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Frey v. Minter

United States District Court, M.D. Florida, Tampa Division

May 17, 2017

ROBERT J. FREY, Plaintiff,
v.
A. BINFORD MINTER and HAROLD BLACH, JR., Defendants.

          ORDER

          JAMES S. MOODY, JR. UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         THIS CAUSE comes before the Court upon Defendant A. Binford Minter's Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff's First Amended Complaint (Doc. 17), Defendant Harold Blach, Jr.'s Motion to Dismiss the same (Doc. 18), and Plaintiff's Response in Opposition (Doc. 19). As discussed further below, the Court agrees that venue in this district is improper. However, rather than dismiss Plaintiff's First Amended Complaint (Doc. 16), the Court will transfer this action to the Middle District of Georgia.

         BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff Robert J. Frey is an attorney who is licensed to practice law in Georgia but lives in Sarasota, Florida. He is suing another licensed Georgia attorney, A. Binford Minter, and Minter's client, Harold Blach, Jr., for defamation.

         Plaintiff used to provide legal representation to an individual named Sal Diaz-Verson. Plaintiff represented Diaz-Verson in a number of matters over several years, which resulted in Diaz-Verson owing him more than $350, 000 in attorney's fees. In 2009, a creditor obtained a $395, 000 judgment against Diaz-Verson; it subsequently filed a garnishment action against him. In 2012, Diaz-Verson entered into a settlement with the creditor, in which they agreed that the creditor would assign a portion of its judgment against Diaz-Verson to Plaintiff “to provide Plaintiff with some security” for the attorney's fees he was owed.[1] (Doc. 16, ¶ 24.)

         In 2014, Defendant Blach obtained a $160, 000 judgment against Diaz-Verson. Defendant Blach has since attempted to collect on that judgment by filing garnishment actions against Diaz-Verson in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Georgia In response, Plaintiff filed third-party claims to the garnishment funds based on his superior judgment against Diaz-Verson. Plaintiff and Defendant Blach have also filed related actions in the Superior Court for Muscogee County, Georgia.

         Defendant Minter represents Defendant Blach in the federal and state court actions in Georgia. As part of this representation, he has argued that Plaintiff is not a good-faith creditor and is committing a fraud on the court.

         Plaintiff alleges that, from 2015 to 2017, Defendants have made numerous defamatory statements about him. (Doc. 16, ¶ 33.) Defendants have falsely accused him of fraud and unethical conduct in violation of the Georgia Rules of Professional Conduct in the following communications: (1) their pleadings in the federal and state court proceedings in Georgia, (2) a complaint to the State Bar of Georgia, (3) letters to judge(s) and attorney(s) in Georgia, and (4) an interview with Greg Land, a reporter with the Fulton County Daily Report.[2] Based on Greg Land's interview, the Daily Report published an article about the Parties' garnishment litigation, and the article quoted Defendant Minter as saying, “I'm arguing that it's a fraudulent arrangement; impermissible, unethical, and void.” (Doc. 1, p. 9.)

         Plaintiff alleges that Defendants' statements were “intended to harm [him] personally in his home state of Florida and in his professional status as [a] member of the Georgia Bar.” (Doc. 16, p. 5.) Although Plaintiff alleges that he was injured by Defendants' statements in Florida, he does not specify any actual damages he sustained.

         DISCUSSION

         Defendants argue that the Court should dismiss Plaintiff's First Amended Complaint because the Court lacks personal jurisdiction over Defendants, venue in the Middle District of Florida is improper, Plaintiff has failed to state a claim upon which relief can be granted, and Plaintiff has failed to join a party required under Rule 19. In evaluating these arguments, the Court must accept all factual allegations contained in the Complaint as true and construe those allegations in the light most favorable to Plaintiff. Hunt v. Aimco Properties, L.P., 814 F.3d 1213, 1221 (11th Cir. 2016) (internal citation omitted). In this case, the Court need not reach most of Defendants' arguments because it is apparent that venue in this district is improper.

         A plaintiff may file a civil lawsuit in one of the following forums:

(1) a judicial district in which any defendant resides, if all defendants are residents of the State in which the district is located; (2) a judicial district in which a substantial part of the events or omissions giving rise to the claim occurred . . .; or (3) if there is no district in which an action may otherwise be brought . . ., any judicial district in which any defendant is subject to the court's personal jurisdiction with respect to such action.

28 U.S.C. § 1391(b). The first two options are “preferred judicial districts, ” whereas the third option is a “fallback.” Atl. Marine Const. Co. v. U.S. Dist. Court for W. Dist. of Texas, 134 S.Ct. 568, 578 (2013). It is Plaintiff's burden to demonstrate that the chosen venue is appropriate. Wildfire Grp., LLC v. Prime Ins. Co., 974 F.Supp.2d 1333, 1337 (M.D. Ala. 2013); see also Delong Equip. Co. v. ...


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