One of the best trial lawyers in the country.
- Chambers USA 2020
Gene Stearns, a trial lawyer since 1972, serves as Chairman of the Firm's Board of Directors and Chairman of its Litigation Department. His trial experience for over four decades has been in jury and non jury trials in federal and state courts in Florida and other jurisdictions (a substantial percentage of which were tried to verdict and final judgment), and extensive arbitration and administrative law proceedings. He has briefed and argued appeals to Florida's appellate courts including the District Courts of Appeal, the Florida Supreme Court, and in the federal system to the United States Courts of Appeals for the Fifth, Eleventh, Ninth and Third Circuits; and he has successfully argued before the United States Supreme Court in a matter that, when decided, ended almost a decade of disagreement among the federal circuits involving federal diversity jurisdiction.
Gene's areas of practice have been wide ranging, including complex disputes involving the purchase and sale of securities, the adequacy of disclosure by public companies, intellectual property rights (including significant disputes over pharmaceutical patent claims), defamation and libel law, insurance coverage, bank and insurance regulation, lender liability, deceptive and unfair trade practices, directors and officers’ liability, construction, development rights, voting rights, constitutional issues, and a host of issues involving a myriad of common law and statutory claims. He frequently lectures on a variety of issues relating to the trial of complex business disputes.
Prior to joining the Firm, from 1967 until 1972, he served on the Staff of the Florida House of Representatives including the Constitutional Revision Session of 1967 (resulting in Florida's Constitution of 1968), two years as senior staff member of the House Committee on Governmental Reorganization (which organized the Executive Branch of Florida government into 22 Departments), and two years as Chief Assistant to Florida's Speaker of the House, Richard A. Pettigrew. In 1970, Eugene co-authored for Gubernatorial candidate Reubin Askew the "Fair Share Tax Plan," which became the principal campaign theme of Askew's successful campaign for Governor. Gene advised Governor Askew for two years prior to leaving Florida government to begin the private practice of law.
Gene continues to be actively involved in a host of public policy issues on both the state and federal level although in virtually every instance on a pro bono basis. He has successfully represented communities throughout South Florida who have aspired to create new local governments including organizing groups for what are now the Village of Key Biscayne, the City of Aventura, the Village of Pinecrest, the City of Sunny Isles, and the City of Islamorada. He represented a group of African American leaders in Voting Rights Act litigation to require local governments to provide single member districts that led to a favorable decision in the United States District Court and a landmark decision of the Eleventh Circuit. Gene has addressed lay audiences throughout Florida on issues related to the organization of local government.
- Lead Counsel for Flagstone Island Gardens LLC and Flagstone Development Corporation in a suit against the City of Miami in connection with Flagstone’s right to develop and lease a $1.2 billion mixed-used hotel, retail and marina project on Watson Island. Flagstone won the bid to develop in 2001 and subsequently obtained financing. However the market crash in 2007 caused investors to walk out on the project. In 2010, the City and Flagstone amended the agreement to include longer time periods to commence and complete development in phases. Throughout this period, a group of community activists opposed to the project started a campaign to block the project, filing a lawsuit to block its development for alleged violations of the City Charter and submitting numerous letters to city officials. Building permits that should have been granted were stalled and the City Commission, led by Commissioner Russell, declared Flagstone in default. Flagstone sued to declare that there was no default and seek damages for the City’s breach of the agreements. The case was bifurcated between liability and damages. After a 7-day bench trial on liability, Judge William Thomas entered a 27-page order finding against the City and in favor of Flagstone on every disputed issue. In regards to the remedies phase, our team achieved a settlement allowing Flagstone to recover all of its fees and costs of about $5 million, an additional $5 million for other expenses and an additional $10 million over time. Additionally, the City accepted development agreements providing substantial economic value. Finally, our team obtained the prompt dismissal with prejudice of the community activists’ complaint against Flagstone, which was affirmed by the Third District Court of Appeal.
- Lead Counsel for All Aboard Florida in a series of actions brought by Indian River and Martin Counties challenging the U.S. Department of Transportation’s allocation of tax-exempt private activity bond authority to the All Aboard Florida Project and the Final Environmental Impact Statement for the Project. All Aboard Florida is developing an express passenger rail system which will connect the four largest urban population centers in Southern and Central Florida, namely, Miami, Ft. Lauderdale, West Palm Beach, and Orlando. Following extensive briefing and oral argument, the presiding U.S. District Court entered a lengthy Memorandum Opinion and Order granting summary judgment in favor of DOT and All Aboard Florida on all claims asserted. Our team were the principal drafters of All Aboard Florida’s briefs in the District Court and the subsequent appeal to the D.C. Circuit, which resulted in a unanimous opinion affirming the grant of summary judgment in all respects. On October 5th 2020, the U.S. Supreme Court denied Indian River County’s Petition for Writ of Certiorari, bringing to an end the six-year effort to derail the passenger rail service from West Palm Beach to Orlando.
