FORS TRIAL TEAM WINS $10.4 MILLION JURY VERDICT AGAINST MULTI-NATIONAL LOGISTICS FIRM AND ITS PRINCIPALS
FORS trial attorneys won a $10.4 million verdict for a Doral business owner against alleged former partners who he claimed worked to destroy his company from the inside.
As first written by Celia Ampel of Daily Business Review: Santiago Montilla, who owns the freight-forwarding company JAP Logistics Inc., filed suit after allegedly discovering his partners in a joint venture were withholding payments from suppliers and vendors.
Montilla said he agreed to work with three principals of multinational logistics company Celistics Holdings S.L. to transport cellphones and cellphone accessories for Telefonica, one of the top wireless service providers in Europe.
But after a joint venture agreement was made, he claimed, the three men created a mirror freight-forwarding company without him. They also started racking up JAP Logistics’ debts, paying them off only if the suppliers agreed never to work with Montilla or his company again, according to the lawsuit.
“They decided to not only do this without him, but to destroy him and his business relationships before they left,” said Montilla’s attorney, Jorge Fors Jr. of Fors Attorneys at Law in Coral Gables. Fors tried the case with his father, Jorge Fors and Adam Feldman.
Celistics’ three principals, Fernando Fiksman, Moris Beracha and Luis Otero, maintained they never had a joint venture agreement with JAP Logistics.
The agreement, according to Montilla, was this: Fiksman, Beracha and Otero would acquire JAP Logistics through a company they controlled, Panamerics Ventures S.L. Then Celistics and the newly formed conglomerate would enter into a contract that made Panamerics/JAP Logistics the exclusive provider of freight-forwarding services for Celistics’ Telefonica shipments.
Celistics already had a contract with Telefonica worth €70 million, or $78.5 million, to be the wireless company’s exclusive provider of logistics services in Latin America.
At a three-week trial before Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Antonio Arzola, the defendants argued they only made a standard stock purchase agreement with JAP Logistics. They said they were looking into acquiring the company but never made a joint venture agreement.
The jury saw an email from one defendant saying they had reached an agreement with Mr. Montilla and outlined what the agreement entailed, Jorge Fors Jr. said, but the defense maintained that the agreement wasn’t “fully formalized.”
Plaintiffs counsel’s challenge was to show there was a joint venture agreement on top of the stock purchase, Fors said.
“These things arise when businessmen do deals on handshakes and emails,” he said. “You know you have a relationship, you know there’s a partnership here, but it’s not the easiest thing in the world to prove.”
Montilla’s lawyers argued the defendants’ conduct after the email was consistent with a joint venture agreement. Evidence showed Celistics employees were in control of payroll and paying JAP Logistics’ bills.
“Our client handed over the keys to his company, they came in, and they took control of it,” Fors said. “So obviously the agreement was already consummated.”
After deliberating for four hours, the jury on Sept. 16 awarded Montilla about $10.4 million. The award included about $5.75 million for breach of fiduciary duty, $1.81 million for unpaid bills, $1 million for Montilla’s reliance on the defendants’ promises, $1 million for tortious interference, $872,000 for trade libel and $40,000 for breach of a consulting agreement.
The award was reduced by about $92,000 because the jury found JAP Logistics received commissions from subcontractors for certain services to Celistics that it should not have received. The jury did not award damages on plaintiffs’ claims of fraud and conspiracy.
After the trial, the parties reached a confidential settlement agreement, so the verdict will not be appealed. Beyond mentioning the settlement, defense lawyers Francis Sexton and James Gueits of Roig Lawyers in Miami declined to comment on the case.
Case: Santiago Javier Montilla Gonzalez et al v. Panamerics Ventures et al
Case no.: 10-32856-CA-21
Description: Breach of fiduciary duty
Filing date: June 10, 2010
Verdict date: Sept. 16, 2016
Judge: Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Antonio Arzola
Plaintiffs attorneys: Jorge Fors, Jorge Fors Jr.; and Adam Feldman, Coral Gables
Defense attorneys: Francis Sexton and James Gueits, Roig Lawyers, Miami
Verdict amount: $10.4 million