Title attorneys fire back at Dustin Johnson lawsuit

Wittstadts say Johnson’s “shotgun” lawsuit is meritless and libelous

Two of the attorneys who stand accused of conspiring to steal $3 million from PGA golfer Dustin Johnson have fired back at Johnson’s claims, stating that Johnson’s lawsuit is without merit, devoid of facts, “patently false” and a “travesty to legal pleading.”

Mark and Gerard (Rod) Wittstadt, who Johnson accused of conspiring with Nathan (Nat) Hardwick to steal $3 million from Johnson, have filed a motion to dismiss Johnson’s lawsuit, stating that Johnson’s “shotgun” lawsuit lacks any factual support.

According to the Wittstadts’ motion to dismiss, filed Monday and obtained by HousingWire, Hardwick acted alone to steal $3 million from Johnson and the Wittstadts were not aware of the alleged theft until Johnson’s lawyer sent them a letter on October 14 demanding the $4 million Johnson says he is owed.

According to Johnson’s lawsuit, filed a week ago in in United States District Court for the Northern District of Georgia and also obtained by HousingWire, Hardwick and the Wittstadts used their positions as Johnson’s “trusted advisors” to steal $3 million from him to cover shortages in the firm’s accounts created by Hardwick himself, who allegedly embezzled at least $30 million from the firm’s own accounts and the firm’s trust accounts.

Hardwick resigned his positions as managing partner of Morris Hardwick Schneider and its affiliated company, LandCastle Title, in August, after “substantial escrow account misappropriations” were discovered with the accounts of MHS and LandCastle.

A lawsuit filed by Morris Hardwick Schneider, now known as Morris Schneider Wittstadt, the Wittstadts and LandCastle Title in Georgia’s Fulton County Superior Court, alleged Hardwick of stealing at least $30 million from the firm and the title company to pay for private jets, cover real estate investment losses, cover millions in gambling debts and other investments.

Johnson’s lawsuit states that Hardwick “played a particularly unique and significant role of trust and confidence” in Johnson’s life, serving as one of his primary advisors on all matters relating to his career as a professional golfer.

In the immediate aftermath of Hardwick’s alleged misdeeds being revealed by HousingWire, Hardwick’s name and picture were removed from Johnson’s website.

Johnson’s lawsuit alleges that before the allegations were made public, Hardwick approached Johnson about a “really good investment.” Hardwick allegedly advised Johnson that if he loaned the firm $3 million, the firm would pay him back $4 million in equal monthly installments over a 30-month term, beginning on Sept. 6 and secured by a promissory note.

Johnson’s lawsuit says that Hardwick concealed his alleged theft from Johnson. The lawsuit states that Hardwick, Mark Wittstadt, and Rod Wittstadt “entered into a conspiracy” to use the firm’s clients and Hardwick’s business contacts to misappropriate their money “under false pretenses” to fund the firm’s operations.

In the Wittstadts’ motion to dismiss, they claim that they were unaware that Hardwick approached Johnson with the “investment” opportunity and that Hardwick alone told Johnson to wire $3 million into one of the firms’ accounts.

“Like many others, Dustin Johnson misplaced trust in Nat Hardwick, his close friend,” the Wittstadts’ motion states. “But that doesn’t forgive the knowingly false conclusions Johnson throws at Morris Schneider Wittstadt, MSWLaw, Inc., Mark Wittstadt and Rod Wittstadt, in this lawsuit. Because they lack any factual support and are contrary to controlling law, the Court should dismiss with prejudice Johnson’s “shotgun” claims leveled at the Wittstadt defendants.”

The motion says that when Johnson’s list of allegations is “stripped of rhetoric and speculation,” the lawsuit boils down to the fact that Hardwick told Johnson to wire the money to the firm, absent any communication with the Wittstadts and without ever executing a written not or guaranty that would obligate the Wittstadts to repay Johnson any money.

The Wittstadts’ motion states that Johnson’s lawsuit incorrectly identifies Hardwick as a representative of the firm, given that he resigned his position as the firm’s managing partner when HousingWire first reported the allegations against Hardwick.

“On or around August 27, 2014, the allegations against Hardwick were made public,” Johnson’s lawsuit states. “Despite the serious allegations against him, Hardwick assured Mr. Johnson that Hardwick had done nothing wrong, and that Mr. Johnson’s loan was safe. Despite these assurances, (the firm) failed to make the required monthly payments on September 6, 2014, and October 6, 2014.”

The Wittstadts’ motion also states that Hardwick denied the allegations that he embezzled the $30 million from the firm when “confronted” by the Wittstadts.

“Likewise, when confronted by the Wittstadts, Hardwick denied wrongdoing and said he would put money back into the firm to replace funds he had received ‘in error,’” the Wittstadts motion states. “Hardwick maintained, in writing and orally, that the funds were his money—from his personal accounts or personally borrowed by him.”

The Wittstadts’ motion does not deny that Johnson wired the money into the firm’s account, but states that the Wittstadts had no knowledge of any agreement between Hardwick and Johnson.

The Wittstadts’ motion also calls Johnson’s career status and integrity into question.

“Johnson is, or was, a professional golfer,” the motion states. “Apparently his status is in doubt, as Johnson has taken an indefinite leave of absence from the PGA Tour amid allegations of substance abuse.”

Johnson was reportedly suspended from the PGA Tour in August after testing positive for cocaine. From the report:

“According to a source, Johnson has failed three drug tests: one for marijuana in 2009 and two for cocaine, in 2012 and 2014. He was previously suspended for the 2012 failed test, but that suspension was never made public. Under the PGA Tour’s drug-testing policies, the Tour is not required to announce any disciplinary actions against players who test positive for recreational drugs.”

The Wittstadts’ motion states that Hardwick and Johnson were “very, very close,” but states that much of the remaining claims in Johnson’s lawsuit “consist either of patently false and irrelevant ‘facts,’ or completely unsupported, inactionable, conclusory statements.”

The Wittstadts’ motion also states that Johnson made many of the “false” claims in an effort to discourage them from defending themselves against his claims.

“In sum, while long on hyperbole and inflammatory accusation, the Complaint is bereft of any facts showing the Wittstadt Defendants to be any more than victims of Hardwick’s alleged misconduct,” the motion states.

“While Dustin Johnson’s complaint against the Wittstadt Defendants may be a tribute to creative fiction, it is a travesty to legal pleading,” the motion continues.

“Purposely abusing the Federal Court system to falsely accuse good, ethical lawyers of crimes and lies should be severely punished, but today is not the day for that. Instead, the Wittstadt Defendants show the Court that shotgun pleading to paint a patently false picture is not condoned. Throwing libelous accusations against the wall to see if they stick does not meet any acceptable pleading standard. And, spitting out terms like ‘racketeering’ and ‘wire fraud’ with no legal or factual foundation cannot save a meritless suit.”

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