PALM BEACH GARDENS – On Dec. 7, a Florida district court of appeals reversed its monetary award to Nantucket Enterprises Inc. for conversion damages after the restaurant was forced out of the Palm Beach Garden Embassy Suites Hotel.
As noted from the court files, "There was evidence that $45,000 in food and liquor was converted, but we nonetheless reverse because the general verdict form failed to indicate the jury awarded damages for the food and liquor."
Nantucket, the restaurant inside the Pam Beach Garden Embassy Suites Hotel, was earlier forced out of the hotel for wrongful reasons, Dorothy Easley of Easley Appellate Practice told the Florida Record. Following, it filed suit for wrongful eviction and conversion by the hotel.
"Conversion is defined as ‘an act of dominion wrongfully asserted over, and inconsistent with, another’s possessory rights in personal property,''' according to the court.
As noted by the court, the hotel did not fall under the conversion definition.
"Landlord did not convert tenant’s catering contracts because landlord did not assert 'dominion over the catering contract," the court said.
"Landlord did not convert the newly remodeled space because real property cannot be converted," the court noted. "Landlord did not convert tenant’s food and beverage rights because tenant’s claim would be breach of contract, not conversion, and an action in tort is inappropriate where the basis of the suit is a contract, either express or implied."
"The appellate court recognized that Nantucket was entitled to prejudgment interest," Easley said.
The interest was used to cover the lost funds from the eviction from the hotel such as catering contracts, personal property and food and drink products.
However, the lower court rejected Nantucket's claim for prejudgment interest, and that was reversed on appeal.
"The appellate court agreed with all of Nantucket's arguments except the conversion argument," Easley said. "At jury trial, Natucket moved for directed verdict, arguing the hotel relied on the self-help doctrine to go beyond the city's action and lock Nantucket out of its entire premises, which was granted, and the 4th District Court of Appeal affirmed that decision."
In addition to the Nantucket receiving $8.8 million prejudgment interest, "the appellate court also affirmed the jury's rejection of the landlords' claim for breach of lease," she said.
"The 4th District Court of Appeal decision is not perfect, but very well-reasoned, and it vindicates this commercial tenant after a very long battle. It's a good win that reminds us why we become lawyers," Easley said. "There is still time for rehearing of the decision, which time ends in approximately one week."
Nantucket had been operating at the Palm Beach hotel since 1992, where it was signed to lease 20,281 square feet until the year 2022. Earlier this year, the two parties disagreed as Nantucket started doing renovations to the space without proper approval.