Jury finds Boca Raton broker’s client not guilty in defamation lawsuit
A prominent Boca Raton luxury real estate broker recently lost a seven-year legal battle against a former client who gave him a bad review.
On April 6, a jury in West Palm Beach found the client, Rick S. Felberbaum, his law firm Felberbaum & Associates PA and an affiliate of Christie’s International Realty were not guilty of defaming David Roberts, owner of Royal Palm Properties LLC, or RPP, which markets homes at the Royal Palm Yacht & Country Club.
“We’re happy, that’s for sure,” said Stephen Mendelsohn, a Greenberg Traurig shareholder who represented Felberbaum. “We thought the case was strong on the defense, but we knew we were in for the long haul. Our client was committed to seeing it through to the end.”
Roberts did not return a phone call seeking comment. His attorney Robert Sweetapple said his client intends “to pursue all appropriate relief in post-trial motions and at the appellate level.”
The dispute originated in 2008, when Felberbaum hired RPP to list a $4 million house he owned in Royal Palm. About a year later, after Felberbaum didn’t receive any offers, he switched brokers to Premier Estate Properties, which has an affiliation agreement with Christie’s to use its logo. Premier subsequently sold the home and asked Felberbaum to write a testimonial to put in a newsletter.
Felberbaum obliged and the newsletter was mailed twice to Royal Palm residents.
“After one year plus of virtual inactivity, ignored emails, unreturned phone calls and our perceived complete lack of their regard for selling our home, we signed up with Premier Estate Properties,” Felberbaum’s testimonial read. “Finally within a few short months of listing with you, our home was in contract.”
In 2009, Roberts and RPP sued Felberbaum, his law firm, Christie’s, and Premier and its principals. He sought $7 million in damages. Premier settled with Roberts, but Felberbaum and Christie’s decided to take the case to trial.
In his complaint, Roberts alleged the testimonial was clearly about him and RPP. He claimed Felberbaum damaged his business and that the lawyer was unreasonable with his listing price. The property eventually sold for $2.7 million.
During the eight day trial, the facts proved that Felberbaum’s testimonial was truthful, Mendelsohn said. “They constituted his opinion based on the disclosed facts,” he said. “There were unreturned emails and unreturned phone calls. Mr. Felberbaum did not receive a bid for more than a year, showing there was virtually no activity.”