Marvel Comics Chairman and CEO Alleges Insurer and Lawyer Helped Steal His DNA
Marvel’s Isaac “Ike” Perlmutter has accused an insurer’s in-house attorney of scheduling a deposition with the aim of secretly taking DNA from water bottles and papers that Perlmutter and his wife had touched.
What began with a disagreement over the management of a Palm Beach County tennis center has snowballed into a request to assert punitive damages against a major insurer over allegations it helped steal DNA from Marvel Entertainment’s chairman and CEO, and his wife.
Marvel’s Isaac “Ike” Perlmutter has accused an in-house attorney for Chubb & Son Inc. — a division of Federal Insurance Co. — of scheduling a deposition in a defamation lawsuit with the aim of secretly taking DNA from water bottles and papers that Perlmutter and his wife Laura had touched.
Perlmutter’s latest motion seeks to hold the insurer accountable, alleging it helped facilitate the plot and asking the court for leave to add punitive damages claims.
The motion is latest chapter in a long and winding story that began in 2010 with a condo board dispute between Toronto businessman Harold Peerenboom, who lives at Palm Beach oceanfront complex Sloan’s Curve, and its tennis program manager Karen Donnelly. The spat centered around who should run the complex’s tennis center, as the pair submitted opposing bids.
Donnelly sued Peerenboom for slander in 2012, accusing him of mailing defamatory letters about her to their neighbors. The Perlmutters financed that lawsuit, according to their motion.
Chubb appointed Flat Rock attorney William Douberley to defend Peerenboom against the defamation claims.
But according to the Perlmutters, that defense involved summoning them to a deposition along with a technician from private forensic firm Speckin, who secretly extracted their DNA from paper exhibits and water bottles.
The goal, the Perlmutters alleged, was to manipulate that DNA to link them to an alleged hate mail scandal. Peerenboom sued the Perlmutters over that in 2015, alleging they and others subjected him to a barrage of anonymous letters that defamed him and accused him of crimes.
Miami attorney Joshua E. Dubin has teamed with Roy Black and Jared Lopez of Black Srebnick Kornspan & Stumpf to represent the Perlmutters. They declined to comment.
Jordan S. Cohen of Wicker Smith O’Hara McCoy & Ford in Fort Lauderdale and Manuel Kushner of Manuel Kushner Law Firm in Palm Beach represent Peerenboom, while Pete L. DeMahy of DeMahy Labrador Drake Victor Rojas & Cabeza in Coral Gables represents Chubb. They did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Douberley has since retired, according to his bar profile. He and his attorney, Daniel Bachi of Sellars, Marion & Bachi in West Palm Beach, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Tuesday’s motion alleged the DNA plot was a violation of Florida Statute 760.40, which says DNA analysis can only be done with the participant’s consent unless for purposes of criminal prosecution and some paternity testing.
And the court has offered some credence to the claim.
Palm Beach Circuit Judge Meenu Sasser found “The Perlmutters plainly retain important intangible rights to their genetic information,” while Palm Beach Circuit Judge Cymonie Rowe found, “The evidence is overwhelmingly clear that the deposition of defendants’ in the companion case was scheduled, in part, to improperly obtain defendants’ DNA.”
But Perlmutter argued that’s not enough, alleging: “Federal was no passive employer. It monitored and encouraged Douberley, and did nothing.”
“Where an employee like Douberley commits such an act, their employer is liable if it actively participates in, condones, ratifies, or consents to, or engages in gross negligence with respect to the employee’s actions,” Perlmutter’s motion said.
The motion alleged Chubb knew and allowed Douberley to use the depositions for DNA testing, required approvals and status reports from him about the case and failed to take any corrective action when notified of the DNA theft.
To read the motion for punitive damages, click here.