Court says lawsuit against former Miami City Attorney Victoria Méndez can move forward

A Florida appeals court said a lawsuit accusing former Miami City Attorney Victoria Méndez of conspiring with her husband to defraud a Little Havana homeowner out of his home can move forward.

On Wednesday, a panel of judges from Florida’s Third District Court of Appeal denied Méndez’s motion to dismiss the complaint filed against her in 2023 by Jose Alvarez, a Sumter County resident. The lawsuit also names Méndez’s husband and his company, Express Homes, as well as the city of Miami, as defendants in the alleged house-flipping scheme.

Méndez had argued that, as the city attorney, she was entitled to “sovereign immunity,” which generally protects government entities from lawsuits. But the appeals court on Wednesday said Alvarez’s complaint “contains sufficient allegations to survive a motion to dismiss” on those grounds, effectively moving the lawsuit one step closer to a potential trial.

The appeals court determined, however, that the plaintiffs failed to give the city proper notice before filing the lawsuit, meaning they will need to refile the complaint in order to name the city as a defendant.

Alvarez’s lawsuit became a sticking point for Méndez at the end of her 20-year career in City Hall. It alleges that Méndez and her husband orchestrated a “conspiratorial scheme to enrich” themselves. After Méndez’s husband purchased Alvarez’s Little Havana home in 2017, the lawsuit alleges that he then renovated it, mostly without permits, and used his political connections in City Hall to have the code violations — which included over $270,000 in fines — cleared by the city’s code enforcement board, later selling the home for $165,000 more than he bought it.

According to the lawsuit, Alvarez had initially contacted Méndez to determine how to best address the code violations on his home.

“Under the guise of assisting Jose Alvarez with his desperate situation as a disinterested public official,” the lawsuit says, Méndez referred Alvarez to her husband, who allegedly “represented that the value of the Alvarez Home was substantially diminished.”

In a statement issued last March, Méndez called the lawsuit’s allegations “patently false.”

Alvarez’s attorney Jeff Gutchess also represents Little Havana businessmen Bill Fuller and Martin Pinilla, who are entangled in a lengthy legal battle against Miami City Commissioner Joe Carollo and other city employees.

READ MORE: Judge mutes Miami city attorney’s mic during heated testimony in home-flipping lawsuit

Méndez said in a statement last year that the plaintiffs in those cases “have tried to bully me to not do my job as the City Attorney, harass me in the media at least three times with similar lawsuits and ethics complaints and media tactics.” She said their actions are part of an “intentional scheme to thwart justice.”

“I am saddened that my husband who has only helped this community through his business and dedication is being maligned by these cowards who stand behind their corruption, unlimited money and high powered attorneys to only do us harm,” Méndez continued in the statement.

Méndez’s last day in City Hall is slated for June 11, according to a resolution passed by the City Commission last month. The commission had voted in January to extend Méndez’s contract just five months, effectively pushing her out of City Hall while giving her time to transition off the job. Then in April, commissioners voted to immediately demote her from the city attorney post, relegating her to a transitional role on staff in the City Attorney’s Office until her final day. The commission then named George Wysong, who was a deputy city attorney, as Méndez’s successor.

Neither Méndez nor Wysong responded to the Herald’s request for comment or questions about whether the city is paying Méndez’s legal bills for the Alvarez lawsuit and if it would continue to do so when her employment with the city ends.