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Tiger Woods, NDA's and Lawsuits: A Legal Breakdown

Tiger Woods is at the center of two lawsuits filed by his former girlfriend of six years, Erica Herman. The first of the two claims was filed in October 2022, and seeks over $30 million in damages for, among other reasons, being locked out of a seaside mansion that the couple lived in together. In the second complaint, just filed this week, Herman is asking a court to invalidate a non-disclosure agreement that she allegedly signed with Woods in 2017. Notably, on the civil cover sheet to the October complaint, Herman responded “no” to the question of whether the case involves allegations of sexual abuse, but “yes” to the same question in this week’s filing.

Changing the Locks

On October 26, 2022, Erica Herman filed a lawsuit not against Tiger Woods, but against the “Jupiter Island Irrevocable Homestead Trust,” which is a trust that holds the title on the home in question. In the complaint, she seeks $30 million in damages for what she says is the reasonable rental value for the remaining 5 years on their “oral tenancy agreement.”

Herman alleges that “by trickery,” she was convinced to pack a suitcase for a “short vacation” and, when she arrived at the airport, she was told that she had been locked out of the home and could not go back. She was also allegedly confronted by one of Tiger’s lawyers at the airport, who offered to pay for a hotel room and other expenses for a short period of time. Finally, she claims that $40,000 of her own cash and personal belongings were removed from the home and that “scurrilous” and defamatory allegations were made about how she obtained the money.

All these allegations, Herman says, are in an effort to “interfere with [her] advantageous contractual and business relationships” and are in violation of both the oral tenancy agreement – for which she performed “valuable services of an extensive and extraordinary nature” – and Florida’s Residential Landlord Tenant Act.

In its motion to dismiss the complaint, Tiger’s trust essentially argues that Herman was not a “tenant” as required for relief under the Act, but simply a disgruntled former lover who was kicked out of Tiger’s home. Additionally, they respond that any breach of the alleged oral contract – if one exists – would be barred by Florida’s Statute of Frauds. Notably, Herman also failed to sue a proper party, since a trust is not a “juristic person” that is capable of suing or being sued (she likely meant to sue the trustee of the trust).

Herman’s claims of a breach of the oral tenancy agreement are – at best – a long shot. Notwithstanding the fact that she will need to convince a judge that she and Tiger entered into an obscure 11-year oral tenancy agreement, she also fails to elaborate on the “extensive and extraordinary services” she provided in consideration of the oral agreement. If those justifications are not enough to grant the motion to dismiss, her claims are likely time-barred under Florida’s Statute of Frauds. Ultimately, this complaint has little chance at success.

Non-Disclosure Agreement

In a separate complaint filed in the same court in Martin County, Florida, Herman is asking a court to invalidate an NDA that she allegedly signed on August 9, 2017, when she and Tiger first started dating. Notably, this is not the first time a former lover of Tiger Woods was allegedly asked to sign an NDA. Rachel Uchitel, Tiger’s former girlfriend, also revealed that she signed a 30-page NDA in 2009 in exchange for a total of $8 million ($5 million upfront and $1 million annually for 3 years).

For her part, Herman claims that the NDA she signed is not judicially enforceable under the federal Speak Out Act. The Speak Out Act, which was signed into law by President Biden in December 2022, prevents the enforcement of non-disclosure and non-disparagement agreements in instances of sexual assault and harassment. Importantly, she did not specifically accuse Woods of harassment or assault in the complaint. Instead, she claims that she is unsure whether she may disclose facts giving rise to the “various legal claims she believes she has” because of the aggressive use of the NDA against her. Woods’ attorneys are seeking to enforce the NDA dispute through arbitration, citing a provision in the contract itself that states that any disputes should be overseen by an independent arbiter, rather than the courts.

Although they have certainly caused headlines, what actually comes of these complaints remains to be seen. In the meantime, a court will have to decide whether Herman was simply a “guest” in Tiger’s home rather than a tenant, and whether the 5-year-old NDA is enforceable.

John Nucci is the Chief Golf Correspondent for Conduct Detrimental and a Corporate Associate Attorney in New York. He can be reached via Twitter at @JNucci23 or by email at [email protected].

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