We are proud to represent many of the businesses that have contributed to Florida’s growth over the last forty years. Our clients range from small start-ups to some of the largest multinational corporations in the world, as well as some of the country’s most successful individuals and entrepreneurs. We have the practical business sense to resolve complex legal problems and to understand the impact of the law and the regulatory environment on our clients' businesses. We believe that our clients’ success is our business.
Litigation and Environmental teams prevail in stopping a six-year effort to derail the All Aboard Florida Project
Over the past six years, our team has been lead counsel to All Aboard Florida / Brightline in multiple lawsuits and administrative proceedings – all of which ended successfully for our client. 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.
Of particular note, our team represented 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. 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 Monday, October 5, 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.
Our team also previously prevailed in an administrative hearing challenging an Environmental Resource Permit Modification issued to All Aboard Florida for the same Project. Following a lengthy proceeding, the Florida Division of Administrative Hearings issued a Recommended Order which favored All Aboard Florida on all issues and endorsed the permit under review. The Recommended 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.
BROWNFIELD AREA DESIGNATION FOR AFFORDABLE HOUSING PROJECT IN TALLAHASSEE
Our team successfully represented an affordable housing developer in obtaining a brownfield area designation for an affordable housing project in the City of Tallahassee. A brownfield area designation is a mechanism used to remediate abandoned or underutilized sites due to environmental contamination or perceived contamination. The brownfield area designation allows the developer to take advantage of state environmental clean-up programs and of financial incentives -- such as a sales tax exemption on building materials.
To obtain a brownfield area designation, the developer must host a community meeting near the subject site and the local government must conduct two public hearings, and ultimately adopt a resolution designating the area as a brownfield. Our team navigated through unchartered waters by hosting both an in-person community meeting (complete with social distancing and masks) and a virtual community meeting with a team of consultants and members of the public. Our team also ushered the brownfield designation through two virtual public hearings, and worked closely with the City of Tallahassee to develop out-of-the-box strategies to proceed with the brownfield area designation despite COVID-19.
Construction team succeeds in lawsuit arising from the Hard Rock Stadium's recent renovations
Represented South Florida Stadium, LLC (“SFS”), the owner and operator of the Hard Rock Stadium (home of the Miami Dolphins football team), in a lawsuit against the structural steel fabricator and installer of its rooftop shade canopy, a key upgrade component to the dated stadium.
SFS and its general contractor filed a suit to enforce the design-assist contract and to recover for the installer’s failure to properly and timely complete its design of the canopy by the target completion date, at a substantial expense to SFS. The installer filed a counterclaim against SFS and the contractor seeking an additional $109 million over its $77.7 million contract, and also sued the structural engineer of record alleging claims for negligence/breach of warranty and unjust enrichment against SFS.
In April 2018, we were selected to replace existing counsel. From 2018 to 2020, we attended over 100 depositions across the country. The case involved highly technical issues regarding structural steel engineering, fabrication and erection.
The matter was settled under extremely favorable terms for our client after a week of trial and at the direction of the Court to attend mediation.
HOME OWNERS PREVAIL AGAINST CONTROVERSIAL THIRD-PARTY HISTORIC DESIGNATION APPLICATION
Our team represented Merrill and Karen King against a controversial third-party historic designation application. After the Kings received documentation from the City of St. Petersburg that the property could be redeveloped, the Kings contracted to sell their home and put their dream retirement home under contract. Their next-door neighbor learned about this sale and submitted an application to designate the King’s property as historic. While the application was under review, their contract for sale was put at risk. The Kings felt the neighbor was abusing the process and, once the public hearings started, began to receive threatening and angry social-media posts. After a battle of more than six months, the City Council ultimately voted to deny the application to designate the home as historic. The Kings were able to complete their sale to a builder and buy their dream home.
Since the King’s hearing, the City Council has put a moratorium on third-party applications submitted by individuals (not groups) for historic designation and is exploring changes to make the process fairer.
Formation of Real Estate Fund and Joint Venture to Co-develop Multi-family Residential Community
Our firm represented Invest Capital Group LLC in its formation of a private real estate fund for, and its joint venture with Sovereign Residential LLC relating to, the acquisition of 92 acres of real property in Davenport, Florida, on which Invest Capital and Sovereign Resident plan to co-develop in two phases a multi-family residential community with a total of approximately 710 apartments.
