Robinson contends Sloan not entitled to punitive damages in defamation case filed late last year

Sept. 28 hearing scheduled on Sloan’s motion

Magistrate Deborah Bailey. Image from the 12th Judicial Circuit website

A 15-minute hearing has been scheduled for 11 a.m. on Thursday, Sept. 28, regarding a motion that a Sarasota County resident has filed regarding punitive damages in a lawsuit involving Eric Robinson of Venice, a past chair of the Republican Party of Sarasota County.

The hearing will be conducted before Magistrate Deborah Bailey, via Zoom, the notice says.

As The Sarasota News Leader has reported, in late 2022, Paul Sloan, founder, owner and administrator of Sarasota County Pain Management Clinic (PMC), filed a lawsuit in the 12th Judicial Circuit Court, alleging that Robinson had defamed him in Facebook posts. The statements were related to Sarasota County School Board issues.

In one of the posts, Robinson called Sloan a “Drug dealer,” while in another, Robinson wrote, “Paul Sloan makes money destroying peoples [sic] lives.”
Sloan points out in his complaint that he was a “leader in ending the ‘Pill Mill’/Opioid Epidemic” in the county.”

He argues that Robinson not only has accused him of committing a crime, but that Robinson also “purport[s] a character inconsistent with [Sloan’s] lawful business. As such,” the complaint says, “the defamatory allegations tend to injure his status and reputation.”

Robinson has contended that the Facebook posts Sloan cited were taken out of context, as they preceded “disparaging comments about [Robinson] by Paul Sloan.”

This is the log-in information for the Sept. 28 hearing via Zoom. Image courtesy Karen Rushing, Clerk of the Circuit Court and County Comptroller

In April, Sloan’s attorney filed the motion seeking the court’s approval to amend the original complaint to seek the punitive damages.

The attorney — Robert E. Turffs of Sarasota — cited as a basis for that action the ruling in a 2010 Florida Fourth District Court of Appeal case, Lawnwood Med. Ctr., Inc. v. Sadow. That decision made it clear that “defamation is an intentional tort and will support [a claim for] punitive damages.”

Cornell Law School’s Legal Information Institute defines “tort” as “an act or omission that gives rise to injury or harm to another and amounts to a civil wrong for which courts impose liability.”

On July 19, Robinson’s attorney — Patrick J. Reilly of Venice — filed a response to Sloan’s motion involving the punitive damages.

First, Reilly pointed out, that Section 768.72 of the Florida Statutes “provides that a claim for punitive damages will not be permitted unless there is a ‘reasonable showing by evidence in the record or proffered by the claimant which would provide a reasonable basis for recovery of such damages.’ ”

Attorney Patrick J. Reilly. Image from the Snyder & Reilly law firm website

In the Sloan case, Reilly continued, the sole evidence cited “to support [Sloan’s] claim for punitive damages consists of three statements [that Robinson allegedly made]” and Sloan’s answer, under oath, “to Interrogatories in which he denies selling drugs to minors, denies selling either illegal drugs or drugs legally, and sets forth his interest in certain businesses.”

Interrogatories” are lists of questions that one party sends to another in a legal case in an effort to gather information that the party can use to try to win its case.

In support of Robinson’s position in the Sloan case, Reilly cited the Florida Fourth District Court of Appeal’s decision in the 2016 case, Tilton v. Wrobel.

In that opinion, as shown on, the court determined that “there was no dispute as to the words petitioner Tilton, an executive of the company, wrote in [a] letter to Forbes magazine stating that [Wrobel] stole from the company …” The court added that, in an affidavit in the case, Wrobel “stated that he did not steal from the company.”

However, the Fourth District Court explained, Tilton had argued to the trial court that, for punitive damages to be allowed, the jury had to be able to conclude, “by clear and convincing evidence, that [Tilton] knew the statement that [Wrobel] stole money from the company was false.”

Wrobel had cited the Lawnwood Medical Center ruling, the Fourth District Court pointed out, in arguing that he was entitled “to seek punitive damages because malice is presumed, and punitive damages are appropriate, even if the jury concludes there are no compensatory damages.”

Yet, as Reilly explained in his motion on behalf of Robinson, “The appellate court ruled that “[Wrobel’s] self-serving affidavit, asserting that he did not steal money from the company, was legally insufficient to show [Tilton’s] knowledge of the falsity of the alleged defamatory statement.”

Circuit Judge Danielle Brewer is presiding over the case. Image from the 12th Judicial Circuit website

Sloan “has presented as little evidence … if not less, as [Wrobel] did in Tilton,” Reilly contended. Sloan “simply stated that [Robinson] made some alleged defamatory statements which are not true …” Therefore, Reilly continued, Sloan believes he is entitled to punitive damages.

Sloan “has failed to provide any evidence whatsoever that [Robinson] knew or should have known” that the statements he made “were not true,” Reilly added.

In February, 12th Judicial Circuit Court Judge Danielle Brewer scheduled a civil trial in Sloan’s case, saying it would be conducted during the trial period beginning on Feb. 26, 2024 and ending on March 8, 2024. The parties have anticipated that the proceeding will last three days, Brewer noted in her order. The trial is to be conducted at the new South County Courthouse in Venice, which stands at 4004 S. Tamiami Trail.