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Catano v. Capuano

United States District Court, S.D. Florida

July 11, 2019

ZORAIDA CATANO, Plaintiff,
v.
PAULINE CAPUANO and TRAVIS SCHIRATO, Defendants.

          ORDER ON DEFENDANT'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

          EDWIN G. TORRES UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         This matter is before the Court on Pauline Capuano's (“Defendant” or “Mrs. Capuano”) motion for summary judgment [D.E. 98] against Zoraida Catano (“Plaintiff”). [D.E. 78]. Plaintiff responded to Defendant's motion on June 24, 2019 [D.E. 124] to which Defendant replied on July 11, 2019. [D.E. 129]. Therefore, Defendant's motion is now ripe for disposition. After careful consideration of the motion, response, reply, and relevant authority, and for the reasons discussed below, Defendant's motion is GRANTED in part and DENIED in part.[1]

         I. BACKGROUND

         In 2006, Mauricio Capuano (“Mr. Capuano”), as the sole shareholder, incorporated his company, GSA Realty. [D.E. 1 at ¶¶ 10, 12]. A few months after GSA Realty's formation, the company purchased real property (the “Property”) in Miami for $2, 600, 000.[2] See id. at ¶ 11. In 2007, Mr. Capuano separated from his wife, Mrs. Capuano, and remained estranged from her until his death in January 2014. See id. at ¶ 13. After the separation, Mr. Capuano began a romantic relationship with Plaintiff, in Guatemala, which resulted in a daughter who was born in November 2008. In the meantime, Mrs. Capuano moved to the Netherlands.

         Several years later, in October 2013, Travis Schirato (“Mr. Schiarto”), Mrs. Capuano's nephew and a convicted felon, executed a purchase and sale agreement, to sell GSA Realty's Miami property to Laurinus Pierre and Michele Jean Gilles for $2, 300, 000. At the time, Mr. Schirato held no position with GSA Realty nor did he have any ownership interest in the company. A few months later, Mr. Capuano died in Miami on January 2, 2014. According to Mr. Capuano's 2009 will - submitted for probate in Guatemala - he devised half of his estate to Plaintiff and the other half to his adult daughter, Graziela Capuano.[3]

         After Mr. Capuano's death, Plaintiff alleges that Defendants held a series of telephone calls in which they discussed the pending sale of the Property, agreed to embezzle the proceeds from GSA Realty, and to conceal the embezzlement through a series of transfers and financial transactions. Purporting to act on GSA Realty's behalf, Mr. Schirato, nearly three months after Mr. Capuano's death, attended the closing of the sale, receiving $300, 000 on behalf of GSA Realty and obtaining a promissory note from the buyers for $2, 000, 000, also payable to GSA Realty.

         Immediately after the closing on March 25, 2014, Mr. Schirato transferred the $300, 000 from GSA Realty to himself or corporate entities under his control. Mr. Schirato then transferred $114, 000, out of the $300, 000, to Mrs. Capuano who then transferred those funds to a personal bank account in Guatemala. Plaintiff believes that, thereafter, Mr. Schirato transferred $26, 666.68 in interest payments on the property to himself or his corporate entities. Subsequently, without any authority to do so, Mr. Schirato advised the buyers, by letter, that servicing of the loan was being transferred from GSA Realty to Mr. Schirato, individually. After the buyers sent him another series of interest payments, totaling $40, 000.02, Mr. Schirato sent them another letter, stating that he had assigned the next thirty-six payments to two individuals in New York.

         A short time later, on August 20, 2014, Mr. Schirato executed a balloon note endorsement and assignment of mortgage deed, in exchange for a substantial sum, purporting to assign the note from GSA Realty to the individuals in New York. Thereafter, Plaintiff alleges that Mrs. Capuano and Mr. Schirato persisted in conspiring to hide the embezzled funds, with Mrs. Capuano making false representations to the probate court and further impeding the recovery of estate assets, continuously through the time of the filing of Plaintiff's complaint.

         II. APPLICABLE PRINCIPLES AND LAW

         “The court shall grant summary judgment if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a).

A party asserting that a fact cannot be or is genuinely disputed must support the assertion by: (A) citing to particular parts of materials in the record, including depositions, documents, electronically stored information, affidavits or declarations, stipulations (including those made for purposes of the motion only), admissions, interrogatory answers, or other materials; or (B) showing that materials cited do not establish the absence or presence of a genuine dispute, or that an adverse party cannot produce admissible evidence to support the fact.

Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c)(1). “On summary judgment the inferences to be drawn from the underlying facts must be viewed in the light most favorable to the party opposing the motion.” Matsushita Electric Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 597 (1986) (quoting another source).

         In opposing a motion for summary judgment, the nonmoving party may not rely solely on the pleadings, but must show by affidavits, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions that specific facts exist demonstrating a genuine issue for trial. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c); Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323B24 (1986). The existence of a mere “scintilla” of evidence in support of the nonmovant's position is insufficient; there must be evidence on which the jury could reasonably find for the nonmovant. See Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 252 (1986). “A court need not permit a case to go to a jury . . . when the inferences that are drawn from the evidence, or upon which the non-movant relies, are 'implausible.'” Mize v. Jefferson City Bd. Of Educ., 93 F.3d 739, 743 (11th Cir. 1996) (citing Matsushita, 475 U.S. at 592-94)).

         At the summary judgment stage, the Court's function is not to “weigh the evidence and determine the truth of the matter but to determine whether there is a genuine issue for trial.” Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249. In making this determination, the Court must decide which issues are material. A material fact is one that might affect the outcome of the case. See Id. at 248 (“Only disputes over facts that might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law will properly preclude the entry of summary judgment. Factual disputes that are irrelevant or unnecessary will not be counted.”). “Summary judgment will not lie if the dispute about a material fact is 'genuine,' that is, if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.” Id.

         III. ANALYSIS

         A. Federal RICO Generally

         “It is the purpose of [The Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (“RICO”)] to seek the eradication of organized crime in the United States by strengthening the legal tools in the evidence-gathering process, by establishing new penal prohibitions, and by providing enhanced sanctions and new remedies to deal with the unlawful activities of those engaged in organized crime.” Organized Crime Control Act of 1970, Pub. L. No. 91-452, 84 Stat. 922, 923. The federal RICO statute provides that it is “unlawful for any person employed by or associated with any enterprise engaged in, or the activities of which affect, interstate or foreign commerce, to conduct or participate, directly or indirectly, in the conduct of such enterprise's affairs through a pattern of racketeering activity or collection of unlawful debt.” 18 U.S.C. § 1962(c). The statute creates a civil cause of action for “[a]ny person injured in his business or property by reason of a violation” of the substantive provisions contained in Section 1962 of the RICO Act. 18 U.S.C. § 1964(c).

         The required elements to state a claim for civil RICO liability are (1) conduct, (2) of an enterprise, (3) through a pattern (4) of racketeering activity. See Langford v. Rite Aid of Ala., Inc., 231 F.3d 1308, 1311 (11th Cir. 2000); see also McCulloch v. PNC Bank, 298 F.3d 1217, 1225 (11th Cir. 2002) (“[T]o state a RICO claim, a plaintiff must plead (1) that the defendant (2) through the commission of two or more acts (3) constituting a ‘pattern' (4) of ‘racketeering activity' (5) directly or indirectly invests in, or maintains an interest in, or participates in (6) an ‘enterprise' (7) the activities of which affect interstate or foreign commerce.”). “Plaintiffs in such an action must identify and prove a pattern of racketeering activity, defined as two ‘predicate acts' of racketeering activity within a 10-year period.” Id. at 1311-12 (citing 18 U.S.C. § 1961(5)). “The phrase ‘racketeering activity' is defined as any act which is indictable under a lengthy list of criminal offenses, ” including any act or threat involving murder, kidnaping, gambling, arson, robbery, extortion, bribery, mail fraud, wire fraud, and counterfeiting. See id. at 1312; see also 18 U.S.C. § 1961(1).

         Under Section 1964(c), civil RICO claimants must also demonstrate standing by showing “(1) the requisite injury to ‘business or property,' and (2) that such injury was ‘by reason of' the substantive RICO violation.” Williams v. Mohawk Indus., Inc., 411 F.3d 1252, 1256 (11th Cir. 2005). Civil RICO claims are “essentially a certain breed of fraud claims, ” meaning they “must be pled with an increased level of specificity.” Ambrosia Coal & Const. Co. v. Pages Morales, 482 F.3d 1309, 1316 (11th Cir. 2007) (citing Fed.R.Civ.P. 9(b)). “To satisfy the Rule 9(b) standard, RICO complaints must allege: (1) the precise statements, documents, or misrepresentations made; (2) the time and place of and person responsible for the statement; (3) the content and manner in which the statements misled the ...


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