Invest Capital’s private real estate fund was created to raise approximately 70% of the equity in the deal.
Invest Capital’s joint venture with Sovereign Residential was created by forming a management company that will act as the manager of a master holding company, which in turn will own the real estate owning entities.
$46 MILLION SALE OF PROPERTY IN WYNWOOD
Our team represented four Family Trusts in the $46 million sale of a 1.6-acre assemblage of property in Wynwood, Florida. This was the largest sale in Wynwood in 2019 and the land sold for nearly $660 per square foot. The purchasers, Property Markets Group and Greybrook Realty Partners, plan to develop the property as a mixed-use project including a 220 unit apartment building, a hotel with a rooftop bar and restaurant, and 38,000 square feet of retail space. Groundbreaking is planned for next summer. Read more in The Real Deal.
Big Win For Medical Malpractice Defense Trial Team
Our litigation team successfully represented Cleveland Clinic Florida (“CCF”) and Cleveland Clinic Hospital (“CCH”) at trial in the United States District Court Southern District of Florida (Judge Ungaro presided over the trial). The Plaintiff, a Venezuelan citizen, alleged that CCF, through its employed emergency medicine physician, and CCH, committed medical malpractice in failing to diagnose, treat, and admit the patient to the hospital for an abdominal infection thus leading to multiple surgeries and permanent scarring. The Plaintiff sought damages in excess of $2,000,000. The trial lasted six days (with deliberations briefly spilling over to a seventh day).
Judge Ungaro granted CCH’s motion for directed verdict at the close of our case in chief. The jury subsequently returned a verdict in favor of the remaining Defendant, CCF. The jury took less than three hours total to deliberate before finding the CCF’s emergency room physician met the standard of care in all regards as it related to the Plaintiff’s medical care.
Judgment was entered for our clients April 23rd. Read more in Daily Business Review.
Financing of South Miami-Dade Multifamily Development
We recently represented Banesco USA in the $34 million financing of Estate Investments Group LLC’s latest Palmetto Bay project, the Soleste Bay Village apartment complex. The 211-unit, five-story building is part of a larger plan to foster infrastructure investment in the area, spur development, and turn the South Miami-Dade neighborhood into a walkable downtown. The project is in an opportunity zone, a government-designated, economically distressed area that under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act offers tax breaks to investors under the December 2017 law. However, the incentive does not apply to Estate Investments, which committed to Soleste Bay Village before the law passed. Estate Investments has finished and sold three projects in this area and is building two others. Read more in the Daily Business Review.
Successfully Defended Amendment to Florida Constitution
As General Counsel, represented the Florida Association for Constitutional Officers in the Florida Supreme Court to defend and successfully preserve Amendment 10 to the Florida Constitution, which will appear on the November general election ballot. Amendment 10 would require all five county constitutional officers (sheriff, tax collector, property appraiser, supervisor of elections, and clerk of circuit court) to be elected in each of Florida’s 67 counties, and prevent local governments from abolishing, appointing or otherwise altering these constitutional offices. Three Florida counties that have implemented alternative systems, including Volusia, Broward and Miami-Dade Counties, led the unsuccessful challenge to prevent Florida’s electorate from voting on Amendment 10. Read more in the Miami Herald
$100 Million Class Action Settlement
Our litigation team achieved a $100 million settlement on behalf of a 179-member class of real estate investors. The agreement settled claims that CBRE, one of the largest commercial real estate services and investment firms in the world, and one of its employees, aided executives from Cabot Investment Properties LLC in a multi-million dollar embezzlement scheme that lost our clients $84 million worth of investments in six Florida office buildings that CBRE managed. Read the Law360 article here.
$14.5 MILLION SALE OF METROMALL BUILDING IN MIAMI’S JEWELRY DISTRICT
Our team represented Metromall Partners, LTD (“Metromall”) in the $14.5 million sale of the Metromall Building located at 1 N.E. 1st Street in the heart of downtown Miami’s jewelry district. The sale included the assignment of a 99-year ground lease executed in 1945. Metromall was the tenant under the ground lease and the owner of the adjacent parcel on which a portion of the building was located. The Metromall Building has a rich retail history in the City of Miami and was the site of the first department store in Miami known as Cromer Cassel founded by the family of Marwin Cassel, founder of the Broad and Cassel law firm. It was later turned into the Richards Department Store. Click here to view a report of the Metromall Building’s history.
