Appeals court upholds Florida jurisdiction over law firm here

A Florida appeals panel has upheld a lower court order that says a civil case against Costa Rican lawyers will be heard in that state.

The case is of interest to expats because the decision shows that there are options to becoming involved in the complexities and delays of the Costa Rica court system.

The plaintiff, a Florida resident and attorney who had a business here, claims that two San José lawyers and some Florida investors entered into a conspiracy to extort money from him and caused his business to fail. He also alleged that they filed a frivolous complaint against his Florida law license and also with the U. S. Department of Homeland Security.

The key point for expats is that the appeals court decision said that jurisdiction in the Florida courts is possible even if individuals outside the state and country only send emails or make telephone calls into the state.  In this case, some of the defendants live in Florida, too.

The trial judge has issued an injunction against some of the defendants prohibiting them from participating in or continuing their extortionate actions undertaken in support of their attempted theft from the plaintiff.

However, the case has not yet been judged on its merits.

Another aspect of the case is that it involves one of Costa Rica’s leading law firms, Facio & Cañas, and names individually all of its partners, including Enrique Castillo, the current minister of foreign relations.

The law firm and partners are named because they hired Federico Torrealba Navas and Gianna Cersosimo, two Costa Rican lawyers accused of setting up a conspiracy earlier.

The decision filed Wednesday by the Third District Court of Appeals in Miami also gives the defendants the opportunity to file for a rehearing. The appeals court of three judges was unanimous in upholding thelengthy lower court decision of Circuit Judge John W. Thornton. In fact, the decision by J.  Suarez even praised him, saying the trial court judge was exceedingly thorough in his analysis.

The decision said that Facio & Cañas argues it has no direct connection with Florida. However, it is unlawful for anyone employed by an enterprise to directly or indirectly, participate in criminal activity – including extortion, which is sufficiently alleged in Brand’s complaint, it said.

The plaintiff, Craig A. Brand, said in an email that the trial court will allow him to ask for punitive damages. These are damages as a form of punishment that are in addition to any actual losses.

Brand ran a pharmacy business here with investors from Florida. According to the decision filed Wednesday:

Defendants in Florida “alleged that Brand coerced them to invest, either directly or indirectly, in his Costa Rican businesses, and then defrauded them. Brand alleges that the Florida defendants, in an attempt to recoup their investments, hired the Costa Rican lawyers Torrealba and Cersosimo to file a ‘public’ criminal investigation against Brand and others for theft and fraud in his dealings with the Florida defendants and other non-parties. Brand alleges that the Florida defendants, through Torrealba and Cersosimo, successfully obtained a Costa Rican immigration stay order that prevented him from leaving Costa Rica.

“Brand alleges that, as a result of the fraudulent criminal investigation, suppliers refused to offer credit and his pharmaceutical business was forced to close.

“In 2009, the Costa Rican prosecutor’s office advised Torrealba and Cersosimo that there was no evidence with which to proceed criminally against Brand, and it would dismiss the criminal investigation and drop the immigration hold against him. Brand immediately moved to Florida. The record indicates that Torrealba traveled to Florida to meet with the Florida defendants. Shortly thereafter, Torrealba and Cersosimo, through the Costa Rican law firm of F&C, and the Florida defendants converted the criminal case into a private civil case against Brand, which they filed in Costa Rica and which remains pending there.”

The decision also noted that the Facio & Cañas law firm has about 50 clients in the State of Florida. That was another argument for jurisdiction.

In a separate order earlier this month, the current trial judge, José M. Rodriquez ordered defendants in Florida to dismiss any court actions against Brand in Costa Rica.

Last month, all the defendants, including the partners in the Facio & Cañas law firm, were ordered to submit summaries of their financial worth.

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