Swope Rodante, P.A. v. Harmon, ___ So. 3d ___, 37 Fla. L. Weekly D725 (Fla. 2d DCA March 28, 2012)
The plaintiff, a law firm, alleged that the defendant, a lawyer and his law firm, made disparaging statements about the plaintiff in order to induce a personal injury client to discharge the plaintiff and retain the defendants. When the client’s case was settled, the plaintiff was included as a payee on the settlement check. The defendants induced the plaintiff to remove its name from the settlement check by promising to retain 15% of the settlement proceeds in escrow pending the resolution of the fee dispute. The plaintiff performed its promise, but the defendants broke theirs. As a result, the plaintiff sued the defendants for tortious interference, breach of contract, and imposition of a constructive trust. The trial court dismissed the complaint for failure to state a cause of action, but the appellate court reversed. The complaint stated a cause of action for tortious interference because it alleged an attorney-client relationship, knowledge of the relationship, an intentional and unjustified interference with the relationship, and loss of a contingent fee as a result of the interference. The complaint stated a cause of action for breach of contract because it alleged a promise for a promise, the plaintiff’s performance of its promise, and the defendants’ failure to perform their promise. The complaint alleged the violation of a legal right and, thus, entitlement at least to nominal damages. Therefore, it did not matter that the plaintiff might not ultimately prevail on its claim for entitlement to a fee. The complaint did not, however, state a cause of action for imposition of a constructive trust because a constructive trust is an equitable remedy rather than a cause of action. The court did not decide whether a constructive trust could be imposed based upon the plaintiff’s claims for tortious interference or breach of contract because this issue was not raised by the parties.