Hullick v. Gib. Private Bank & Trust Co., No. 3D18-0203

CourtCourt of Appeal of Florida (US)
Writing for the CourtLINDSEY, J.
Citation279 So.3d 809
Parties Jonathan HULLICK, Appellant, v. GIBRALTAR PRIVATE BANK & TRUST COMPANY, and Steven D. Hayworth, Appellees.
Decision Date18 September 2019
Docket NumberNo. 3D18-0203

279 So.3d 809

Jonathan HULLICK, Appellant,
v.
GIBRALTAR PRIVATE BANK & TRUST COMPANY, and Steven D. Hayworth, Appellees.

No. 3D18-0203

District Court of Appeal of Florida, Third District.

Opinion filed September 18, 2019.


Weil Snyder Schweikert & Ravindran, P.A., and Ronald P. Weil, and Iva U. Ravindran ; Joel S. Perwin, P.A., and Joel S. Perwin, for appellant.

Stearns Weaver Miller Weissler Alhadeff & Sitterson, P.A., and Jose G. Sepulveda, Carlos J. Canino, and Julie Fishman Berkowitz ; Wicker Smith O'Hara McCoy & Ford, P.A., and Dennis M. O'Hara, Alyssa M. Reiter, Lindsey A. Hicks, and Brandon J. Hechtman, for appellees.

Before SALTER, LOGUE, and LINDSEY, JJ.

LINDSEY, J.

Appellant Jonathan Hullick (Plaintiff below) appeals an order entering final summary judgment in favor of Appellee Steven Hayworth (Defendant below) on two counts of defamation per se. Hullick alleged that Hayworth, as Chief Executive Officer of Gibraltar Private Bank and Trust Company, made defamatory statements in front of Gibraltar's Board of Directors. Because Hullick failed to establish the essential element of publication to a third party, we affirm.

I. BACKGROUND1

In May 2007, Hayworth, former CEO, Executive President, and Chairman of Gibraltar's

279 So.3d 811

Board of Directors, hired Hullick to fill the recently-vacated Chief Operating Officer ("COO") position. Hullick's time with Gibraltar was, however, short-lived. In July 2007, Hullick wrote a memo in which he expressed concern over irregularities and other suspicious activity in a client's accounts. Over the next 15 months, Hullick reported his ongoing concerns to Hayworth, the Board of Directors, the Senior Managing Director, the Audit Committee, the Chief Risk Officer, the Bank Secrecy Act/Anti-Money Laundering Officer, and the Chief Credit Officer. In addition, Hullick reported his concerns regarding Senior Vice President John Harris, the Regional Market Manager at Gibraltar's Ft. Lauderdale branch, where the client's accounts were maintained. Hullick believed that Harris was aware of fraudulent activity in the accounts and was permitting it to continue. Conflict arose between Harris and Hullick, and Hullick was eventually terminated from his position as Gibraltar's COO.

Approximately two years later, Hullick filed the underlying action, alleging, inter alia, that Hayworth made multiple defamatory statements about him post-termination that destroyed his reputation in the banking community, making it difficult for him to find employment. Hullick further alleged Hayworth made these statements to the other members of Gibraltar's Board of Directors during a Board meeting. After numerous motions and orders from three different trial court judges, Hullick's twenty-count operative complaint was whittled down to just five counts: one count against Gibraltar for breach of contract and two counts each against Gibraltar and Hayworth for defamation per se.

Gibraltar and Hayworth filed motions for summary judgment, arguing that the element of publication was not established by the allegations in the Complaint based on this Court's holding in American Airlines, Inc. v. Geddes, 960 So. 2d 830 (Fla. 3d DCA 2007).2 The prior trial court judge disagreed and denied the motions, allowing the case to go forward.3 Thereafter, Gibraltar and Hayworth renewed their motions for summary judgment with the successor trial judge, asserting the same grounds as previously argued. The trial court agreed and granted summary judgment in favor of Hayworth on both defamation counts (Counts XII and XVI) because Hullick had failed to establish the necessary element of publication to a third party.

This timely appeal followed.4

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

When there are no disputed factual issues, the granting of summary judgment presents a pure question of law and is subject to the de novo standard of review. Bosem v. Musa Holdings, Inc., 46 So. 3d 42, 44 (Fla. 2010) ("Because this is a pure question of law, our standard of review is

279 So.3d 812

de novo."); So. Baptist Hosp. of Fla., Inc. v. Welker, 908 So. 2d 317...

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1 practice notes
  • Charlemagne v. State, No. 3D18-249
    • United States
    • Court of Appeal of Florida (US)
    • September 18, 2019
    ...Attorney General, and Jeffrey R. Geldens, Assistant Attorney General, for appellee.Before FERNANDEZ, MILLER, and GORDO, JJ.PER CURIAM.279 So.3d 809 Affirmed. See Medina v. State, 573 So. 2d 293, 295 (Fla. 1990) ("Allegations of ineffective assistance cannot be used to circumvent the rule th......
1 cases
  • Charlemagne v. State, No. 3D18-249
    • United States
    • Court of Appeal of Florida (US)
    • September 18, 2019
    ...Attorney General, and Jeffrey R. Geldens, Assistant Attorney General, for appellee.Before FERNANDEZ, MILLER, and GORDO, JJ.PER CURIAM.279 So.3d 809 Affirmed. See Medina v. State, 573 So. 2d 293, 295 (Fla. 1990) ("Allegations of ineffective assistance cannot be used to circumvent the rule th......

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