The “landlord” was comprised of three unrelated individuals who held their ownership interests as tenants in common in the portion of the property that was subject to Metromall’s ground lease. Two of the landlord-owners inherited their interests and the third purchased his interest at a bankruptcy sale. The landlord-owners could not agree on a marketing strategy and sale price for the combined parcels. Because our client, Metromall, as owner of the corner parcel and lessee under the ground lease, had the largest interest in the two parcels, it ultimately developed the successful marketing strategy that resulted in the sale of the two parcels. Stearns Weaver led the “sellers” side of the deal and closed the transaction on their behalf. The buyers were led by Yair Levy of Time Century Holdings, a New York entity. Time Century plans to renovate the Metromall Building into a luxury jewelry center.
$936K in Attorneys' Fees Awarded to Benihana
Judge Paul Engelmayer of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York recently awarded longtime client Benihana $936K in attorneys’ fees on Benihana, Inc.’s trademark counterclaim against Benihana of Tokyo (BOT) and Keiko Aoki individually. Our litigation team has successfully defended Benihana in more than 10 disputes and appeals brought by BOT from 2012 to 2018, and, to date, has obtained multiple judgments for injunctive relief and nearly $3M in attorneys’ fees for the client.
$2.2 Million Victory For Aircraft Charter Company
Successfully obtained $2.2 million final judgment on behalf of an aircraft charter company in breach of contract action by successfully arguing on summary judgment that liquidation clause was valid and enforceable.
Clean Bill of Health for Client After Extensive OFCCP Audit
Represented a federal contractor in a compliance review of its headquarters location by the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP), part of the U.S. Department of Labor. During the compliance review, the OFCCP requested extensive documentation on the contractor’s affirmative action plan, outreach efforts, workplace policies and compensation for all 400 plus employees for a one year period, and also interviewed the compensation manager about the company’s compensation policies and practices. After many months, the OFCCP closed the compliance review, stating that it found “no apparent violations” of the applicable regulations, laws and Executive Order 11246.
$53 Million Sale of The Queue Apartments in Fort Lauderdale
Represented 9th Street Property LLC, a joint venture between Urban Street Development and Fazio Properties, in the $53 million sale of The Queue Apartments in Fort Lauderdale. Completed last year, the seven-story building contains 191 units, a mix of studios and one-to three-bedroom units, ranging from 529 to 1,275 square feet.
Watson Island Developers Prevail in Lawsuit against City of Miami
Represented 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.
BBX defeats shareholder lawsuit. Decision may reduce Florida merger litigation.
Represented 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.
Massive development will transform South Tampa's skyline
Represented BTI, one of Florida’s leading real estate investors, land owners, developers and asset management firms, in land use and environmental issues related to the development of Westshore Marina District (formally New Port Tampa Bay). This is the second largest new development project in Tampa Bay today. Construction crews recently broke ground on this $600 million large-scale project and predict that it will be finished by 2020. It will rest on 55 acres of the Tampa Bay waterfront and will include 200+ marina slips, a hotel, retail shops, boat-up restaurants, a public esplanade connected to a 1.4-mile public park and 1,250 apartments and condos.
2017 Hotel Acquisition Financing for Client Driftwood Hospitality
In 2017, represented Driftwood Hospitality and Driftwood Acquisition & Development in the acquisition financing for The Hilton Durham hotel, The Hampton Inn Daytona Beach, The DoubleTree by Hilton St. Augustine, The Marriott Park City, The Tan-Tar-A Resort, The Hilton Dallas Rockwall and The Sheraton Detroit Novi.
Financing for affordable housing community in downtown Jacksonville
Represented Vestcor, a real estate company focused on developing multifamily projects, in securing construction financing and tax credit equity totaling over $30.1 million for the Lofts at Monroe, an affordable community in the LaVilla neighborhood in downtown Jacksonville. The five-story building aims to create a uniquely urban community.
Litigation Team Prevails in Chipotle "GMO" Suit
Served as Florida counsel for Chipotle Mexican Grill in both the District Court and the Eleventh Circuit. The plaintiff complained on behalf of herself and other Floridians, that Chipotle violated the Florida Deceptive and Unfair Trade Practices Act and was unjustly enriched by falsely advertising that it had eliminated genetically modified ingredients (known as “GMOs”) from its menu. The Eleventh Circuit issued a per curiam opinion affirming the District Court’s entry of summary judgment in favor of Chipotle. The Eleventh Circuit denied rehearing.
