final until disposition of timely filed motion for rehearing.
Appeal from the Circuit Court for Miami-Dade County, Eric
William Hendon, Judge.
Snyder Schweikert & Ravindran, P.A., and Ronald P. Weil,
and Iva U. Ravindran; Joel S. Perwin, P.A., and Joel S.
Perwin, for appellant.
Stearns Weaver Miller Weissler Alhadeff & Sitterson,
P.A., and Jose G. Sepulveda, Carlos J. Canino, and Julie
Fishman Berkowitz; Wicker Smith O'Hara McCoy & Ford,
P.A., and Dennis M. O'Hara, Alyssa M. Reiter, Lindsey A.
Hicks, and Brandon J. Hechtman, for appellees.
SALTER, LOGUE, and LINDSEY, JJ.
Jonathan Hullick (Plaintiff below) appeals an order entering
final summary judgment in favor of Appellee Steven Hayworth
(Defendant below) on two counts of defamation per se. Hullick
alleged that Hayworth, as Chief Executive Officer of
Gibraltar Private Bank and Trust Company, made defamatory
statements in front of Gibraltar's Board of Directors.
Because Hullick failed to establish the essential element of
publication to a third party, we affirm.
2007, Hayworth, former CEO, Executive President, and Chairman
of Gibraltar's Board of Directors, hired Hullick to fill
the recently-vacated Chief Operating Officer
("COO") position. Hullick's time with Gibraltar
was, however, short-lived. In July 2007, Hullick wrote a memo
in which he expressed concern over irregularities and other
suspicious activity in a client's accounts. Over the next
15 months, Hullick reported his ongoing concerns to Hayworth,
the Board of Directors, the Senior Managing Director, the
Audit Committee, the Chief Risk Officer, the Bank Secrecy
Act/Anti-Money Laundering Officer, and the Chief Credit
Officer. In addition, Hullick reported his concerns regarding
Senior Vice President John Harris, the Regional Market
Manager at Gibraltar's Ft. Lauderdale branch, where the
client's accounts were maintained. Hullick believed that
Harris was aware of fraudulent activity in the accounts and
was permitting it to continue. Conflict arose between Harris
and Hullick, and Hullick was eventually terminated from his
position as Gibraltar's COO.
two years later, Hullick filed the underlying action,
alleging, inter alia, that Hayworth made multiple defamatory
statements about him post-termination that destroyed his
reputation in the banking community, making it difficult for
him to find employment. Hullick further alleged Hayworth made
these statements to the other members of Gibraltar's
Board of Directors during a Board meeting. After numerous
motions and orders from three different trial court judges,
Hullick's twenty-count operative complaint was whittled
down to just five counts: one count against Gibraltar for
breach of contract and two counts each against Gibraltar and
Hayworth for defamation per se.
and Hayworth filed motions for summary judgment, arguing that
the element of publication was not established by the
allegations in the Complaint based on this Court's
holding in American Airlines, Inc. v. Geddes, 960
So.2d 830 (Fla. 3d DCA 2007). The prior trial court judge
disagreed and denied the motions, allowing the case to go
forward. Thereafter, Gibraltar and Hayworth renewed
their motions for summary judgment with the successor trial
judge, asserting the same grounds as previously argued. The
trial court agreed and granted summary judgment in favor of
Hayworth on both defamation counts (Counts XII and XVI)
because Hullick had failed to establish the necessary element
of publication to a third party.
timely appeal followed.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
there are no disputed factual issues, the granting of summary
judgment presents a pure question of law and is subject to
the de novo standard of review. Bosem v. Musa
Holdings, Inc., 46 So.3d 42, 44 (Fla. 2010)
("Because this is a pure question of law, our standard
of review is de novo."); So. Baptist Hosp. of Fla.,
Inc. v. Welker, 908 So.2d 317, 319 ...