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Plain Bay Sales, LLC v. Gallaher

United States District Court, S.D. Florida

January 14, 2020

Plain Bay Sales, LLC, a Florida limited liability company, Plaintiff and Counter Defendant,
v.
Zume Gallaher, et al., Defendants, Counterclaimants, and Third Party Plaintiffs,
v.
Katie Prudent, Adam Prudent, Henri Prudent, and Katie Monahan, Inc., Third Party Defendants and Fourth Party Plaintiffs,
v.
Zume Gallaher, Paul Haunert, Neil Jones, and Jonathen Craig Yates, Fourth Party Defendants.

          ORDER GRANTING THIRD PARTY COUNTERCLAIM DEFENDANTS GALLAHER AND HAUNERT'S MOTION TO DISMISS THIRD PARTY COUNTERCLAIM DE 143');">143');">143');">1431

          WILLIAM MATTHEWMAN UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         THIS CAUSE is before the Court on Third Party Counterclaim Defendants Zume Gallaher ("Gallaher") and Paul Haunert's ("Haunert") Motion to Dismiss, and Alternative Motion to Strike Portions of, the Third-Party Counterclaim [DE 143');">143');">143');">143]. The motion is fully briefed. Thus, this matter is ripe for review. For the reasons that follow, the Court grants the motion. The Third Party Counterclaim [DE 124] is dismissed as to Gallaher and Haunert in its entirety without prejudice to the ability to re-file an Amended Third Party Counterclaim.

         I. Background

         As stated in the Court's prior Order dismissing the Third Party Complaint as to Third Party Complaint Defendant Yates [DE 198], this case involves a complicated procedural history. Plaintiff Plain Bay Sales filed its original Complaint on May 3, 2018 and filed its First Amended Complaint [DE 38] on August 31, 2018 after the Court granted in part and denied in part Defendants' motion to dismiss [DE 37]. The First Amended Complaint asserted claims against both Gallaher and Haunert related to the sale of a competitive show horse that Plaintiff contends they interfered with unlawfully. The Court then granted in part and denied in part Defendants' motion to dismiss the First Amended Complaint, dismissing Count IV of the Amended Complaint with prejudice. [DE 51].

         Defendants then counterclaimed against Plaintiff and asserted third party claims against Katie Prudent, Adam Prudent, Henri Prudent, and Katie Monahan, Inc. (collectively, "the Prudent Parties") [DE 50]. The Prudent Parties, for their part, counterclaimed against Gallaher and Haunert (now Third Party Counterclaim Defendants) and raised claims against two new parties, Third Party Complaint Defendants Neil Jones and Jonathen Craig Yates. [DE 124]. The Court then granted in part a motion to dismiss Defendants' Third Party Counterclaim [DE 101], allowing Gallaher and Haunert to file an Amended Counterclaim. They did so on June 3, 2019. [DE 116].

         On November 4, 2019, the Court granted Plaintiff leave to again amend its Complaint. [DE 190]. In its Second Amended Complaint, Plaintiff added claims against Third Party Complaint Defendants Jones and Yates. See DE 191. The Prudent Parties each then voluntarily dismissed their claims against Third Party Complaint Defendant Jones with prejudice. [DEs 192, 193, 194, 195]. Thus, the Court denied Third Party Complaint Defendant Jones's motion to dismiss the Third Party Complaint as moot. [DE 196]. The Court then granted Third Party Complaint Defendant Yates' Motion to Dismiss the Third Party Complaint on November 21, 2019. [DE 198]. Thus, as to the Third Party Counterclaim and Complaint [DE 159], the only remaining motion is Gallaher and Haunert's Motion to Dismiss Third Party Counterclaim [DE 143');">143');">143');">143], which is the subject of this Order.

         II. Legal Standard

         Fed. R. Civ. p. 8(a)(2) requires '"only a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief,' in order to 'give the defendant fair notice of what the .. . claim is and the grounds upon which it rests.'" Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (quoting Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 47 (1957)). When a court considers a motion to dismiss under Fed.R.Civ.p. 12');">p. 12(b)(6), it must accept the factual allegations in the complaint as true and decide whether the allegations "raise a right to relief above a speculative level." Id. at 555.

