Joe Carollo Loses Ball & Chain Lawsuit, Ordered to Pay Miami Bar Owners $63M | Miami New Times


Joe Carollo Loses Ball & Chain Lawsuit, Ordered to Pay Miami Bar Owners $63M

"It’s about time the corruption was called out," Bill Fuller said outside the courtroom following the verdict.
Say it ain't so, Joe! Miami city commissioner Joe Carollo will almost assuredly appeal the June 1 jury verdict.
Say it ain't so, Joe! Miami city commissioner Joe Carollo will almost assuredly appeal the June 1 jury verdict. Photo by Office of Joe Carollo via Facebook
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Following a nearly two-month civil trial, Miami city commissioner Joe Carollo has been ordered to cough up more than $60 million in damages for harassing and violating the civil rights of two Little Havana business owners.

On June 1, a Broward County jury reached a verdict in favor of Ball & Chain owner Bill Fuller and his business partner Martin Pinilla, finding that Carollo must pay them $63.5 million in compensatory and punitive damages stemming from a 2018 federal lawsuit in which they accused the commissioner of vengefully directing municipal employees to target the duo's businesses over a personal vendetta.

According to WLRN reporter Joshua Ceballos, Fuller could be seen crying in the courtroom as the verdict was read aloud. Carollo, on the other hand, remained stoic.

"It's about time the corruption was called out," an emotional Fuller said outside the Broward County courtroom following the verdict.
Deliberations in the case began May 31, and shortly after that, the jury foreperson sent Southern District of Florida Judge Rodney Smith a note asking, "What information do we consider or use to determine Joe Carollo's financial resources as it pertains to punitive damages?"

The judge responded that the jury should "rely on the evidence" and prior instructions from the court.

The following morning, just before 10 a.m., the jury reached a verdict, awarding $8.6 million in compensatory damages and $25.7 million in punitive damages to Fuller while granting $7.3 million in compensatory damages and $21.9 million in punitive damages to Pinilla.

"Five and a half years it took us to get here. Not only was [Carollo] a bully but he was also a coward. He used every legal remedy to take us all the way to the Supreme Court, hoping that he would break us so that we wouldn't arrive today," Fuller said. "We are proud today that this jury, this judge, found our way. And once and for all, it feels great to finally smush that cucaracha."

Carollo's attorney Mason Pertnoy released a statement saying Carollo "will seek to exercise all legal rights available to him, including appellate review."

"Unlike the plaintiffs, who seem to have now resorted to disparaging comments about the commissioner and City of Miami employees, the commissioner will continue to serve all citizens of District 3 and the City of Miami fairly and equally in protecting health, safety, and quality of life," Pertnoy said.

In October 2018, Fuller and Pinilla filed the federal lawsuit against Carollo in his personal capacity, accusing the commissioner of mounting a campaign of targeted harassment against them. They claimed Carollo sicced code enforcement and city employees on Ball & Chain (a lounge with a storied history in Little Havana), Union Beer Store (a craft beer bar), and Sanguich de Miami (an eatery that serves Cuban sandwiches) in retaliation for the plaintiffs' support of Carollo's opponent in the 2017 run-off election for city commission.

"Carollo's actions, designed to destroy plaintiffs' businesses and reputations, [are] pure political payback — targeting plaintiffs simply because they dared to support Carollo's opponent in a run-off election, and because they filed an ethics complaint against Carollo," the lawsuit alleged.

Carollo was accused of stalking the parking lot of Ball & Chain and proclaiming, "I am the law!" to an employee. Fuller and Pinilla argued Carollo's actions violated their First Amendment rights and cost them millions of dollars in profits.

The lawsuit stalled in court for three years while Carollo's attorneys attempted to have the case dismissed, arguing that their client was protected by qualified and legislative immunity — legal principles that shield police and elected officials from liability for their actions on the job. But the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit ruled against Carollo in February 2022, clearing the way for a trial.

His trial in the Southern District of Florida kicked off April 10, featuring heated testimony from a laundry list of municipal higher-ups, including ex-city manager Emilio Gonzalez and former Miami Police Chief Art Acevedo, both of whom attested to instances where the city singled out Fuller and Pinilla's businesses.

Carollo's lawyer Benedict Kuehne previously told New Times that the lawsuit was a baseless case "brought by local business owners who continue to refuse to comply with the laws applicable to all business owners in the City of Miami."

In a now-denied motion for judgment, Carollo argued that Fuller and Pinilla repeatedly performed work without a permit and that the code violations against them were legitimate. The commissioner separately claimed that the pair failed to provide documentation to support their computation of the damages they allegedly sustained in their individual capacities.

Fuller and Pinilla maintained that they lost multiple business opportunities because of the reputational damage done by Carollo and fear among prospective partners that the city would target them under the commissioner's direction if they did business with the pair. As for the Sanguich property, Fuller and Pinilla claimed they missed out on a ten-year lease opportunity worth at least $2.6 million due to Carollo's actions.

Ball & Chain, Taquerias El Mexicano, and other businesses tied to Fuller have a separate lawsuit pending against the City of Miami over the alleged retaliatory scheme.
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