- Lead Counsel for All Aboard Florida in an administrative hearing challenging an Environmental Resource Permit Modification issued by the South Florida Water Management District. Following a lengthy proceeding, including a two-week hearing, the presiding Administrative Law Judge issued a Recommended Order which found for All Aboard Florida on all issues and endorsed the permit under review. The permit was for a portion of the aforementioned express passenger rail system which will soon connect the four largest urban population centers in Southern and Central Florida. The Recommended Order, which was adopted by the South Florida Water Management District in its Final Order, contains the most thorough analysis to date on the issue of whether the first element of the public interest test permits consideration of non-environmental factors and provides more predictability and clarity as to the application of the public interest criteria.
- Lead Counsel for BBX Capital Corporation, which owned the Florida thrift BankAtlantic, starting immediately after the Florida real estate market crash through present, in three separate trials of claims brought by private shareholders, debt-holders, and the Securities and Exchange Commission. The action brought by private shareholders ended with a judgment for BBX after an appeal to the Eleventh Circuit. The action brought by debt-holders ended with the Delaware Chancery Court entering an injunction against BBX’s proposed sale of BankAtlantic to BB&T, and the sale was then restructured so BBX sold BankAtlantic to BB&T at a 10 percent deposit premium. A six-week jury trial and split verdict in 2014, a successful appeal to the Eleventh Circuit in 2016, and a second six-week jury trial in 2017 resulted in a verdict and judgment for BBX and Mr. Levan rejecting every claim asserted by the SEC.
- Lead counsel, since 2007, for a publicly-traded holding company, BFC Financial Corporation, now BBX Capital Corporation, its subsidiaries, and certain officers and directors in 10 shareholder class actions, 8 of which were resolved with defendants paying no money to the plaintiffs. Included in those was the dismissal with prejudice of a complaint seeking to challenge the merger of BFC and BBX valued at over $250 million because the Florida appraisal statute provided the exclusive remedy, which has since been affirmed by Florida’s Fourth District Court of Appeal.
- Lead Counsel for MDM Development in administrative proceedings after certain archaeologists made claims about the Tequestas, the earliest known inhabitants of the site of MDM’s $140 million plus development, which led the City’s Historical and Environmental Protection Board to repudiate prior development approvals. After an evidentiary hearing, the ensuing mediation resulted in the development going forward and a plan to preserve and showcase archaeological features associated with the Tequestas within the development.
- Lead Counsel for high-rise condominium developer against a plaintiff claiming a property interest in 60 units and seeking to hold up development by filing a lis pendens and a complaint. Obtained dissolution of lis pendens and dismissal of complaint with prejudice. Rulings affirmed on appeal.
- Lead Counsel in defense of a federal securities class action against BankAtlantic Bancorp and its officers and directors arising from losses reported by the company following the collapse of the Florida housing market. The district court denied summary judgment motions, the case was tried, the jury returned a verdict against Bancorp and its Chairman on some of the issues but the court, on post trial motions entered a judgment for all defendants. The Eleventh Circuit affirmed dismissal of the case.
- Lead Counsel for Ponte Gadea adverse to Ugo Colombo and the Lowenstein family interests in connection with disputes in the Florida Circuit Court for the Eleventh Judicial Circuit arising out of development of the Epic Hotel and Residences in downtown Miami. The case is pending.
- Lead Counsel in class action against Exxon Corporation (U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida, U.S. Court of Appeals for Eleventh Circuit, and U.S. Supreme Court). On behalf of a class of Exxon dealers, Eugene obtained a jury verdict against Exxon for compensatory damages of approximately $500 million. The jury found that Exxon breached uniform sales agreements in setting fuel prices and fraudulently concealed the breach for years. With prejudgment interest, the total award was approximately $1 billion, making it the largest compensatory damage award by a Florida jury. The Eleventh Circuit affirmed the jury's verdict in a unanimous opinion. The Supreme Court then granted certiorari review, and, after additional briefing and oral argument, affirmed the judgment and opinion of the Eleventh Circuit. Since that time, Eugene had overall responsibility for developing and administering a claims process to prosecute each and every one of the 11,000 claims filed against the $1.07 billion paid by Exxon to the Fund. The Firm prosecuted every single claim to a Special Master appointed by the District Court, with unprecedented success. All of the funds have now been disbursed.