         "To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to 'state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'" Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570). "A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Id.

         III. Analysis and Discussion

         The Third Party Counterclaim raises three claims against Gallaher for vicarious liability (Count VI); malicious prosecution (Count VII); and abuse of process (Count VIII) and eight claims against Haunert for tortious interference with prospective business relationships (Count I); tortious interference with other business relationships (Count II); commercial defamation (Count III); conspiracy to interfere with contract and other relationships, to defame, and to interfere with a witness (Count IV); violation of the Florida Deceptive and Unfair Trade Practices Act ("FDUTPA") (Count V); and, along with Gallaher, Counts VII and VIII. Gallaher and Haunert now seek to dismiss each count of the Third Party Counterclaim [DE 124] against them, thus, the Court considers each in turn.

         A. Count I: Tortious Interference with Prospective Business Relationships

         Regarding Count I, tortious interference with prospective business relationships, federal courts sitting in diversity jurisdiction apply the law of the forum state when deciding claims originating in state law. See Goodwin v. George Fischer Foundry Sys., Inc., 769 F.2d 708, 711 (11th Cir. 1985); Erie Railroad Co. v. Tompkins, 304 U.S. 64 (1938). Under established Florida law, a claim for tortious interference with a contract or business relationship requires (1) "the existence of a business relationship between the plaintiff and a third person . . . under which the plaintiff has legal rights"; (2) the defendant's knowledge of that contract or business relationship; (3) "an intentional and unjustified interference with the relationship by the defendant which induces or otherwise causes the third person not to perform"; and (4) damages. Seminole Tribe of Fla. v. Times Pub. Co., 780 So.2d 310, 315 (Fla. 4th DCA 2001); Coach Servs., Inc. v. GTE Directories Corp., 752 F.Supp.2d 1271, 1273 (S.D. Fla. 2010) (applying Florida law); Ethan Allen, Inc. v. Georgetown Manor, Inc., 647 So.2d 812, 814 (Fla. 1994).

         Haunert argues that Count I should be dismissed because the Prudent Parties "fail to allege the existence of either an existing or prospective business relationship with identifiable customers, and they fail to properly allege Haunert interfered with [a] business relationship between Gallaher and [Plaintiff]." [DE 143');">143');">143');">143, p. 4]. The Prudent Parties largely fail to present any argument in response, instead stating that their Third Party Counterclaim "discuss [es] at length the business for which interference was claimed and the manner of the interference." [DE 174');">174');">174');">174');">174');">174');">174');">174, p. 8]. They also state that just because the Third Party Counterclaim "also states that Defendants conspired to interfere with the ability of [Plaintiff] and the Prudent Parties to operate in the California market ... and sell to other potential customers there does not transform a sufficiently-pled set of tortious interference allegations into claims to be dismissed." Id.

         To those who have read the Court's prior Order dismissing the Third Party Complaint as to Third Party Complaint Defendant Yates [DE 198], the Court's findings in this Order should sound familiar. The Court finds that the Prudent Parties lack standing to assert a claim for tortious interference with prospective business relationships on Plaintiffs behalf. The original contract at issue in this litigation was between Plaintiff and Gallaher. The Prudent Parties were not parties to that agreement nor were they involved in their personal capacities with the sale of Victorio. Even Adam Prudent, sole owner of Plaintiff Plain Bay [DE 124, ¶ 4], has no individual standing to sue any of the parties involved for tortious interference with Plaintiffs business relationships as the contract between Plaintiff and Gallaher did not assign Adam Prudent any legal rights, the first requirement for a claim for tortious interference. See Seminole Tribe of Fla., 780 So.2d at 315; see also KMS Restaurant Corp. v. Wendy's Int'l, Inc.,361 F.3d 1321, 1324-25 (11th Cir. 2004) (holding that the chairman of a ...


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