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Villamorey, S.A. v. BDT Investments Inc.

Florida Court of Appeals, Third District

April 18, 2018

Villamorey, S.A., Appellant,
v.
BDT Investments, Inc., Appellee.

         Not final until disposition of timely filed motion for rehearing.

          An Appeal from a non-final order from the Circuit Court for Miami-Dade County, No. 17-4616Jose M. Rodriguez, Judge.

          Sequor Law, P.A., and Edward H. Davis, Jr. and Annette C. Escobar, for appellant.

          Carey Rodriguez Milian Gonya, LLP, and Amy M. Bowers-Zamora and David M. Levine, for appellee.

          Before LAGOA, EMAS and SCALES, JJ.

          SCALES, J.

         Villamorey, S.A., a Panamanian company claiming an interest in property subject to the garnishment proceedings below, appeals the trial court's non-final order denying Villamorey's motion for protective order.[1] We affirm the order on appeal because Villamorey was properly made a party to the garnishment proceedings.

         I. RELEVANT FACTS AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         Appellee, BDT Investments, Inc. ("BDT"), obtained a Panamanian judgment against Lisa, S.A. ("Lisa"), and subsequently filed an action in the circuit court below to domesticate the foreign judgment. Upon learning that the Miami branch of Banco Santander International ("Bank") may be holding, in a Villamorey account at Bank, over $13 million in funds allegedly owed to Lisa by Villamorey, BDT served Bank with a writ of garnishment.

         Bank responded by answering the writ and moving to dismiss the writ. In its answer, Bank generally denied the writ's allegations, and identified Villamorey as the account holder.[2] Pursuant to section 77.06(3) of the Florida Statutes (2017), [3] however, Bank's answer specifically alleged that Bank was in doubt as to whether the Villamorey account was subject to BDT's garnishment writ; thus, Bank froze the Villamorey account.[4]

         BDT replied to Bank's answer to the writ of garnishment, attaching an independent report prepared for Villamorey that audited Villamorey's financial statements. BDT contended that the audit report evidenced a dividend in excess of $13 million declared by Villamorey and payable to Lisa, Villamorey's minority shareholder. BDT claimed that these dividend funds, held in the Villamorey account at Bank, actually belonged to Lisa, and therefore were subject to BDT's garnishment. Pursuant to section 77.055 of the Florida Statutes (2017), [5] BDT provided a copy of Bank's answer to Villamorey and notified Villamorey that, in order to dissolve the writ of garnishment directed towards its account at Bank, Villamorey must file a motion to dissolve the writ within twenty days.

         Upon receipt of BDT's notice, Villamorey filed a motion to dissolve BDT's writ pursuant to section 77.07(2) of the Florida Statutes (2017).[6] In this motion, Villamorey claimed, inter alia, that: (i) Villamorey does not owe any debt to BDT; (ii) the legal presumption is that a bank account is owned by the entity named on the account (i.e., Villamorey); (iii) BDT failed to overcome this legal presumption because the audit report upon which BDT relied did not establish any ownership interest of Lisa in the Villamorey account at Bank; and (iv) BDT's foreign judgment against Lisa was a sham because, among other things, BDT and Lisa were related entities, owned by the same parent company, and represented by the same counsel.

         BDT propounded discovery on Villamorey with respect to the writ of garnishment. Specifically, BDT served Villamorey with a request for admissions, a request for production of documents, and also sought to depose Villamorey's corporate representative. Villamorey then filed the instant motion ("Villamorey's Motion") seeking to quash BDT's discovery or, in the alternative, for a protective order. Villamorey's Motion raises several general grounds as to why it is not subject to discovery, but, of consequence to this opinion, is Villamorey's argument that because the trial court lacks personal jurisdiction over it, it is not a party to the garnishment proceedings and, therefore, it cannot be compelled to respond to BDT's discovery.

         On August 3, 2017, the trial court held a hearing on Villamorey's Motion and, noting that Villamorey intended to participate fully in court-ordered mediation and at trial, entered a discovery order rejecting ...


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