Carlton Fields’ Clients Prevail in Unusual Qui Tam Case

Class Actions   |   Insurance   |   White Collar Crime & Government Investigations   |   October 9, 2017
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Tallahassee, Fla. – Carlton Fields attorneys Kevin P. McCoy, Christine Davis Graves, James Parker-Flynn, and Adam P. Schwartz secured a victory in a qui tam case for their clients, The Law Offices of Gonzalez & Associates, LLC and attorney Neil Gonzalez, who were accused of underpaying court filing fees on cases they filed on behalf of their clients.  

Judge Terry P. Lewis of Florida’s Second Judicial Circuit Court dismissed the case with prejudice on October 2, 2017.

The Relator, EFP Recovery Services, LLC, a corporate entity that brought the claims, accused Gonzalez and his law firm of intentionally undervaluing claims in order to avoid paying larger filing fees with the Clerk of Court and thereby depriving the State of Florida of monies it was owed. The Relator was represented by Maury Udell, who is also a manager of the entity. 

The defendants in the case vehemently disputed the allegations made against them.  But before the parties could get that far, Judge Lewis rejected EFP’s arguments that it had a valid claim under the Florida False Claim Act because there is no requirement for a litigant to seek the same amount of money in his lawsuit that was demanded pre-suit. He also agreed that the public disclosure bar prohibited EFP from serving as a whistleblower in the case because its claims was based upon public information.

Lewis also agreed with the Carlton Fields argument that attorneys are immune from liability for statutory and common law claims when their conduct is done in the service of their client. Carlton Fields argued that the quintessential function of a litigation lawyer is evaluating claims, making demands, and filing lawsuits when those demands are not satisfied. Such conduct comes within the broad scope of Florida’s litigation privilege. 

The defense team successfully argued that if EFP had prevailed, their clients would have been unfairly saddled with crippling statutory damages and fees for thousands of cases, which as PIP insurance attorneys, they had filed on behalf of their own clients.

“This is a good outcome for the legal profession,” said Carlton Fields attorney Kevin McCoy. “Our clients are elated. The plaintiff sought to go after lawyers for practicing law. This was an unbridled attempt to expand the statute and create a new exposure for lawyers throughout Florida for doing nothing other than their jobs as lawyers. Carlton Fields is privileged to have been called upon to defend the profession.”

Following the Court’s order, the State of Florida invoked its right to dismiss with prejudice, five additional, and identical, cases that EFP filed against other PIP lawyers accused of the same acts.

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