Behind the Closing Curtains: A Naples Daily News investigation and special report
The Theaters of James Duffy
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
The debt owed nationally by the man behind the closing curtains has risen again, now topping $25 million.
A Central Florida judge signed an order this week directing Atlanta-based businessman James Duffy’s American Theater Corp. to pay a total of more than $577,500 in damages and legal fees related to the 2009 closing of a downtown Orlando cinema.
Duffy was the subject of a Daily News investigation and report, called “Behind the closing curtains,” in its Sunday edition and on its website. The newspaper began investigating Duffy’s background when a Bonita Springs theater closed suddenly last fall after a seven-week run.
In its report, the newspaper tied Duffy or his string of companies to 69 lawsuits and $24.6 million in judgments for refusing to pay his bills through the years. The Daily News linked Duffy to 88 theaters in 26 states, tracing back to his first theater in Orlando in 1975.
Now, the judgment total is nearly $25.2 million, following an order signed Tuesday by Orange Circuit Judge Frederick Lauten in a case involving Plaza Cinema Cafe.
The 1,400-seat, 12-screen cinema in downtown Orlando opened in May 2009 and closed within months, according to Orlando-area media reports. Duffy’s company was sued by the landlord in November 2009 and the company agreed to leave the theater that December, according to court records.
Attorney Michael Hammond, who represented the corporate landlord RP Plaza Property, declined comment Wednesday on the judgment. So did Dan Soussan, a spokesman with RP Realty partners.
Duffy has been unavailable for comment despite repeated attempts and couldn’t be reached Wednesday about the Orlando judgment. He didn’t have an attorney in the Orlando-area case and was found in default for failing to hire a lawyer, as the judge had instructed Duffy to do, court records show.
In his order, Lauten said Duffy’s company owes RP Plaza more than $418,000 for the lease to the premises, plus more than $53,000 for utilities, $77,000-plus for parking-related expenses and legal fees of more than $29,000.
A judgment doesn’t mean RP Plaza collects the money from Duffy, only that it is entitled to the money. In its investigation, the Daily News found only a few judgments that Duffy or his companies has paid.
In a Texas case Duffy lost on appeal, he testified he had no income, no bank accounts with more than $16, no property worth more than $500 and owed back taxes to the IRS. The Daily News earlier this year traced Duffy to an Atlanta condominium, where the building’s concierge confirmed Duffy lived.
Earlier this week, a Lee civil court case involving the failed Bonita Springs movie theater was scheduled for a hearing on Duffy’s request to dismiss the lawsuit, but was delayed. An attorney for the lender, Wells Fargo, said it would be rescheduled.
Duffy’s North Naples attorney resigned from the case in mid-June, saying he hadn’t been paid. Duffy was instructed by Lee Circuit Judge Michael McHugh in mid-June to find a lawyer within 30 days but hadn’t done so as of Monday’s scheduled Lee hearing, court records show.
The Florida cases haven’t ended Duffy’s enterprise.
CityPulse, a website in Lansing, Mich., reported earlier this month that American Theatre Corp. received approval for a free liquor license from the Meridian Township Board of Trustees to take over a theater at the Meridian Mall in Okemos, Mich.
_ Compiled by Allen Bartlett of the Daily News staff and news correspondent Matt Clark