- Co-counsel in defense of UBS in IRS action seeking UBS to disclose the names of US citizens with accounts in the Swiss bank (U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida). Eugene co-counseled with Cravath, Swaine & Moore LLP and Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz to oppose an IRS petition seeking information on many thousands of client accounts located exclusively in Switzerland, even though compliance would have compelled UBS employees to commit crimes in Switzerland. After extensive briefing and expedited discovery, the case was resolved by a favorable settlement brokered among the United States government, the Swiss government, and UBS.
- Lead Counsel in a contract dispute between U.S. Global, LLC and Progress Energy (Florida Circuit Court, and Fourth District Court of Appeal). On behalf of U.S. Global, a Fort Lauderdale based energy company, Eugene obtained a jury verdict which, with prejudgment interest, exceeds $132 million. The case involved a complex contract dispute arising out of the sale of facilities which produced a synthetic fuel from coal qualifying for federal tax credits. An appeal to the Fourth District Court of Appeal resulted in an affirmance of the judgment on one of the contract claims, which translated to a recovery of more than $90 million. The balance of the case was remanded for further proceedings, and was later resolved favorably, by agreement, for an additional $13.5 million, bringing the total recovery in the case to over $103.5 million.
- Lead Counsel in prosecuting an appeal of a jury verdict in favor of a Ponzi scheme receiver against Peninsula Bank (U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, and U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit). The $14 million jury verdict against Peninsula Bank (which was represented by another firm at trial) was reversed on appeal by the Third Circuit.
- Lead Counsel in defending Tradestation and its principals (Florida Circuit Court) in two jury trials (one in Miami and the other in Fort Lauderdale) claiming securities law violations which were tried to conclusion. The shareholders sought damages in excess of $50 million. Both juries returned verdicts for the defendants. The cases then settled on terms favorable to the defendants.
- Lead Counsel for a real estate developer in an insurance coverage dispute (Florida Circuit Court) which sought recovery under a builders-risk insurance policy for losses caused by a catastrophic fire. After two weeks of trial, the insurer settled for $27 million, which represented the entire amount sought in the litigation, plus attorneys’ fees and exposure for bad faith liability. By agreement, the names of the parties cannot be disclosed.
- Co-counsel with Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz in defense of Bluegreen’s "Poison Pill" (United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida). After extensive and expedited briefing and discovery, an evidentiary hearing before a federal magistrate resulted in a report and recommendation in favor of Bluegreen, requiring a large shareholder to divest substantial holdings acquired under unusual circumstances. The case settled with acceptance of a modified report thereafter.
- Lead Counsel for La Gorce Country Club against ITT and the Club’s consulting engineer involving a reverse osmosis plant that failed (Florida Circuit Court, and Third District Court of Appeal). ITT prevailed in its defense of the case but the Court awarded all of the claimed damages against the consulting engineer. On appeal, the Third District affirmed the award against the consultant, rejecting the claim that a professional could limit a damage award by contract. The case settled thereafter.
- Lead Counsel in a contractual dispute over general contractor's claims involving Ritz-Carlton, Key Biscayne (Arbitration). Eugene represented the hotel owners in a protracted dispute over the cost of construction and delays involved in the construction of a successful hotel property. The result, regrettably, was adverse to the owners.
- Lead Counsel in the representation of generic drug maker in efforts to get generic version of anti-cancer drug to market (United States District Court for the Central District of California, and United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit). On behalf of IVAX Corporation, Eugene successfully obtained dismissal of an injunction action brought by Bristol-Myers and others, which attempted to bar IVAX from marketing a generic version of the anti-cancer drug Taxol. After an appeal to the Ninth Circuit was briefed and argued, the parties achieved a favorable settlement.
- Lead Counsel in defense of multimillion dollar damage claim against an orange juice processing plant (Florida Circuit Court, and Fourth District Court of Appeal), alleging overcharges in an orange juice processing operation. The suit was fueled by allegations from the company’s former chief executive officer who had been discharged. Eugene negotiated an early and favorable settlement with most of the growers and tried to a jury those claims where settlement was rejected. At trial, the plaintiffs were awarded only nominal damages. Appeals to the Fourth District Court of Appeals resulted in a reduction of the award of damages.
