United States District Court, M.D. Florida, Orlando Division
GREGORY A. PRESNELL UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
matter comes before the Court on the Motion to Quash and
Motion to Dismiss (Doc. 3) filed by Defendant Carlo Cioffi;
the Motion to Dismiss (Doc. 11) filed by Defendant Priority
Management Group; and the Responses (Docs. 20, 21) filed by
Plaintiffs Synergy Billing LLC and Michael Jayson Meyer.
gravamen of the Complaint in this action is that
Defendants-Priority Management Group Inc.
(“PMG”) and Carlo Cioffi
(“Cioffi”)-engaged in a campaign
to defame and discredit Plaintiffs-Synergy Billing, LLC
(“Synergy”) and Michael Meyer
(“Meyer”)-by accusing them of
participating in a fraudulent scheme committed by Johnathan
Dunning (“Dunning”), a non-party
to this action. (Doc. 2).
Meyer is a resident of Ormond Beach, Florida and the CEO of
Synergy, a revenue cycle management
(“RCM”) firm that works
exclusively with Federal Qualified Health Centers
(“FQHCs”). (Id. ¶ 2-3). Defendant
Cioffi is a resident of Lincoln, Rhode Island and the former
Vice President of PMG, which also focuses exclusively on
providing RCM for FQHCs. (Id. ¶¶ 4-5).
Meyer Becomes a Victim of Dunning's Fraudulent
to the formation of Synergy, Meyer was the CEO of a medical
billing company named WorkSmart MD, Inc.
¶¶ 14-15). In 2005, Dunning, the former CEO of
Birmingham Health Center
(“BHC”), approached Meyer and
requested that WorkSmart perform billing for BHC.
(Id. ¶ 14). “As WorkSmart . . . achieved
great success for [BHC], ” Meyer created Synergy as a
d/b/a of WorkSmart. (Id. ¶ 15). Dunning never
became an employee, owner, or shareholder of Synergy.
(Id. ¶ 16).
2008, Dunning approached Meyer again and suggested that they
work together to expand RCM for FQHCs in Alabama.
(Id.) Dunning then formed his own two
companies-Synergy Billing Solutions and Synergy Medical
Solutions. (Id.) Despite promising to work together,
however, Dunning brought in no new clients. (Id.)
continued to provide billing services to BHC through 2012,
but discontinued service when he received no payment for his
work. (Id. ¶ 17). Sometime thereafter, Meyer
received a 1099 from BHC and was “shocked” to see
an amount far greater than the revenue he collected from BHC.
(Id.). Around that same period, the United States
(“Government”) contacted Meyer
and the FBI interviewed him in reference to Dunning.
(Id.). The FBI then “informed Meyer that
Dunning [had] been receiving payments for Meyer's
services, ” and the U.S. Department of Justice
“identified Meyer as a victim of Dunning's
scheme” to pocket federal dollars. (Id.
¶¶ 17, 18).
February 2015, the Government charged Dunning with over one
hundred counts of federal crimes, including wire fraud, bank
fraud, money laundering, and conspiracy. (Id. ¶
18). To assist the Government with its case, Meyer testified
against Dunning, who was convicted of ninety-eight charged
counts in 2016. Dunning is now serving an eighteen-year
sentence in federal prison and must repay $13.5 million in
restitution. (Id. ¶ 20).
Defendants Accuse Plaintiffs of Being a Part of Dunning's
the pendency of Dunning's case, Synergy acquired a
contract to provide Northeast Florida Health Services
(“NFHS”) with RCM services.
(Id. ¶¶ 22-23). Synergy was awarded the
contract over its competitor, PMG. (Id.). After
procuring the contract with NFHS, Plaintiffs learned that
Cioffi had instigated a smear campaign aimed at tarnishing
their reputations. (Id.).
2015, Cioffi emailed several NFHS representatives, including
Todd Aldrich (“Aldrich”), and
falsely alleged that Synergy had been a part of Dunning's
fraudulent scheme. (Doc. 2, ¶¶ 22-23; Doc. 2-1 at
1-2). Specifically, Cioffi stated:
I wanted to send one last email and say [t]hank you for all
the time you folks invested in working with PMG to see if we
are a fit for your organization. I heard from [Aldrich] that
you folks went in another direction and decided that PMG was
not a fit and why.
I shared with [Aldrich] that I would still try to connect
with the leadership at Samuel Rodgers. The call would be less
of a reference on PMG but more of what you might avoid or
pitfalls to avoid in working with . . . their old vendor who
will be your vendor going forward.
Again, I can't say why they switched vendors, they can
share that with you if they are inclined. In addition, I have
attached a document that is a HRSA report in which on page 28
they indicate a company named Synergy Billing Solutions coded
visits for increased reimbursement.
I have also attached a PDF in which . . . [the] U.S.
Government has a case against Jonathan Dunning and his firms
- one of which is named Synergy Billing Solutions. I know
that folks at that firm indicate they are not the same firm.
