Michael Maugans Quoted in OBJ on Lawsuit Against Former First Horizon Bank Executive

By October 21, 2021December 8th, 2021In The News
Matthew Holtz

First Horizon Bank Sues Former Orlando Market President

By Ryan Lynch, Reporter

First Horizon Bank has filed a civil lawsuit in Orange County against one of its former Central Florida market presidents.

The Memphis, Tennessee-based bank alleges that its former top executive Ross Breunig breached his “fiduciary duty of loyalty” to it by negotiating to become the new CEO of Maitland-based Axiom Bank, per a complaint filed on Sept. 16 in Orange County Circuit Court.

First Horizon alleges that Breunig negotiated employment opportunities at Axiom Bank for himself and eight other bank staff members during First Horizon’s regular business hours and that he continued to recruit First Horizon staff members after he joined Axiom.

“During his employment with First Horizon, Breunig worked out of First Horizon’s Orlando office,” the complaint states. “This is where the conflict of interest arose in which Breunig promoted his own self-interest against the needs of his employer First Horizon by, among other things, soliciting and causing his fellow employees to resign and join a competing financial institution.”

The complaint claims that Breunig began negotiating for the position in early 2021 and tendered his resignation from First Horizon in July, along with the others who left for Axiom. He had joined First Horizon as its top local executive in February 2019.

First Horizon is seeking damages in excess of $100,000, according to court documents. Executives with the bank were not available for comment.

The lawsuit is directed at Breunig as an individual. Axiom Bank representatives declined to comment on the case. Axiom Bank’s website does not currently list a CEO as of Oct. 21.

Breunig is being represented by attorney John S. “Evan” Gibbs III, an Atlanta-based associate of Troutman Pepper law firm, and First Horizon is being represented attorney by Hal K. Litchford, a partner in Baker Donelson law firm’s Orlando office, and Melissa Campbell, of counsel with the Orlando Baker Donelson office. None of the attorneys were available for comment.

A case management conference is scheduled for Dec. 17.

Breach of fiduciary cases in Florida, while common, often are tied to other business tort causes of action, Michael Maugans, an attorney in the commercial litigation department at the Miami-based law firm Pathman Lewis who is not involved with the case, told Orlando Business Journal.

Many complaints will include the breach of fiduciary duty while also alleging another business tort, such as breach of contract. “Part of this is that establishing a breach of fiduciary duty is more difficult than showing a breach of contract,” Maugans said.

For these types of fiduciary cases in general, if a party cannot demonstrate a relationship exists, the court will dismiss the count before the pleading stage ends, Maugans added. Otherwise, the issue of whether that fiduciary relationship occurred likely would be decided at summary judgment or trial unless the parties resolve it beforehand.