- Lead Counsel in prosecution of RICO action for BankAtlantic (U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida, and U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit), against numerous individuals and companies who participated in selling the bank millions of dollars of fraudulent consumer loans. The jury award, trebled, totaled $77 million, making it one of the largest civil RICO verdicts ever awarded. The judgment was affirmed by the Eleventh Circuit.
- Lead Counsel in defense of a securities class action against Jack Nicklaus and company (U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida). The matter was resolved by favorable settlement, including a court-approved going-private transaction.
- Lead Counsel in prosecution of a coverage action for Ocean Club Development Company against Reliance National Indemnity (Administrative Agency, and Florida Circuit Court). The case was prosecuted in an administrative hearing and companion civil action arising from a fire which substantially damaged a condominium structure under construction. The builders-risk insurer, Reliance National Indemnity, sought to have the structure repaired rather than demolished. Eugene obtained a favorable determination at a formal hearing by an administrative agency that the fire-damaged, partially-completed building was a total loss, requiring demolition. During the process of prosecuting the coverage claim in Florida Circuit Court, Reliance National Indemnity settled for its $25 million policy limit.
- Co-counsel for First Union in defense of a claim by the Trustee for Southeast Bank (U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida, and U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit), alleging that First Union breached contractual obligations in connection with its acquisition of Southeast Bank from the FDIC simultaneously with the FDIC takeover. Eugene successfully argued for dismissal of the case with prejudice, which was affirmed by the Eleventh Circuit.
- Lead Counsel in defense of a class action against Bank of America (U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida, and U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit) which alleged that bad check fees were interest and that the resulting "interest" was usurious. Eugene obtained a summary judgment in favor of the Bank, which was affirmed by the Eleventh Circuit.
- Lead Counsel in defense of AIG against plaintiffs who sought recovery of a multimillion dollar brokerage fee arising from policies of insurance issued on behalf of Chile (U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida). On behalf of AIG, Eugene obtained summary judgment rejecting the claim, which was affirmed by the Eleventh Circuit.
- Lead Counsel in action to terminate control of Capital Bank by its founders (Florida Circuit Court, The State of Florida Division of Administrative Hearings, and Florida's Comptroller and Banking Commissioner). On behalf of minority shareholders of Capital Bank, Eugene pursued a series of administrative and circuit court actions to remove the Holtz family from control of the institution. Following a four-month administrative hearing under Florida's Administrative Procedure Act, the state hearing officer found the controlling officers of Capital Bank to be unfit to continue in that capacity and ordered their removal. Companion derivative litigation involving the same parties was concluded shortly thereafter when the Holtz' family conceded, allowing a merger of Capital Bank with Union Planters in a transaction that concluded all claims in favor of the shareholders.
- Lead Counsel in defense of Bank of America of a claim by an Ecuadorian family arising from Ecuador's "sucretization" program (Florida Circuit Court). The jury returned a verdict for the Bank in all respects.
- Lead Counsel in defense of a lender liability suit against First Union (Florida Circuit Court). The jury returned a verdict in favor of the Bank on all issues.
- Lead Counsel in defense of the Miami Heat against claims brought by the New York Knicks (Arbitration before NBA Commissioner David Stern) arising from the Pat Riley contract. After trial but before a final order was entered, the parties settled the dispute on a favorable basis.
- Lead Counsel for Omega Research in defense of a securities class action brought by shareholders (U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida). Eugene obtained a dismissal with prejudice of the action. The plaintiffs abandoned their appeal in exchange for a waiver of attorneys' fees and costs.
- Lead Counsel in a Voting Rights Act claim on behalf of African American voters against Miami-Dade County government (United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida, and United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit). The successful outcome of the suit resulted in the elimination of at large elections for the county commission and the creation of single member districts. The judgment was affirmed by the Eleventh Circuit.
- Lead Counsel on behalf of a doctor in a dispute with his former attorneys over a claimed excessive fee demand (Florida Circuit Court, and Fourth District Court of Appeal). The doctor’s prior attorneys had obtained a $20 million jury verdict in his favor. The underlying litigation settled on appeal and his prior attorneys claimed fees of over 60% of the amount of the settlement, asserting that they did not accept the terms of the settlement. After a lengthy trial, the trial court rejected the fee demand entirely, finding that the lawyers had forfeited any entitlement to fees because of unprofessional actions. The Fourth District Court of Appeal affirmed the findings and affirmed the rejection of the percentage fee agreement, but reversed the denial of all fees as unduly punitive. The appellate court directed an award of fees based on the time expended in the case less damages caused by the unethical conduct. The matter then settled on an agreed basis.
