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OIL, LLC v. Stamax Corp.

Florida Court of Appeals, Fourth District

June 21, 2017

OIL, LLC and MAXIMILIANO L. RUSSO, Petitioners,
v.
STAMAX CORP., Respondent.

         Not final until disposition of timely filed motion for rehearing.

          Petition for writ of certiorari to the Circuit Court for the Seventeenth Judicial Circuit, Broward County; Patti Englander Henning, Judge; L.T. Case No. 14 CA 007421.

          Jason T. Forman of the Law Offices of Jason T. Forman, P.A., Fort Lauderdale, for petitioners.

          Brady J. Cobb and Dylan M. Fulop, of Cobb Eddy PLLC, Fort Lauderdale, for respondent.

          Kuntz, J.

         Petitioners, OIL, LLC and Maximiliano L. Russo, seek certiorari review of an order disqualifying their attorney based upon the court's conclusion that counsel violated Florida Bar Rule 4-1.9. We grant the petition and quash the order because counsel for the Petitioners did not represent the Respondent and did not participate in confidential communications with the Respondent.

         Background

         Respondent, Stamax Corp., was the holder of a license from Apple Inc., allowing it to sell and service Apple products as an authorized reseller. Based on its agreement with Apple, Stamax operated a number of stores in South Florida. In 2012, Stamax entered into an agreement with Petitioner, OIL, LLC, that granted OIL the ability to use Stamax's trade name to sell Apple products in Fort Lauderdale.

         A dispute arose between OIL and Stamax due to OIL's accumulation of debt from forced purchases of product supplied by Stamax. As a result of this dispute, OIL sued Stamax for breach of contract and fraud related to the 2012 agreement between the parties.

         Shortly after the lawsuit was filed, Stamax filed a verified motion to disqualify counsel for OIL based upon its claim that the attorney had previously represented it through its agent, Fernando Lund. Stamax alleged that Lund had discussed the Stamax/Apple agreement with the attorney and provided a copy to the attorney. Stamax also alleged that Lund discussed its "business model, corporate governance issues, . . . a shareholder agreement[, ] and an issue with a store [under construction] in Pembroke Pines." Stamax asserted that as a result of these discussions, the attorney had offered to represent it and had prepared a draft engagement agreement that Stamax never executed.

         In October 2015, an evidentiary hearing was held before Circuit Judge Dale Ross. At the hearing, Lund testified that he could not recall any specific legal advice that the attorney had given him and "maybe even they were personal, maybe." Lund also testified that he had a meeting with the attorney at his office during which "the business models" of Stamax were discussed. However, Lund stated that the principal for OIL was present during the entirety of the discussions. In response to a question from the judge, Lund stated that he did have another meeting with the attorney, however, all of the discussions regarding Stamax occurred at the meeting with OIL's principal. Finally, Lund testified that the only document relevant to the action that was disclosed to the attorney was the Stamax/Apple agreement.

         At the request of the new counsel for Stamax, who substituted as counsel after the hearing before Judge Ross, in December 2016, a hearing was held before Circuit Judge Patti Englander Henning. Judge Henning noted that no order had been entered by her predecessor after the October 2015 evidentiary hearing. While noting that she had carefully reviewed the transcript of that hearing, she offered the parties the opportunity to present any additional evidence that they deemed appropriate.

         In response, counsel for Stamax stated that with "previous counsel" for his client and OIL "there had been a lot of bickering back and forth on matters that maybe weren't germane to the ultimate issues in the case." He stated that he had spoken with counsel for OIL, and "we weren't going to offer any additional witnesses or testimony…. Ultimately, we were looking for a ruling."

         Judge Henning stated that she had reviewed the transcript and found the testimony of Lund to be credible. She stated at the hearing that counsel for OIL was disqualified and promptly issued a written order. OIL timely sought ...


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