PRINT PAGESuit Against Marvel Exec Over Hate Mail Campaign Tossed

 
Law360 (September 29, 2021, 8:14 PM EDT) -- A Florida judge has ended a long-running fight between Marvel Entertainment Chairman Ike Perlmutter and a neighbor who accused the executive of running a hate mail campaign against him, finding there is no evidence Perlmutter orchestrated the campaign.

In a series of orders issued Tuesday and Wednesday in the four lawsuits spanning the dispute, Judge Cymonie Rowe granted summary judgment to Perlmutter and his wife, Laura, who had been accused by Canadian businessman Harold Peerenboom, their neighbor in Palm Beach, of launching a smear campaign against him.

Evidence turned up in the litigation showed David Smith, Peerenboom's former employee, was behind the hate mail campaign. Smith was arrested in Canada in June 2017 in connection with a package of hate mail intercepted by U.S. Customs and Border Protection in January 2016, according to court documents.

"There is no evidence whatsoever that the Perlmutters had any hand in those mailings," Judge Rowe said in one of the orders.

Peerenboom filed an initial lawsuit in October 2013 claiming the Perlmutters, with whom he had been feuding over the operation of tennis courts in their waterfront Palm Beach neighborhood of Sloan's Curve, were running a campaign smearing Peerenboom in anonymous letters sent to his family, friends, colleagues and clients in Toronto.

He filed the suit after collecting the Perlmutters' DNA during a deposition in another lawsuit in which they were not parties. In December 2019, Judge Rowe determined that Peerenboom and his attorney had scheduled the deposition for the purpose of improperly getting the Perlmutters' DNA and barred Peerenboom from doing any further testing of the DNA evidence.

At least one of the Perlmutters' counterclaims regarding the collection of the DNA evidence survived the onslaught of orders this week, as Judge Rowe will allow the Perlmutters to pursue their allegation that this collection was an invasion of their privacy.

Peerenboom argued he was protected from their counterclaims by the litigation privilege, which states that litigants and their counsel are immune from liability for statements made during litigation. But Judge Rowe said this "overreads the reach of the litigation privilege," which is meant to apply only to actions in a judicial proceeding that relate to that proceeding.

"The absolute litigation privilege has never been interpreted to give a person carte blanche immunity to say or do anything he wants, to whom or with whomever he wants, anywhere he wants, simply because a lawsuit is pending," Judge Rowe said.

Peerenboom's attorney Jordan Cohen pointed to Judge Rowe's dismissal of four of the Perlmutters' six claims against Peerenboom, including claims for conversion and civil theft, because the Perlmutters had failed to provide evidence of economic damages from the deprivation of their DNA information. The ruling on the civil theft claim in particular may trigger an entitlement for Peerenboom to recover attorney fees as the prevailing party, according to Cohen.

"For a client who claims to be exceptionally private, Mr. Perlmutter's lawyers appear to have no concerns about litigating these cases in the press," Cohen said. "We look forward to continuing to defend Mr. Peerenboom's good name through the courts."

Roy Black, who represents the Perlmutters, said his clients are "very, very motivated" to continue to litigate the remaining invasion of privacy claim regarding the DNA collection.

"Can you imagine if the public finds out that lawyers can secretly use an exhibit to collect DNA?" Black said. "This is a really dangerous thing. People would lose confidence in the court system if we allow this to occur."

Black called the dispute "a really long, hard road" and said the burden was on his clients to find the person who was behind the hate mail campaign.

"We really needed to prove Ike Perlmutter's innocence because it was affecting him in business and finance," Black said.

He added that his team will be requesting attorney fees and costs.

Joshua Dubin, who also represents the Perlmutters, said his clients have now become criminal justice advocates after being accused of something they did not do.

"It took the Perlmutters, who have substantial resources, many years to clear their names," Dubin said. "So you can imagine what it is like for people accused of crimes that do not have the resources to defend themselves."

The Perlmutters are represented by Roy Black of Black Srebnick Kornspan & Stumpf PA and Joshua E. Dubin Esq. PA.

Peerenboom is represented by Jordan S. Cohen and Cecilia D. Orozco of Wicker Smith O'Hara McCoy & Ford PA.

The case is Peerenboom v. Perlmutter et al., case numbers 2013-CA-015257, 2015-CA-001012, 2014-CA-006931 and 2018-CA-008378, in the Fifteenth Judicial Circuit Court of Florida.

--Editing by Janice Carter Brown.

Update: This story has been updated to include comment from counsel.

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