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Universal Physician Services, LLC v. Zotto

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

November 14, 2019

UNIVERSAL PHYSICIAN SERVICES, LLC, Plaintiff,
v.
AMANDA DEL ZOTTO, ERIC DELONG, CLINICAL SERVICES, LLC, CLINICAL SERVICES INTERNATIONAL, CLINICAL SERVICES INTERNATIONAL, INC., CLINICAL SERVICES INTERNATIONAL, LLC, CSI, INC. and CSI, LLC, Defendants.

          ORDER

          CHARLENE EDWARDS HONEYWELL, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         This matter comes before the Court upon Plaintiff/Counter-Defendant Universal Physician Services' (“UPS”) “Motion to Determine Applicability of Florida Law to Counter-Defendants' Counterclaim” (Doc. 182) (the “Motion”) and Defendants/Counter-Plaintiffs Eric DeLong (“DeLong”) and Clinical Services, LLC's (“CSI”) response in opposition (Doc. 191). In the Motion, UPS asserts that Florida law should apply to DeLong and CSI's counterclaims because Florida is the place with the “most significant relationship” to the counterclaims. DeLong and CSI disagree, contending that South Carolina law has the “most significant relationship” to the counterclaims. Finding that the parties' submissions lacked sufficient analysis, the Court ordered supplemental briefing. Doc. 311. Specifically, the Court ordered the parties to file memoranda addressing the elements required to prove each counterclaim under both Florida and South Carolina law, addressing what, if any, conflicts of law exist as to each claim, and addressing why Florida or South Carolina law should apply to each claim in light of the allegations contained within each claim. Id. UPS filed a supplemental memorandum (Doc. 313) in accordance with the Court's instructions.[1] Having reviewed the parties' submissions, including supplemental submissions, and being fully advised in the premises, the Court will now grant UPS's Motion.

         I. BACKGROUND[2]

         DeLong and CSI maintain[3] the following counterclaims against UPS: Count I - Unfair and Deceptive Trade Practices; Count II - Tortious Interference with Contractual and Business Relations; Count III - Tortious Interference with Prospective Contractual and Business Relations; Count IV - Conspiracy to Interfere with Contractual and Business Relations; and Count V -Conspiracy to Interfere with Prospective Contractual and Business Relations. Doc. 85.

         DeLong and CSI allege the following regarding all five counts. CSI is a South Carolina limited liability company that is incorporated in South Carolina. Id. at ¶ 137. DeLong is a citizen and resident of South Carolina. Id. at ¶ 139. UPS is an entity incorporated in Florida with its members and agents residing in Ohio. Id. at ¶ 140. Mary Ludvik (“Ludvik”), who is a citizen and resident of Ohio, is the sole managing member and registered agent of UPS. Id. at ¶¶ 141-143. Joseph Del Zotto is Ludvik's spouse, and Anthony Del Zotto is the son of Ludvik and Joseph Del Zotto. Id. at ¶ 151. Defendant Amanda Del Zotto (“Del Zotto”) is the daughter of Ludvik and Joseph Del Zotto. Id. at ¶ 163.

         Del Zotto worked for UPS beginning about January 1, 2012 and ending February 2015. Id. at ¶¶ 163-164. In March 2015, Ludvik and Joseph Del Zotto made unsubstantiated allegations about DeLong to the City of Columbia, South Carolina Police Department. Id. at ¶ 165. The same month, Anthony Del Zotto called the Marietta Police Department and made false allegations that DeLong was harassing Joseph Del Zotto. Id. at ¶ 166. The Marietta Police Department contacted DeLong in Columbia, South Carolina and threatened criminal charges against him as a result of the false allegations. Id. at ¶ 167.

         In April 2015, UPS filed this case against Del Zotto. Id. at ¶ 168. UPS obtained a temporary injunction against Del Zotto. Id. at ¶ 171. After obtaining this injunction, UPS, Ludvik, and Joseph Del Zotto contacted CSI's current and prospective clients, located in South Carolina, and misrepresented to them that DeLong and CSI were subject to the injunction. Id. at ¶ 172.