Land Development team resolves annexation challenge and administrative challenge to comprehensive plan amendment for developer clients
Counsel in resolving an annexation challenge and an administrative challenge to a comprehensive plan amendment for a coalition of developer clients with projects at risk due to a long-running dispute between Alachua County and the City of Gainesville. Successfully negotiated with the County and the City for a global settlement allowing clients to move forward with projects that had been stalled for over six months and which were at risk of being delayed for another year or more.
Financing and acquisition of affordable housing development, Timber Sound Apartments
Represented Timber Sound Preservation, L.P., an affiliate of Lincoln Avenue Capital LLC, in its financing and acquisition of a 240 unit affordable housing development in Orange County, Florida known as Timber Sound Apartments.
Labor & Employment Team Obtains Summary Judgment For Multinational Food Distributor
Obtained summary judgment victory in federal court for multinational food distributor against former employee seeking overtime wages due to alleged misclassification under the FLSA’s Motor Carrier Exemption.
Litigation Team Obtains Order of Contempt In Favor of Longtime Client Benihana.
Stearns Weaver Miller recently obtained an order of contempt in favor of Benihana, Inc. against Benihana of Tokyo (BOT) in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York. Our team has successfully defended Benihana in more than 10 disputes and appeals brought by BOT from 2012 to 2017, and, to date, Benihana has been awarded in excess of $1.2 million in attorneys' fees.
13th Floor Investments acquires $19.5 million site in Miami’s Upper East Side
Represented 13th Floor Investments in the $19.5 million acquisition of a 2.2 acre site in Miami’s Upper East Side. The site, located at 5700 Biscayne Boulevard, was acquired in an all-cash deal through a partnership between 13th Floor and Tricera Capital. The partnership plans to break ground in early 2018 on an apartment and retail project.
BBX Capital Corporation acquires national candy retailer
Represented BBX Capital Corporation in the acquisition of IT’SUGAR for a purchase price of approximately $57 million, net of cash acquired. IT’SUGAR is the largest specialty candy retailer in the United States with 95 locations in 26 states. The acquisition expands BBX Capital’s retail confectionary footprint, which includes Hoffman’s Chocolates.
D.R. Horton, Inc. acquires 20-acre site in Miami-Dade County
Represented national homebuilder, D.R. Horton, Inc., in the $11.9 million acquisition of 140 single-family home lots in Miami-Dade County, Florida. The 20-acre site near the Homestead Air Reserve Park was sold by an affiliate of Adrian Homes.
10-year litigation ends in major victory for Alan Levan and BBX Capital
Read the Law360 article here.
Acquisition of Ocean Mall in Riviera Beach, Florida
Represented a joint venture between Duncan Hillsley Capital and Pebb Enterprises in its acquisition of Ocean Mall, a shopping center in Riviera Beach, Florida, and the financing for the acquisition. The center comprises several low-rise ocean-front buildings on leased land owned by the City of Riviera Beach. The seller had acquired the ground lease by foreclosing the interests of the original developer. We also helped to obtain the City’s consent to the conveyance of the ground lease, which could not be conveyed without that consent. Given the importance of the project to the City, the consent process required several in-person meetings with City officials and staff and several City council hearings.
$66.5 million construction loan for San Francisco multifamily project
Represented Rescore Corp., a private REIT, in securing $66.5 million in construction financing for the development of a 9-story residential tower with 160 rental units in the heart of San Francisco’s Mid-Market area. The financing includes senior debt provided by Pacific Western Bank and mezzanine debt from Square Mile Capital.
Acquisition and financing for beachfront hotel in Hillsboro Beach, Florida
Represented BH3 Asset Management LLC in connection with the acquisition and financing of a beachfront hotel in Hillsboro Beach, Florida. The Firm’s representation included negotiating a complex joint venture agreement and construction and mezzanine financing, and working with six other law firms to accomplish an expedited closing.
Pro Bono Team Goes the Distance
Successfully represented a pro bono client who had been tricked into signing a quit claim deed giving up title to half of his house. After 3 years of contentious litigation, obtained summary judgment on claims of quiet title and breach of contract, recovering clear title to the client’s home of more than 30 years. Read The Florida Bar Journal article here.
