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Kazal v. Price

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

December 8, 2017

CHARIF KAZAL, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
MATTHEW PRICE, Defendant.

          ORDER

          STEVEN D. MERRYDAY UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         The latest spat in a protracted dispute between several Australian businessmen, this action involves (at least) six actions on two continents. Four of the Kazal brothers sue (Doc. 1) Matthew Price, a former employee of a company owned by Australian businessman Rodric David, for tortious interference with a business relation and for intentional infliction of emotional distress. The complaint alleges that Price runs five websites that host “defamatory” and “untrue” content about the Kazal brothers.[1]

         BACKGROUND

         The websites, which mostly re-publish news articles from the Australian media, detail a tumultuous history between the Kazal brothers and David. The story begins several decades ago, when the eight Kazal brothers emigrated from Lebanon to Australia. While two brothers opened a restaurant in Sydney, another brother (Tony) worked for several years for the royal family in the United Arab Emirates. According to one story from the Sydney Morning Herald, Tony and Karl “leveraged their status” with “Gulf diplomats” to arrange meetings between the Gulf royalty and Australian businessmen.[2]

         Meanwhile, other Kazal brothers opened restaurants and bars in historic buildings owned by the Australian government and leased to private investors. In one instance, the Kazals reportedly convinced the Australian government to spend more than six million dollars renovating one of the buildings. According to the Sydney Morning Herald, linked on Price's websites, an unlawful bribe from the Kazals to a government official secured the government's agreement to pay for the renovation. Several newspapers report that Australia's Independent Commission against Corruption later charged Charif Kazal with bribery.

         While several Kazal brothers grew the restaurant and bar business, another brother partnered with David, the Australian businessman. David and Kazal purportedly agreed to buy an unprofitable waste-recycling operation in Sydney and to invest in the operation's turn-around. One exposé from a Sydney paper reported that David spent several million dollars on the waste operation, but the Kazal family allegedly failed to pay its share (according to the exposé, Libya's sovereign investment fund promised the Kazals $2.5 million; for reasons not explained in the story, the “Gaddafi-controlled fund” reportedly never paid the money). After the Kazals sued David in the Cayman Islands over the failed investment, a Cayman judge reportedly found that David, whom the Kazal brothers accused of attempting to “steal” the Kazals' half of the company, breached a fiduciary duty and that the Kazal brothers breached a promise to finance part of the waste operation.

         In addition to the Cayman litigation, actions involving David (or David's company, Thunder Studios), Price, and the Kazals pend in the Central District of California (Thunder Studios, Inc. v. Charif Kazal, et al., 2:17-cv-871-AB-SS (C.D. Cal. Feb. 2, 2017), the Superior Court of Los Angeles (Charif Kazal et al. v. Price, case no. SC126477), and the Federal Court of Australia (Thunder Studios v. Charif Kazal, case no. 2014 NSD 850).

         While David and a Kazal brother litigated in the Cayman Islands over the waste operation and another failed co-investment in Dubai, an Australian newspaper scrutinized another Kazal brother's purported connection to Hezbollah. Tony Kazal purportedly agreed to convert several million units of an unspecified African currency into American dollars in exchange for a “lucrative commission.” A man in Beirut allegedly gave Kazal a bag of cash. Citing an investigation by Lebanese police, the Sydney Morning Herald reports that both the man and the money belong to Hezbollah.[3]

         The Middle District of Florida recently closed an action in which Adam Kazal sued Price and moved in an “emergency ex parte application” for leave to depose Price on less than a week's notice. Adam Kazal v. Matthew Price, case no. 8:17-cv-2620-VMC-JSS (M.D. Fla. Nov. 2, 2017). The application states that the Australian court ordered Kazal not to “make certain statements regarding David” (Doc. 1 at 2 in 8:17-cv-2620), but Kazal purportedly violated the order. The Australian court held Kazal in criminal contempt and sentenced Kazal to eighteen months of imprisonment, which sentence an Australian appellate court affirmed in part and reversed in part.[4] Appealing a second time, Kazal claimed that “inflammatory statements” on the websites created by Price infuriated Kazal and caused Kazal to violate the Australian court's order.

         The November 2, 2017 ex parte application to the Middle District of Florida requested a subpoena compelling Price to appear for a deposition within six days. On November 7, an order in case no. 8:17-cv-2620-VMC-JSS granted an “emergency motion to compel” Price's appearance at a deposition the next day. Appearing through counsel the day of the deposition, Price submitted an “emergency motion to quash the subpoena, ” but the district judge denied the motion an hour later and without discussing the merits of Price's motion.

         Appending the deposition to the complaint, the plaintiffs claim that Price posted “defamatory” and “untrue” content on the websites in an intentional effort to inflict emotional distress and to interfere with an unspecified business relation.[5]Also, the plaintiffs allege that schoolchildren tease or mock the children of Tony Kazal about the purported connection to Hezbollah and about the purported criminality. Moving (Doc. 3) for a temporary restraining order and for a preliminary injunction, the Kazals request that an order direct Price to “immediately remove access to and/or the content” from the websites and that an order prohibit Price from “making further statements . . . that the Plaintiffs are members of a terrorist organization or otherwise involved in criminal or fraudulent activities.” (Doc. 3 at 15)

         DISCUSSION

         An “extraordinary and drastic remedy, ” a preliminary injunction issues only if the moving party shows (1) a substantial likelihood of success on the merits and (2) an imminent and irreparable injury that will result absent an injunction. Also, the moving party must show (3) that the harm to the moving party from denying the requested injunction outweighs the harm to the non-moving party from enjoining specific conduct and (4) that creates no material injury to an important public interest. Northeastern Fl. Chapter of Ass'n of Gen. Contractors of Am. v. City of Jacksonville, Fl., 896 F.3d 1283, 1284-85 (11th Cir. 1990).

         1. Likelihood of ...


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