- Lead Counsel for an individual plaintiff in a case brought against A.H. Robins arising from severe physical damages caused by the plaintiff’s use of a Dalcon Shield (U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida, and U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit). Eugene obtained one of the largest verdicts recorded against A.H. Robins arising from the IUD device. Of particular significance, Eugene took over the case only two days before the six-week trial was to begin. The multimillion dollar judgment that followed was affirmed by the Eleventh Circuit.
- Lead Counsel in the defense of injunctive and administrative actions to restrain acquisition of voting stock in Flagship Banks, Atlantic Federal, Century Banks, and other Florida banks (both in federal district courts and in Florida administrative proceedings). Considerable litigation arose over the rights of insurgent investors during the period of consolidation in Florida banking, successfully defending in each of the cases a combination of federal court securities actions and administrative proceedings.
- Lead Counsel for a prominent architectural firm in prosecution of a school board bid dispute (Florida Division of Administrative Hearings, and Third District Court of Appeal). The proceedings resulted in the reversal of a school board decision to award a substantial architectural contract to a competitor disguised as a minority owned firm. The decision was affirmed by the Third District Court of Appeal.
- Lead Counsel in defense of a modular construction company in defense of a multimillion dollar brokerage claim for construction contracts awarded by the Government of the Bahamas (U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida, and U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit). The jury found in favor of the contractor, and awarded the broker nothing. The judgment was affirmed by the Fifth Circuit.
- Eugene's first jury trial, in 1973, was in connection with a counterclaim by a developer against a real estate investment trust (Florida Circuit Court, and Fourth District Court of Appeal). The trial resulted in a $1.9 million jury verdict in favor of Eugene's client and against the REIT, which was affirmed on appeal.
Professional & Community Involvement
- Bascom Palmer, Board of Trustees
- American Bar Foundation, Fellow
- The Best Lawyers in America®, 2001-2021
- Benchmark Litigation, selected as a Local Litigation Star, 2010-2021
- Martindale Hubbell, AV rated, 1976-Present
- Benchmark Litigation, selected as Top 100 Trial Lawyers in America, 2015-2018
- Chambers USA: Nationwide Litigation Trial Lawyers; Only Star Individual Named in Florida, 2016-2020
- Chambers USA, Band 1, Litigation: General Commercial , 2005-2020
- The Best Lawyers® Annual Guide to Commercial Litigation, 2009-2010, 2019
- Florida Super Lawyers, 2006-2020
- Top 100 Miami Super Lawyers, 2015
- Florida Super Lawyers, Corporate Counsel Edition, 2010
- Florida Trend's Florida 500, 2018
- Florida Trend's Florida Legal Elite, 2004-2006, 2008-2010, 2015
- South Florida Legal Guide, Top Lawyers in South Florida - Corporate & Business Litigation; Trial Practice, 2000-2021
- FSU Alumni Association, 2018 Grad Made Good Award
Publications & Presentations
In the Media, Publications:
“All Voters Vote” measure needs passage to correct political self-identity oversight in Florida
Islander News|October 2020
The Effective Use of Technology in Mediation, Hearings and Trial
Dade County Bar Association 2020 Bench & Bar Conference|March 2020
Land Development News Update, Publications:
DOAH Recommended Order Clarifies ERP Public Interest Criteria
Stearns Weaver Miller News Update |October 2017
Powerhouse Cross and Direct Examination
Dade County Bar Association 2016 Bench & Bar Conference|February 2016
Winning with Experts & Evidence
Dade County Bar Association 2015 Bench & Bar Conference|February 2015
Whose Job is it? A Diversity Summit
Dade County Bar Association|May 2011
In the Media:
Legitimate Overrule: Miami Mayor's Edgewater Casino Veto Upheld
Daily Business Review|January 2021
In the Media:
Challenge to Miami Casino Survives Dismissal Push
Daily Business Review|January 2021
In the Media, Publications:
“All Voters Vote” measure needs passage to correct political self-identity oversight in Florida
Islander News|October 2020
In the Media:
Say “YES!” to Amendments 2 and 3 on Florida’s November ballot | Editorial
South Florida Sun Sentinel|August 2020
Stearns Weaver Miller Lawyers Recognized in 2020 Florida Super Lawyers
24 Stearns Weaver Miller Lawyers in 12 Practice Areas Ranked In Chambers USA 2020
In the Media:
Florida voters will decide whether to end partisan primaries
The Fulcrum|March 2020
In the Media:
Florida voters get to decide on who votes in primaries
Tampa Bay Times|March 2020