Affordable Housing team helps client raise $71.5 million in bonds on Tel Aviv Stock Exchange
Represented the Cornerstone Group, one of the largest affordable housing developers in the country, in its issuance of $71.5 million in corporate debentures on the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange. Read the Daily Business Review article here.
Financing for affordable housing community serving adults with disabilities
Quest, Inc., is a non-profit organization that serves individuals with developmental disabilities throughout Orlando and Tampa. We represented Quest in securing construction financing and tax credit syndication totaling $16.8 million for Quest Village, an affordable apartment community for independent adults with developmental disabilities. It will be the first of its kind in central Florida.
Securities Class Action Dismissed
Obtained dismissal of a securities class action against client Erba Diagnostics, Inc. and certain of its current and former directors and officers. Our team successfully argued that the plaintiff failed to allege facts sufficient for the court to draw an inference that the defendants acted with the “scienter,” i.e., intent to deceive, necessary for a plaintiff to establish liability under Rule 10b-5. The court dismissed plaintiff’s case.
Victory impacts agricultural landowners statewide
Represented a breeder of exotic birds in Palm Beach County, Florida, in a case that is important for agricultural landowners statewide. Successfully appealed a circuit court ruling that denied our client the agricultural tax classification known as “greenbelting.” The Fourth DCA granted the tax classification, resulting in substantially lower tax assessments for our client, and numerous land use and environmental protections and exemptions.
Bank grants $55.9 million in loans to developer
Represented Santander Bank in connection with two loans totaling $55.9 million to developer Copperline Partners for the acquisition and renovation of Harbor Inn Apartments, a 310-unit apartment complex in Coral Springs, Florida, and Marsh Harbour Apartments, a 168-unit apartment complex in Sunrise, Florida.
Gencom acquires luxury resort in Costa Rica
Represented real estate investment group Gencom in the acquisition of a luxury resort in Costa Rica’s tourist hotspot of Guanacaste. The acquisition of Peninsula Papagayo Resort includes the Four Seasons Papagayo Hotel, a golf course, marina and beaches.
$151 million antitrust class action settlement
Jay Shapiro and team obtained a landmark $151 million antitrust class action settlement on behalf of indirect purchasers of polyurethane foam. This was the fourth largest antitrust recovery ever on behalf of an indirect purchaser class.
Construction Team turns lawsuit into $1.1 million victory
Obtained a $1.1 million verdict, plus award of attorneys fees and costs, as lead counsel in a month long jury trial on behalf of a construction firm fraudulently induced into a fixed price contract, successfully turning a breach of contract lawsuit against contractor into a favorable verdict on counterclaims.
$95 million loan for longtime client’s luxury waterfront condominium project
Represented a joint venture between 13th Floor Investments and Key International in connection with the $30.5 million acquisition and subsequent $95 million construction loan for The Harbour condominium project, a twin-tower, 425-unit luxury waterfront condominium located in North Miami Beach.
Apartment project brings affordable housing to Overtown, Miami
Assisted affordable housing developer, St. John Community Development Corporation and the CDP Companies, in the closing of the development and financing for St. John Plaza, a 90-unit apartment complex in Overtown, Miami. The project was financed through multiple sources, including bonds issued by the Southeast Overtown/Park West Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA) and the Housing Finance Authority of Miami-Dade County.
$10 million private placement for medical diagnostics company
Represented medical diagnostics company in a $10 million private placement of convertible promissory notes.
Our client is a rapid assay medical diagnostics company, with products that use a drop of blood to test for a variety of conditions, illnesses and diseases and that achieve results in a matter of minutes, eliminating the need to send tests to off-site laboratories.
Goodwill facility to provide jobs for individuals with disabilities
Obtained a zoning modification on behalf of Piedmont Companies, a developer of Goodwill Industries projects across the country. The 212,000 square foot facility in Hillsborough County will serve a 10-county area, employing over 100 individuals with disabilities and special needs. It is Goodwill Industries-Suncoast, Inc.’s first "build to suit" distribution center in its central Florida territory and will be used as a model for future facilities.
Victory for City of Marathon, Florida
Represented the City of Marathon, Florida, in a breach of performance bond lawsuit against a surety involving two components of $120 million public works project. Successfully obtained judgment in federal court for excess completion cost damages, attorneys' fees and costs.