Third District Reverses Slander of Title Dismissal Between Aventura Homeowners and Developers

Two Island Development Corp. v. Clarke, 2018 WL 522200 (Fla. 3d DCA Jan. 24, 2018)

This dispute arose between luxury residential homeowners in Aventura, Florida and the developers of a sixteen-story two-tower condominium building. After the homeowners filed three different lawsuits, the developers filed a lawsuit which the trial court dismissed. Ultimately, the developers appealed and the Third District reversed the trial court’s dismissal of the slander of title claim. The Third District also reversed the dismissal of the Williams Island residents.

The dispute involves three islands connected by one road; Williams Island, South Island, and North Island. In 2013, the homeowners of the South Island approved a Shared Maintenance Association Plan and the Easement, Operating, and Development Agreement (EODA) with the North Island. Furthermore, when the Williams Island residents purchased their properties, there was an expressed agreement titled, “Agreement Not to Object.” This agreement stated that there would be no objection to development on the North Island. Relying on the EODA and the Williams Island agreements, the developers began construction of the two towers on the North Island.

In response to the development, residents of Williams Island and the South Island began protesting, filed for temporary injunctions, lobbying city officials and allegedly obstructing a settlement. In addition, the South Island residents refused to assist the developers in obtaining a permit for an additional sidewalk. The developers argued that this constituted a breach of contract. These actions allegedly led to delays in the developers obtaining permits, buyers backing out of purchases, loss of potential customers and damages to the developers’ reputation.

In due course, the developers sued for breach of covenant; specific performance; and breach of the duty of good faith and fair dealing; against the South Island residents. In addition, the developers sued both the South Island residents and Williams Island residents for tortious interference. The developers also sued certain individual residential homeowners who lived on the South Island for slander of title. After the trial court’s oral ruling, but before the final order was entered, the developers voluntarily dismissed the Williams Island residents as defendants. The trial court’s order dismissed with prejudice both the Williams Island residents and the South Island residents. The trial court also held that the South Island residents were not bound by the EODA because they did not sign the agreement. The developers appealed the dismissal of the slander of title and argued that the dismissal of the Williams Island residents was improper because there was already a voluntary dismissal of a record.

The Third District found that the trial court erred in dismissing the Williams Island Defendants. Under Florida Rule of Civil Procedure 1.250(b), a party may be dropped by an adverse party in the same manner provided for a voluntary dismissal. Therefore, the plaintiffs had a right to drop some or all of the defendants in the case. Since the dismissal of the Williams Island residents was before the trial court entered the final ruling, the court could not dismiss the Williams Island residents as an adjudication of the case.

The Third District also found that the trial court erred in the dismissal of the slander action. To state a claim for slander of title, a party must make a false and malicious statement, oral or written, must be made to disparagement a person’s title to real or personal property causing special damages. It was alleged that the individual defendants in the case made false and malicious statements to potential buyers about the planned development, as well as, published the false statements, causing loss of sales and reduced marketability. The Third District found that the developers had stated a cause of action for slander of title and reversed the trial court’s order dismissing the claim.

Slander of title and breached contract claims involve complex legal issues. Having the right counsel to guide you through the legal process, while making sure your rights are protected is essential. If you or someone you know has a slander of title claim, breach of contract or breach of covenant claim, please contact the lawyers at Kahn & Resnik, P.L. Our lawyers proudly serve all of Florida and will guide you through every step of the legal process. Call us now at 954-321-0176 to set up a consultation.