A Florida judge is setting aside a $40 million jury verdict against the one of the nation's largest film makers in a case that has seen both sides taking very public and colorful swipes at one another.
Sigma Plastics Group of Pompano Beach, Fla., is celebrating Broward County Circuit Court Judge Jack Tuter's July 12 decision that reverses an earlier court victory for the former owners of Alliance Barrier Films LLC of Washington, Ind.
Tom and Ellen Huff had filed suit against Sigma and owner Alfred Teo Sr. in 2018 claiming Sigma executives conspired to financially damage Alliance, which lead to Tom Huff selling his 50 percent state in Alliance in 2017 at below-market value.
"I share Judge Tuter's conclusion that this trial was a circus," said attorney Gene Stearns, who represents Teo and Sigma, in a statement. "All the Huffs provided at trial was that the Teos met every commitment and then some. Anyone who reads the judge's lengthy order will understand the indignity visited on the Teo family by overzealous advocacy in support of clients who attempted to make up for their failure in business by sleight of hand in the courtroom."
But Bob Cheeley, who represents the Huffs, is vowing to appeal the judge's move and more.
"Judge Tuter's ruling goes against Florida law and we will appeal and fully expect to have the jury verdict reinstated and also go after Alfred Teo for punitive damages," Cheeley said in a July 14 email.
Sigma, meanwhile, said it will go after the Huffs for court costs.
The judge, in a final judgment, said he has never seen a trial like this one in his 19 years on the bench.
"Nothing would prepare the undersigned for what transpired in courtroom 15150 during this trial. The jury returned a verdict of $40 million, rewarding the plaintiff for selling a company which was failing and on the verge of bankruptcy," the judge wrote.
"The conduct of counsel for the plaintiff was nothing short of comical," Tuter wrote. "The jury's verdict was inconsistent with the evidence and borne from passion and prejudice. The undersigned has profound respect for the sanctity of the jury. This verdict however cannot stand."
Cheeley, meanwhile, questioned how the judge can overrule the jury.
"The trial judge utterly disregarded the findings of the jury. Mr. Teo's legal team never moved for directed verdict on liability for fraud and the judge charged the jury on the law. Now, for inexplicable reasons, the trial court has usurped Florida legal precedent giving great credence to the findings of the jury. That is not permissible, especially where no objection was made at trial," he said in an email.
Sigma, in pointing out the judge's decision, said Cheeley and his clients did a "victory tour" after the jury verdict six weeks ago. "The Sigma companies now report that victory was short-lived."