FORT MYERS — Behind the Closing Curtains: A Naples Daily News investigation and special report
The Theaters of James Duffy
A court hearing Monday in Fort Myers for Atlanta-based theater company operator James Duffy was delayed, but the sides are expected to return another day to argue whether the civil case should go forward.
Duffy, who has a history of failed theater projects across the nation, was a no-show Monday when the lawsuit over a closed Bonita Springs movie theater had a scheduled hearing.
The hearing was delayed by a request submitted Monday morning by an attorney representing the project lender, Wells Fargo, Lee court officials said.
Wells Fargo has sued Duffy’s American Theater Corp. and Duffy, among others, alleging the lender was the victim of fraud in the opening and sudden closing of Prado Cinema Cafe in Bonita Springs. The theater closed after a seven-week run last year.
Duffy was in the spotlight when the Daily News reported in its Sunday edition and on its website that it had investigated Duffy’s background, finding that Duffy or his companies have been sued at least 69 times and ordered to pay nearly $25 million in judgments in the past 20-plus years for refusing to pay his bills. The Daily News tied Duffy to 88 theaters in 26 states, spanning decades.
Yet Duffy’s America Theater Corp. apparently isn’t finished; a recent news report says the company is working to take over a mall theater in Lansing, Mich.
Clayton Crevasse, a Fort Myers attorney for Roetzel & Andress, which is representing Wells Fargo, said Monday he can’t discuss why he asked for the delay in the hearing on Duffy’s motion to dismiss Wells Fargo’s lawsuit.
Crevasse said he expects Duffy’s motion to dismiss will be rejected when it comes to court and further fact-finding in the Bonita Springs case will move forward.
“He’s sort of the common thread in all of these problems,” Crevasse said of Duffy and the Lee civil case.
Duffy’s North Naples attorney resigned from the case in mid-June and Duffy was instructed by Lee Circuit Judge Michael McHugh to find a lawyer within 30 days, court records show. But as of Monday, the court file showed Duffy has no attorney.
Later this week in Orlando, a judge could order a final judgment in a 2009 lawsuit against American Theater Corp. in a dispute over a Central Florida theater. In July, an Orange circuit judge ruled Duffy was in default for failing to heed the judge’s directive to hire a lawyer to handle the case.
Meanwhile, CityPulse, a website in Lansing, Mich., has reported that American Theatre Corp. was awarded a free liquor license by the Meridian Township Board of Trustees to take over a theater at the Meridian Mall in Okemos, Mich.
CityPulse reported earlier this month that the trustees recommended the state Liquor Control Commission grant the license to the Lansing Theatre Co., a subsidiary of American Theatre Corp.
By the numbers
Court cases found: 69
Number of money judgments: 47
Judgment total: $24.6 million
Amount paid: $141,208.84
Total theaters found: 88
Number of theaters announced that never opened: 21
Number of theaters open less than 3 years: 37
Number of theaters open 3 years or more: 30
Number of states: 26
Number of theaters in Florida (most of any state): 17
Source: Daily News analysis of media reports, corporate filings, court cases, and interviews