid over $1 million in attorney's fees and almost $500, 000.00 towards Defendants' expert fees. Plaintiff now brings action to recoup damages it paid in full to Defendants.

         BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff initially brought this action in state court. (Doc. 1-5 at 9-18). CVS then removed it to federal court. (Doc. 1). The Amended Complaint alleges counts for Unjust Enrichment and Civil Conspiracy to Commit Extrinsic Fraud on the Court. (Doc. 2). In a Notice of Withdrawal filed with the state court, Plaintiff withdrew its claim for Civil Conspiracy to Commit Extrinsic Fraud on the Court. (Doc. 1-5 at 160). In addition, Plaintiff attached a proposed second amended complaint that lists Unjust Enrichment as its sole claim. (Doc. 27-1). Therefore, Unjust Enrichment is the only claim at issue.

         Plaintiff's main argument for recovery hinges on the evidence presented to the jury in its prior state court action. Plaintiff avers the jury was misled when determining damages because CVS represented that its store would close on the Subject Property, and it did not. (Doc. 2 at ¶¶ 27-28, 32). In response, Defendants move to dismiss Plaintiff's claim on the basis of res judicata (collateral estoppel), Florida Rule of Civil Procedure 1.540(b), and failure to state a claim. (Doc. 9 at 11-23; Doc. 12 at 9-16). After an extensive review of this case, the Court need only address dismissal of Plaintiff's claim on the basis of res judicata.

         DISCUSSION

         A. Motion to Dismiss

         “Res judicata bars litigation of claims that were or could have been raised in a prior action.” In re FFS Data, Inc., 776 F.3d 1299, 1306 (11th Cir. 2015) (citation omitted). When deciding res judicata, federal courts “apply the preclusion law of the state whose courts rendered the first decision.” Agripost, LLC v. Miami-Dade Cnty., 525 F.3d 1049, 1052 n.3 (11th Cir. 2008). Under Florida law, issue preclusion prevents re-litigation where “(1) the parties are identical with those from the prior case, (2) the issues are identical, (3) there was a full and fair opportunity to litigate the issues and they were actually litigated, and (4) those issues were necessary to the prior adjudication.” Id. at 1055 (citation omitted).

         Defendants contend that Plaintiff's claim is barred by res judicata because of Plaintiff's prior state court action in which a verdict for damages was entered. (Doc. 9 at 12-14; Doc. 12 at 10-12). Defendants are correct. Here, the parties are the same. And, Plaintiff's claim is tied to the same factual predicate as the prior state court action. Moreover, the parties received a full and fair opportunity to litigate the issue of damages, evidenced by the jury verdict dated January 10, 2014. See (Doc. 2-2; Doc. 2-3). Thus, any issue relating to damages was necessary to the prior state court adjudication.

         Interestingly, Plaintiff avers its Unjust Enrichment claim was incapable of being brought at the time of the prior state court action. (Doc. 18 at ¶ 16; Doc. 19 at ¶ 16).Plaintiff contends the jury awarded damages based upon the belief that CVS would close its premises by January 2015. (Doc. 18 at ¶ 16; Doc. 19 at ¶ 16). Therein, lies the crux of Plaintiff's claim- for, any kept damages and profits earned thereafter would be an “unjust windfall.” (Doc. 2 at ¶ 43). The Court does not see it that way.

         The Amended Complaint indicates Plaintiff “has paid CVS and RTG the damages awarded in full.” (Doc. 2 at ¶ 30) (emphasis added). Plaintiff had ample time to appeal the state court judgment, but it did not. Plaintiff now brings its claim close to three years later. This is not the typical unjust enrichment claim. Rather, this claim is a collateral attack on a jury verdict. The possibility that CVS could remain open on the Subject Property past the ...


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