We have spoken to the Attorney General[']s [O]ffice in
Alabama and they indicate they are the same firm.
My hope is that this does not come across as sour grapes for
PMG not being awarded the work at [NFHS] but rather as a
buyer beware message. Best of luck going forward and
providing your service area the health care they deserve
(Doc. 2-1 at 1-2 (the “NFHS
receipt of Cioffi's email, Aldrich contacted Synergy,
seeking to discuss Cioffi's accusations. (See
Id. at 1; Doc. 2 ¶ 23). Shortly thereafter, NFHS
terminated its relationship with Synergy. (Doc. 2, ¶
23). Even after NFHS cut ties with Synergy, Cioffi continued
to provide false information about Plaintiffs to the media,
government officials, and the National Association of
Community Health Centers
(NACHC) -the leading national advocacy
organization for community based health centers. (Id.
¶¶ 13, 28-30, 32-33).
the pseudonym “Ronald Tides, Jr., ” Cioffi sent
an email to Clayton Park
(“Park”), the business editor of
the Daytona Beach News-Journal, on May 12, 2014, insisting
that Plaintiffs were working with Dunning and that Dunning
had in interest in Synergy. (Doc. 2-1 at 5; Doc. 2 ¶
30). When Park doubted Cioffi's accusations, Cioffi
continued to insist that there was a connection and suggested
that Park investigate the matter. (Doc. 2-1 at 4). Heeding
Cioffi's advice, Park contacted Jeanette Duerr
(“Duerr”), Synergy's Vice
President of Communications, to inquire whether there was any
connection between Synergy and Dunning's company-Synergy
Billing Solutions. (Id.). After Synergy responded to
Park's inquiry, the Daytona Beach News-Journal ultimately
decided not run with Cioffi's story. (Doc. 2,
¶¶ 31, 32).
then used the same pseudonym to send emails to three
government officials: Joe Forte
(“Forte”), the City Manager of
Holly Hill; John Penny, the Mayor of Holly Hill; and Rob
Ehrhardt, the Director of Economic Development for Volusia
County. (See Doc. 2, ¶ 32). In his email to
Forte, Cioffi claimed that Meyer was associated with Dunning.
(Doc. 2-1 at 9). He also claimed that he had no interest in
the purported relationship between Meyer and Dunning, but
that he was simply outraged by “Dunning and all his
associates” because his family was treated at various
health centers affected by Dunning's criminal acts.
(Id.) Cioffi then concluded his email by criticizing
Forte's handling of the matter and warned Forte that he
had sent emails to every local and national news outlet in an
effort “to expose all corruption.”
Synergy's Relationship with the NACHC is
addition to the false and defamatory statements spread by
Defendants, Plaintiffs allege that the NACHC began
“circulating negative comments in the industry in an
attempt to discredit [Plaintiffs] and to tie Synergy [them]
to Dunning.” (Doc. 2, ¶¶ 26). The NACHC also
attempted to persuade one of Synergy's prospective
clients to partner up with PMG. (Id. ¶ 24).
Plaintiffs allege that a former employee of PMG-Gervean
Williams-began working for the NACHC in March of 2016,
“which is right around the time that Synergy learned
that NACHC was pushing certain community health centers
toward PMG.” (Id. ¶ 25).
lodged numerous complaints with the NACHC, but the NACHC
assured Synergy that it was against their policy to promote
one member over another or to disparage a member.
(Id. ¶ 26). Despite the NACHC's purported
policy, “the negative comments continued” and one
of Synergy's potential clients stopped communicating with
Synergy. (Id.). In July 2016, “Synergy lost
two potential accounts due to the actions of PMG, Cioffi, and
NACHC.” (Id. ¶ 27). A month later, the
NACHC cancelled Synergy's reserved space at the largest
industry conference and assigned Synergy a booth secluded
from the attendees. (Id. ¶¶ 34, 35).
“Synergy eventually learned that” the NACHC took
this action “so that it could further investigate the
relationship between [Plaintiffs] and Dunning.”
(Id.). Duerr made several attempts to speak with the
Chief Operating Officer of the NACHC to resolve its concerns,
but her attempts were unsuccessful. (Id. ¶ 37).
on the foregoing facts, Plaintiffs brought suit against
Defendants asserting claims for “defamation
libel” (Count I), “defamation per
se” (Count II), “tortious interference with
advantageous business relationships” (Count III),
“civil conspiracy” (Counts IV and V), and
“violation of Florida's Deceptive and Unfair Trade
Practices Act” (Count VI). Defendants have filed
separate motions seeking to dismiss Plaintiffs' claims
for failure to state a claim pursuant to Federal Rule of
Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). (Doc. 3, 11). In addition, Cioffi
moves to dismiss the Complaint for lack of personal
jurisdiction pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure
12(b)(2) and to quash service of process. (Docs. 3).
Motion to Dismiss for Lack of Personal Jurisdiction
Legal Standard ...