Florida, United States of America: In Mehmet Tatlici v. Ugur Tatlici, a circuit court jury in Florida delivered a unanimous verdict awarding $740 million to Mehmet Tatlici in his claim for internet defamation and related business losses. The award entered is the highest verdict in Florida and one of the biggest in the United States for 2019.
Although it appears to be a defamation case, the dispute between the Tatlici Brothers traces back to 2009, when Mehmet Salih Tatlici, Turkey’s real estate tycoon and the step-brothers’ father, passed away. The inheritance dispute between Mehmet Tatlici and Ugur Tatlici is Turkey’s biggest and most infamous inheritance dispute ever.
Ugur Tatlici was neither notified nor a participant in the Florida lawsuit when it began. A year later, the judge of the case, Janis Brustares Keyser, set the case for a trial over the amount of money that Mehmet Tatlici claimed he was entitled to, and in the absence of Ugur Tatlici, the case went to trial. In the trial, attorney Jeremy D. Friedman convinced the jury that the websites allegedly linked to Ugur Tatlici caused business losses on his client Mehmet Tatlici’s alleged real estate project called Coexist Project.
The judge entered a $740 million jury award on 8 January 2020 as the case’s verdict.
Fraud on Court Allegations
Can almost a three-quarters-of-a-billion-dollar verdict be obtained through Fraud? Shocking, but maybe so.
Ugur Tatlici has alleged and offered an expert report to back his claims through a prominent IT Expert Elliot Zimmerman. He reopened the case to challenge the validity of the verdict and asserted that the $740-million judgment was obtained through false documents, perjury, and Fraud on the Court. His claims did not only involve his step-brother, Mehmet Tatlici, but also his step-brother’s lawyer, Jeremy D. Friedman of the Downs Law Group, because it is stated that Jeremey D. Friedman was inextricably involved in the perpetration of a fraud on the Court.
IT Expert Elliot Zimmerman’s report shows that the websites allegedly destroying Mehmet Tatlici’s Coexist Project did not even exist at the time.
Forum Shopping and a Similar Case
The concept of forum shopping can answer why a dispute between two Turkish step-brothers has been heard in the Florida State Court.
The American forum shopping system promises plaintiffs access to favourable substantive and procedural laws. It is the reason why plaintiffs bring their disputes to United States courts. Plaintiffs, perhaps Mehmet Tatlici too, have high expectations because of the liberal approach to personal jurisdiction to get a favourable verdict.
Turning back to the case, quite interestingly, the Florida Court has never discussed if the harms alleged occurred solely in Turkey and if Florida has any interest in resolving the dispute between the stepbrothers. In a similar case, Owens v. Turkiye Halk Bankasi A.S., a United States District Court Judge in New York had conditionally dismissed the pending suit. The Court based its decision upon the doctrine of forum non- conveniens (inconvenient forum), noting that the action should be brought in Turkey. The Court stated that Halkbank is a Turkish financial institution organized under Turkish law and headquartered in Turkey. Therefore, the Court applied the doctrine of forum non-conveniens and discouraged forum shopping by the plaintiffs keen to file suit in plaintiff-friendly jurisdictions, such as the United States.
The Issue of Personal Jurisdiction
Forum shopping involves a situation in which more than one Court assumes jurisdiction over a case. In this case, however, one must ask whether the Court obtained jurisdiction over Ugur Tatlici.
The complaint filed by Mehmet Tatlici’s lawyer had the sole allegation that Ugur Tatlici was a citizen of Turkey and “doing business in Florida”. Interestingly, the court dockets do not reveal any document supporting the assertion that Ugur Tatlici, a Turkish businessman domiciled in Turkey, is engaging in business activities in Florida. Many questions as to Ugur Tatlici’s connections in Florida seemed to remain unanswered during litigation. It is also unclear whether Mehmet Tatlici offered a single piece of evidence that could prove Ugur Tatlici’s connections with Florida, permitting the court to exercise personal jurisdiction.
“Concealing Whereabouts” allegations conveniently leading to Substituted Service
It appears that Mehmet Tatlici and his lawyer Jeremy D. Friedman have resorted to the ‘doing business in Florida’ allegation to conveniently render Ugur Tatlici amenable to substituted service of process under Florida Statutes.
This authorises substituted service on non-residents in certain situations and provides a provision relating to “concealing whereabouts.” However, “concealing whereabouts” only relates to the Florida residents even though Ugur Tatlici was not a resident of Florida.
In fact, both Ugur Tatlici and Mehmet Tatlici seem to have Turkish domiciles where they can be legally served.
In conclusion, it seems that the Court might not only be deceived by Mehmet Tatlici’s highly questionable statements about jurisdiction but also the allegation of “concealing whereabouts.” These allegations were probably made for Ugur Tatlici not to be served and for the lawsuit to proceed in Ugur Tatlici’s absence.
In other words, it looks like, in fact, Judge Keyser’s Court lacked jurisdiction over Ugur Tatlici right from the outset. However, the misleading statements provided to the Florida courts by Mehmet Tatlici and Downs Law Group seemed to be successful in deceiving Palm Beach County courts to exercise personal jurisdiction over a defendant, Ugur Tatlici, who has apparently never been served with the case.
Therefore, it seems like Ugur Tatlici never had the opportunity to expose the fraudulent activity in Judge Janis Brustares Keyser’s courtroom.
It looks like lack of service process was the first of many initiating more unfounded, perjurious and fraudulent claims come in the Tatlici v. Tatlici case. In the end, they started to keep piling up on the defendant, Ugur Tatlici, who was clueless about an ongoing case against himself in Florida.
US President Joe Biden mentioned in a related tweet
One may be surprised to see that this is not a simple inheritance battle between two step-brothers, and in fact, the issue even reached US officials because of Turkish public opinion toward the US and US courts. Indeed, one girl mentioned US President Joe Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris and the Florida Supreme Court in her tweet and remonstrated with them about US’s interference in Turkey’s domestic affairs, implying that Tatlici v. Tatlici case shouldn’t be heard in Florida.
The Present and the Future of the Case
It has almost been two years since the judgment was obtained in Mehmet Tatlici v. Ugur Tatlici case.
Thus far, no enforcement proceeding has been initiated regarding the case. Not surprisingly though, because if the $740-million verdict is attempted to be enforced in Turkey, the Turkish courts will most probably refuse to enforce the judgement because Article 54 of the Act on Private International and Procedural Law provides that the person against whom enforcement is requested should be duly summoned and represented before the foreign Court.
Time will tell if the verdict will prove to be valid on the face of the record and Fraud on the court claims. It seems that we must wait to see how The Florida State Court would rule on the validity of a record- setting questionable $740-million verdict.