Stolen DNA, a Hate-Mail Campaign, and a Tennis Court Manager: How the Court Must Decide an Insurer’s Alleged Role in Scandal
Since as early as 2009, neighbors Isaac “Ike” Perlmutter, Marvel chairman, and Toronto businessman Harold Peerenboom have been at odds, culminating in a DNA-stealing scandal between Perlmutter and Peerenboom’s insurance company.
In 2009, the Florida-based Sloan’s Curve gated community neighbors had a dispute over who would run the local tennis program. Perlmutter won out, and his pick, Karen Donnelly, became the tennis center manager.
Peerenboom was not impressed.
He said that, because Donnelly was working reportedly without a contract, her employment broke Florida law. By 2010, Peerenboom had begun an anonymous defamatory mailing campaign against Donnelly, making his distaste for her known to other condominium residents. Donnelly, financially supported by Perlmutter and his wife Laura, sued for defamation.
In the interim, Peerenboom had found himself caught in his own hate-mail campaign. Anonymous letters were being sent to Peerenboom’s friends, alleging he was a murderer and accusing him of sexual assault, among other things. He believed Perlmutter to be behind the thousands of letters sent.
Peerenboom held an insurance policy through Federal Insurance Company, a subsidiary of Chubb Limited, that would defend him against “defamation of character” suits at its “own expense, with counsel of [its] choice.” Federal assigned staff attorney William Douberley to the case.
When Peerenboom and Douberley met to discuss the Donnelly case in 2012, Peerenboom brought up his suspicions regarding Perlmutter and the hate-mail against him. Peerenboom explained that he had already sent “unopened copies of [hate-mail against Peerenboom] … to Ottawa requesting DNA testing so he could pursue charges of postal fraud” against Perlmutter.
While this allegation was not pertinent to the details of the Donnelly case, Peerenboom and Douberley looked at the opportunities available to them.
Douberley’s overarching goal was to help Peerenboom discredit Donnelly and her financiers, which was in line with Federal’s policy that staff attorneys could use “litigation that it’s defending for an insured to gather evidence … to use in a separate third-party litigation that … the insured will file against somebody else.”
However, Douberley’s strategy proved less than ideal; together with Peerenboom, the pair strategized how to acquire Perlmutter and his wife’s DNA without receiving explicit permission from either.
Eventually, water bottles collected from Ike and Laura Perlmutter were tested and even an alleged match was found between the unopened hate-mail Peerenboom saved and Laura Perlmutter.
The Perlmutters have now issued a suit against Peerenboom and Douberley, as well as Federal Insurance and the DNA forensics lab used to allege the match. The Perlmutters are saying the claims are false, the DNA does not in fact match Laura’s and that any DNA used should be seen as stolen property. The case has just begun.
Federal has declined to comment while litigation is ongoing.
Scorecard: Ike and Laura Perlmutter have sued Peerenboom and co. for “organizing and carrying out an international conspiracy to surreptitiously and illegally collect, analyze, and disclose the Perlmutter’s genetic information” in an effort to defame the couple.
Takeaway: Insurance companies that provide counsel to insureds must review the tactics and strategies their attorneys are putting into place, lest they find themselves swept up in the scandal. &