No Lost Profits in the Riviera Maya

Except perhaps for emotional distress, lost profits continue to be one of the most difficult measures of damages to sustain on appeal. In this instance, Timothy Barton and two other individuals formed a corporation, JMJ Development, to develop resort properties in the Riviera Maya of Mexico. The company entered into non-binding letters of intent with both property owners and the owners of the W Hotel and St. Regis Hotel brands. Before those deals were completed, however, Barton formed a new corporation, JMJ Hospitality, and the record included evidence that he instructed the landowners to deal with the new company instead of JMJ Development. The jilted business associates sued for breach of fiduciary duty, breach of their shareholder agreement, tortious interference, and conspiracy. The jury returned a verdict of $7 million for past lost profits on the fiduciary duty claim and $3 million in future lost profits on the breach of contract claim.

The Court of Appeals reversed and rendered, concluding that there was insufficient evidence the original company ever had the ability to develop the properties in the first place. Although they had multiple letters of intent, the evidence showed those letters had expired of their own terms, and there had never been any binding contracts for the purchase or development of the properties. The meant there was no causation for the lost profits claimed by Barton’s former business owners. The plaintiffs also failed to account for subsequent events — namely, the economic recession that started after Barton formed his new company — and that failure rendered their lost profits model speculative and not reasonably certain. The plaintiffs also confused projected items of income as profits, without properly accounting for associated expenses. Without any reliable, non-speculative evidence of the plaintiffs’ lost damages, the Court of Appeals reversed the jury’s verdict and the trial court’s judgment.

Barton v. Resort Dev. Latin Am., Inc., No 05-11-00769-CV

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