Arrested Broker Suing Century 21 Loses Venue
(CN) - A man who says Century 21 unfairly ended their franchise agreement after he was arrested in a child sex sting must sue the realty company in Florida, a federal judge ruled.
After Century 21 Real Estate LLC entered into a franchise agreement with John Huebner on Aug. 1, 1999, Huebner became the sole owner of 1st Orlando Real Estate Services Inc., Orlando's first Century 21 real estate brokerage office.
Nearly seven years later, 1st Orlando contracted with Title Resource Group Affiliates Holding LLC on Jan. 25, 2006, to operate First Place Title LLC, a New Jersey-based Delaware firm offering title and settlement services for Orlando area residential real estate sales.
By early 2012, 1st Orlando had five locations and 200 agents, Huebner claims.
This "busy schedule severely strained his long-term relationship," however, so Huebner began using the online dating website plentyoffish.com, he says.
Huebner claims his "experience with the website took a dramatic turn for the worse" when he chatted with "Sherry Porter" on March 21, 2012.
Sherry allegedly identified herself as over 18, but Huebner says he arrived to meet her and was "bewildered" to find Osceola County sheriffs waiting to arrest him for sending sexually explicit messages to a child. A detective had set up the profile.
Days after the local press published Huebner's mug shots and charges - travel to meet a minor for sex, unlawful use of a two-way communications device, attempted lewd or lascivious battery, and use of a computer to solicit a child to commit sex - Century 21 and Title Resource Group terminated their agreements with the broker.
Huebner, "left breathless," filed a federal complaint against the two companies on behalf of 1st Orlando, alleging improper termination of contract. Though the companies are based in Delaware, Huebner said their principal places of business are in the Garden State, and he filed the suit there.
Huebner claims his conduct was "exactly the same as the other 3 million people who were using the website," and that Century 21 used his "false" arrest to unlawfully end their contract.
The broker was ultimately exonerated, and no charges were filed against him, according to the complaint.
"Huebner is aware of at least one Century 21 franchisee principal who was convicted of second degree murder who continues to operate his Century 21 franchise," the complaint states. "Upon information and belief, discovery will reveal other convicted criminals who operate Century 21 franchises."
U.S. District Judge Dennis Cavanaugh agreed last week to let Century 21 and Title Resource transfer the case from New Jersey to the Middle District of Florida.
"Since all the parties are located in Florida, the Middle District of Florida would naturally be more convenient," Cavanaugh wrote.
He added that "the law enforcement officers with knowledge of the incident are located in Florida, along with witnesses in the real estate community that could testify to the extent that Huebner's actions have damaged the goodwill in the community. Also, the testimony of' Florida witnesses could not he subpoenaed or compelled to testify by this court."
Both the public and private interest factors weigh in favor of transfer, the unpublished ruling states.
"In the present case, the critical event that led to the termination of the franchise agreement was Huebner's arrest which took place in Osceola County, Fl.," Cavanaugh wrote. "Nothing related to the aforementioned incident took place in New Jersey."