Plaintiff Says Panama Company Has South Florida Presence
An attorney for a Weston engineer argued on appeal Tuesday to reinstate a federal lawsuit filed against a Panamanian construction company following dismissal on jurisdictional reasons.
Coral Gables attorney Victoria E. Brieant, who represents Juan Melgarejo, said Pycsa Panama S.A. conducted financial transactions and negotiations in Florida, making it liable to be sued in the state.
"Dr. Melgarejo can't get a fair hearing in the courts in Panama because of the corruption so he should be able to use the courts here," Brieant said after the hearing. "We are so lucky in this country to have an honest court system."
The case was heard by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit in Miami. Judges Beverly Martin and Frank Hull presided with U.S. District Judge Robert Lewis Hinkle of Tallahassee sitting by designation.
Melgarejo's lawsuit was dismissed in August 2012 by Senior U.S. District Judge Kenneth Ryskamp in West Palm Beach, who said it would be unfair for Pycsa to have to try the case in Florida. Ryskamp ruled the company had an affiliate office in Miami only to purchase raw materials.
Melgarejo's breach of contract complaint claimed he was hired as Pycsa's general director and executive vice president to manage construction of two segments of toll roads in Panama.
The suit claimed Melgarejo was entitled to $250,000 for the completion of each corridor plus $500,000 for completion of the entire project for a total of $1 million. The Panamanian government agreed to purchase the project from Pycsa for $650 million, putting the company in a position to pay Melgarejo.
Brieant noted Pycsa filed a lawsuit in Miami federal court against Georgia-based Tensar Earth Techno in 2006 in a dispute related to the toll-road construction. She said it purchased about $1 million of the materials for the toll road in Florida.
Miami attorney Frances Guasch De La Guardia, representing Pycsa, told the panel that the lawsuit was filed long after Melgarejo resigned in 2001. The Holland & Knight appellate partner said Ryskamp was correct in finding the only connection the company had in South Florida was an affiliate where some mail was taken and a small amount of purchasing occurred.
She said Melgarejo worked for other companies in South Florida but, when he was on the clock for Pycsa, the company sent a private plane to fly him to Panama.
Brieant, though, told the panel jurisdiction is determined by a defendant company's "presence." Otherwise foreign corporations doing business in the U.S. could hide behind affiliates and mailboxes, she said.