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Pizzi v. Town of Miami Lakes

Florida Court of Appeals, Third District

October 2, 2019

Michael A. Pizzi, Jr., Appellant,
v.
Town of Miami Lakes, Florida, Appellee.

         Not final until disposition of timely filed motion for rehearing.

          An Appeal from the Circuit Court for Miami-Dade County, Lower Tribunal No. 15-19303 Mavel Ruiz, Judge.

          Reiner & Reiner, P.A., and David P. Reiner, II and Samuel B. Reiner, II; Kuehne Davis Law, P.A., and Benedict P. Kuehne and Michael T. Davis and Susan Dmitrovsky; Jones Walker, LLP and Edward R. Shohat; Dorta Law, and Gonzalo R. Dorta, for appellant.

          Lydecker | Diaz and Joan Carlos Wizel and Onier Llopiz, for appellee.

          Before SALTER, MILLER and GORDO, JJ.

          SALTER, J.

         Michael A. Pizzi, Jr. ("Pizzi"), appeals a final order dismissing with prejudice his second amended complaint[1] against the Town of Miami Lakes, Florida ("Town"). Pizzi sought reimbursement from the Town of attorney's fees and costs, some $2, 510, 000.00, allegedly incurred in his successful defense of criminal charges brought against him by the United States for conspiracy to commit extortion, attempted extortion, and bribery concerning programs receiving federal funds, while serving as the municipal attorney for Medley, Florida, and as the elected Mayor (at the time) of the Town. Pizzi was acquitted following a jury trial and verdict in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida in August 2014.

         Based on the exacting standard of review applicable to our review of a final order dismissing a complaint with prejudice for legal insufficiency, and at this preliminary procedural juncture, we reverse the final order and remand the case to the trial court for further proceedings. In doing so, we express no opinion regarding the ultimate merit, or lack of merit, of Pizzi's reimbursement claims.

         I. Standard of Review

         "We review a final order dismissing a complaint with prejudice under the de novo standard of review. In doing so, we assume all of the allegations in the complaint are true. We construe all reasonable inferences from the allegations in favor of [the Appellant]." Calderon v. Vasquez, 251 So.3d 303, 304 (Fla. 3d DCA 2018). Our review of the trial court's interpretation of the Town's official Legal Representation Policy ("Policy") is also de novo, as it is essentially a contract for the benefit of designated officials who meet the Policy's eligibility requirements. See City of Winter Springs v. Winter Springs Prof'l, 885 So.2d 494, 501 (Fla. 1st DCA 2004) (concurring opinion of Ervin, J.).

         II. Background and Procedural History

         Pizzi was elected Mayor of the Town in 2012. In 2013, the United States filed the initial criminal charges against him for alleged acts as the municipal attorney for Medley and as Mayor of the Town. Pizzi was thereupon suspended from his position as Mayor by the Governor of Florida pending resolution of the charges.

         The criminal charges culminated in a second superseding indictment (the "Indictment") of Pizzi by a grand jury in February 2014. A jury acquitted Pizzi of all charges in August 2014. After further state court legal proceedings, Pizzi was reinstated to office in 2015. Slaton v. Pizzi, 163 So.3d 655 (Fla. 3d DCA 2015).

         In August 2015, Pizzi's attorneys demanded that the Town reimburse Pizzi for $2, 510, 000.00 in attorney's fees and costs "for the year long criminal representation."[2] A week later, Pizzi filed an initial complaint in the circuit court which included a copy of the Indictment as Exhibit "A," a copy of the verdict and final judgment of acquittal as Exhibit "B," and two counts seeking reimbursement of attorney's fees and costs incurred in his defense of the criminal case. The initial complaint was dismissed with leave to amend, as was the first amended complaint. In the first amended complaint, Pizzi did not attach a copy of the Indictment, but did attach as exhibits copies of a Town Resolution featured in the Indictment (as an official action for ...


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