While Donald Trump banks on his brand to boost him into the White House, a Florida appeals court will hear arguments Tuesday in lawsuits accusing the Republican presidential front runner of misrepresenting his role in a failed beachfront project in Fort Lauderdale.
The 4th District Court of Appeal will hear arguments in two lawsuits related to what was pitched as a swanky, Trump-branded hotel/condominium. Investors have battled in court for years to get back hundreds of thousands of dollars in deposits from the real estate developer and associates.
The plaintiffs in the two active cases, John Taglieri and Deer Valley Realty, sued Trump after they couldn't get their deposits returned on units in the foreclosed building. The lawsuits accuse Trump of falsely claiming he was the project developer when, instead, he only had a deal that allowed the developers to use his name.
Trump and his lawyers blamed the project's failure on the nation's real-estate market crash and contended that Trump's role was "clearly identified" in documents signed by the investors.
The failed Trump International Hotel & Tower Fort Lauderdale is among other Trump-branded projects that tanked --- including those in California, Mexico and Tampa --- and prompted lawsuits from disgruntled investors who lost millions of dollars in deposits.
The two cases slated to be heard Tuesday are the last active lawsuits filed by investors after the project went under in 2009. Other companies affiliated with what was supposed to be a luxury resort bearing the signature Trump name reached settlements with dozens of plaintiffs in 2014. All of the other companies associated with the Fort Lauderdale project --- except for Trump, Trump Florida Management and Trump Organization --- have also settled with the plaintiffs in the two active lawsuits, according to lawyers representing the plaintiffs.
A Broward County circuit judge in 2014 ruled in favor of Trump Organization, and a jury sided with Trump and his management company.
Taglieri put down $146,000 in 2005 for a condo with a preconstruction price of nearly $775,000. According to court documents, promotional materials that bore Trump's signature and letterhead persuaded the Boston restaurant owner to purchase the condo unit. Deer Valley, affiliated with Michael Goodson, put down $345,000 for a $1.7 million unit more than three years before the project went into foreclosure in 2010, the court documents show.
"It is with great pleasure that I present my latest development, Trump International Hotel & Tower, Fort Lauderdale. This magnificent oceanfront resort offers the finest and most luxurious experience I have created," read one document.
A hard-bound book about the project with Trump's signature declared that "only one developer could produce this landmark."
The project's financial struggles began while it was under construction, and Trump withdrew from the project in 2009. The same year, the development collapsed.
Taglieri and Goodson testified at trial that they would not have invested in the project if they had been aware of Trump's limited role in it.
In the appeals, the plaintiffs' lawyers argued that a Broward County judge erred in allowing evidence regarding the 2008 market crash. Broward Circuit Judge Jeffrey Streitfeld also erred by not allowing the plaintiffs' expert to rebut the evidence, their lawyers alleged.
"Whether there was a market crash is completely irrelevant to the plaintiff's claims in this case," Taglieri's lawyer Geoffrey Marks wrote, alleging that the discussion of it likely confused the jury.
Trump's lawyers --- who were awarded $180,000 in legal fees in the Deer Valley case --- argued that the documents clearly identified SB Hotel Associates, and not Trump, as the developer of the project.
"Nowhere in any of the offering documents is Trump referred to as either the 'seller' or the 'developer,' " the Trump lawyers wrote.
Trump's lawyers also argued that the offering documents clearly disclosed that Trump had licensed the use of his trademarked "Trump" name and that a Trump-affiliated entity, Trump Florida Management, would initially manage the project. And the documents "disclosed that Mr. Trump had the right to remove his brand from the project" if the licensing or management agreements were terminated, the lawyers wrote.