         DeLong and CSI allege that Count I, Unfair and Deceptive Trade Practices, is based on actions of UPS which “constitute unfair and/or deceptive methods as defined by the South Carolina Unfair Trade Practices Act (UTPA), codified at S.C. Code Ann. 39-5-10 through 39-5-160.” Id. at ¶ 174. DeLong and CSI allege the following with respect to Count II, Tortious Interference with Contractual and Business Relations: CSI had contractual relationships with several South Carolina businesses and entities, UPS was aware of such relationships, and UPS, individually and by and through their counsel, sought to induce a breach of such contracts by making misrepresentations and threats to CSI's clients. Id. at ¶¶ 179-182. With respect to Count III, Tortious Interference with Prospective Contractual and Business Relations, DeLong and CSI allege UPS intentionally interfered with CSI's potential contractual relations. Id. at ¶ 185. In Count IV, Conspiracy to Interfere with Contractual and Business Relations, and Count V, Conspiracy to Interfere with Prospective Contractual and Business Relations, DeLong and CSI allege UPS contacted CSI's clients and prospective clients by phone to persuade them to stop doing business with CSI, sent letters containing inaccurate information, and engaged in other harassing behavior. Id. at ¶¶ 191, 199.

         II. DISCUSSION

         A. Whether a True Conflict Exists

         Before beginning a conflict of law analysis, a court should determine whether a conflict of laws truly exists. Fioretti v. Mass. Gen. Life Ins. Co., 53 F.3d 1228, 1234-35 (11th Cir. 1995).

         A district court engaged in a choice of law analysis must determine which sovereigns have an interest in the application of their laws. Pycsa Panama, S.A. v. Tensar Earth Technologies, Inc., 625 F.Supp.2d 1198, 1218 (S.D. Fla. 2008) aff'd, 329 Fed.Appx. 257 (11th Cir. 2009) (citing Judge v. Am. Motors Corp., 908 F.2d 1565, 1568 (11th Cir. 1990)). A comprehensive choice of law analysis is only required if the matter involves a true conflict. Id. (citing Tune v. Philip Morris, Inc., 766 So.2d 350, 352 (Fla. 2d DCA 2000)).

         A true conflict exists where “two or more states have a legitimate interest in a particular set of facts in litigation and the laws of those states differ or would produce a different result.” Id. (citing Walker v. Paradise Hotel, Ltd., No. 01-3564, 2003 WL 21361662, *2-3 (S.D. Fla. April 25, 2003)); see also Fioretti, 53 F.3d at 1234 (noting the principle that “when the laws of the competing states are substantially similar, the court should avoid the conflicts question and simply decide the issue under the law of each of the interested states”).

         A false conflict is presented “where the laws of the interested jurisdictions are: (1) the same; (2) different but would produce the same outcome under the facts of the case; or (3) when the policies of one jurisdiction would be furthered by the application of its laws while the policies of the other jurisdiction would not be advanced by the application of its laws.” Pycsa, 625 F.Supp.2d at 1218-19 (citing Tune, 766 So.2d at 352). Where a false conflict exists, the Court applies the law of the forum state. See Fioretti, 53 F.3d at 1234, n.21 (stating that a court may apply the law of the forum state when no conflict exists); Pycsa Panama, 625 F.Supp.2d at 1219 (citing Cavic v. Grand Bahama Dev. Co., 701 F.2d 879, 882 (11th Cir. 1983) (“[U]nder applicable conflict-of-laws principles the law of the forum would govern the substantive issues due to the absence of facts justifying the application of the law of some other jurisdiction.”)).

         UPS's supplemental memorandum outlines in detail the conflicts of law that exist between Florida law and South Carolina law with respect to four of five of DeLong and CSI's counterclaims.[4] Doc. 313 at pp. 2-4. In particular, South Carolina law at times requires a plaintiff to prove additional elements beyond what Florida law provides. As an example, a claim for unfair trade practices under South Carolina statue requires the plaintiff to prove that the unlawful act had an adverse impact on the public, while Florida law makes no such requirement. Compare, e.g., Wright v. Craft, 640 S.E.2d 486, 498 (S.C. Ct. App. 2006) (“To recover in an action under the [SC]UTPA, the plaintiff must show: (1) the defendant engaged in an unfair or deceptive act in the conduct of trade or commerce; (2) the unfair or deceptive act affected public interest; and (3) the plaintiff suffered monetary or property loss as a result of the defendant's unfair or deceptive ...


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