Sun, 10 Dec 2023

ATLANTA (CN) - Florida-based TaxiNet asked an 11th Circuit panel on Thursday to overturn a federal judge's erasure of a $300 million jury verdict in a lawsuit against a former Mexico City congressman who the company says cut it out of a $2.4 billion tech deal.

TaxiNet hit ex-politician Santiago Leon with an unjust enrichment claim after a collaboration to secure an exclusive licensing, or "concession," agreement to install an Uber-like ride-hail mobile app in Mexico City's taxis soured. The company claimed Leon secretly hired a software developer to create an identical version of its app.

A jury awarded TaxiNet 12.5% of the purported value of the 2016 agreement Leon's business reached with the government of Mexico City, but the judge in the case tossed out the award last year after finding that it was not sufficiently supported by evidence.

An attorney for TaxiNet on Thursday urged a three-judge panel of the 11th Circuit to reinstate the jury's award, arguing that the $2.4 billion valuation of the deal suggested by Goldman Sachs in 2018 should have been evidence enough to support the verdict.

"The jury did have in the evidence multiple, multiple times what the ultimate value of the agreement was," attorney Christopher John King of Homer Bonner Jacobs told the panel.

The judges appeared skeptical of King's arguments, echoing concerns raised by the lower court with respect to the three years between the valuation and the 2015 collaboration that TaxiNet claims benefitted Leon.

"There's a lot of water under the bridge and a lot of things have happened," U.S. Circuit Judge Robin Rosenbaum said, alluding to Leon's development of his own taxi-hailing app and his claims that TaxiNet's owner misrepresented its app's capabilities. "How do we get from - under Florida law where we have to show what the value of that [benefit] is - how do we get from that to the period of time where the jury found that the value was bestowed?"

The jury found Leon received a benefit from TaxiNet in August 2015 when it combined its tech-savvy with Leon's political connections to pitch a video presentation on the app to Mexico City's Secretary of Mobility. Attorneys for TaxiNet have argued Leon benefitted from the company's "business plan, know-how and technology."

TaxiNet and Leon cut ties in October 2015 and the 10-year concession agreement was awarded to Servicios Digitales Lusad S. de R.L. de C.V., a Mexican company partially owned by Leon, in 2016. Mexico City later expropriated the concession, according to a brief filed with the 11th Circuit by Leon's attorneys.

U.S. District Judge Federico Moreno ruled the jury's damage award was based on "hearsay and speculation," noting the Goldman Sachs valuation was not in evidence, that there was no actual evidence of the market value of TaxiNet's purported services and any valuation at the time TaxiNet conferred a benefit on Leon was speculative.

King told the appellate panel that regardless of the evidence - or lack thereof - surrounding TaxiNet's services, "it was appropriate to say we want a percentage of what we contributed."

But attorney Raoul Cantero of White & Case, who represents Leon, said he believed the actual value of TaxiNet's knowledge and services "would have been miniscule compared to seeking $2.4 billion which had nothing to do with any value of what they were giving."

 "They could have brought in an expert to testify... about the cost of developing the app, the business plan, the know-how. There was no evidence whatsoever of any know-how or of the value of anything," Cantero said.

He also argued TaxiNet's initial app, which had been developed for use in Ecuador, was not ready for the Mexico City market at the time of the 2015 pitch and that its supposed valuation had nothing to do with the value of the app later developed by Leon's company.

"Whatever value that app had was certainly not the value of a different app three years later that they said was worth $2.4 billion," Cantero said.

Rosenbaum was joined on the panel by fellow Obama appointee U.S. Circuit Judge Adalberto Jordan and U.S. District Judge Anna Manasco, a Donald Trump appointee sitting by designation from the Northern District of Alabama.

The panel did not indicate when it will reach a decision in the case.

Source: Courthouse News Service

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