Florida Court Rules MMA Fighter Joe Schilling Acted in Self-Defense

Joe Schilling

Orlando, Fla., April 27, 2023 – A Florida court ruled that Joe Schilling, former professional mixed martial artist and Muay Thai world champion kickboxer, acted in lawful self-defense and is immune from lawsuit under Florida law, following allegations of battery and negligence stemming from a 2021 incident. Katz & Phillips, P.A., an Orlando-based law firm that specializes in self-defense and Second Amendment matters, represented Schilling in the case.

“This is a complete and total victory for Schilling who was widely criticized on social media after this incident occurred,” said David Katz, attorney and partner at Katz & Phillips, P.A. “It is also a lesson to those looking to make a quick buck by causing problems and claiming damages. Florida law protects those who are forced to protect themselves and their loved ones and our law firm is here to make sure those who are forced to defend themselves do not suffer further in our legal system either by wrongful arrest or wrongful civil actions such as this case.”

On June 27, 2021, Justin Balboa started a fight with Schilling at a bar in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. Schilling was forced to defend himself against the aggression of Balboa. Schilling saw Balboa dip his shoulder and move in to strike. However, the speed of Schilling’s hands allowed him to defend himself with two quick strikes, knocking Balboa out and neutralizing the threat against him.

But that was only the beginning of Schilling’s fight with Balboa. Although Balboa started the altercation, he hired a law firm to represent him in a battery and negligence lawsuit against Schilling and the establishment where the fight occurred, claiming more than $100,000 in damages. His attorneys immediately held a press conference and filed a lawsuit in which they disparaged Schilling’s character and claimed Balboa was “viciously attacked, physically struck and assaulted” by Schilling, further claiming that Schilling was, “uniquely skilled and trained to be brutally efficient and abnormally dangerous with his bare hands.” Balboa’s attorneys attempted to intimidate Schilling by threatening to “bankrupt him” and telling him that he should “get his schillings together.”

Schilling hired the law firm of Katz & Phillips, P.A. After watching video of the incident, which had been posted online, Katz assured Schilling that in his opinion the video showed a clear case of self-defense under Florida law and that the firm would file for immunity against the civil lawsuit. Under Florida law, a person who lawfully defends oneself is immune from criminal prosecution and civil suit. Further, the plaintiff is liable to the defendant for all attorneys’ fees and costs to defend the lawsuit if the defendant is found to be immune.

A hearing on Schilling’s immunity motion was held on June 27, 2022, and concluded on November 18, 2022. At the hearing, Katz successfully argued that it was Balboa who was the aggressor, and that Schilling was only defending himself. The video of the incident as well as the videos of Balboa’s interactions with law enforcement on the evening of the encounter and the next day were entered into evidence.

In his closing argument to the court, Katz showed a still photo of Balboa and Schilling immediately before the incident occurred standing face to face. He pointed out to the court that a professional fighter who was planning on hitting someone would never have been standing directly in front of that person flat footed with his hands down at his sides open handed. Katz also argued that Schilling used the minimal amount of force necessary to ensure his safety and neutralize the threat Balboa posed to him, then immediately walked away.

On April 19, almost two years after the incident occurred, Broward County Circuit Court Judge Fabienne E. Fahnestock issued her order finding Schilling had acted in lawful self-defense and was immune from lawsuit under Florida law. Judge Fahnestock in finding Schilling immune, wrote: “Schilling stepped outside to smoke. When he was returning to his table, Balboa, who was admittedly intoxicated at that point, stumbled into Schilling. The video… shows that Balboa apologized without looking at Schilling, and Schilling acknowledged the apology while continuing to walk back to his table. For some undetermined reason, Balboa calls out to Schilling. Schilling turns around and looks at Balboa in an unaggressive stance. Schilling’s feet were shoulder width apart and his hands were at his side. Balboa makes a feinting gesture towards Schilling. Schilling, who testified that he learned to anticipate punches as part of his training, instantly responded with two quick punches. Balboa fell to the floor unconscious.”

Judge Fahnestock went on to say: “The Court further finds that Schilling used only such force necessary to neutralize the threat, and is therefore entitled to immunity pursuant to §776.032, Florida Statute…  Defendant is entitled to an award of reasonable attorneys’ fees, court costs, compensation for loss of income, and all expenses incurred by defendant in defense of this action pursuant to §776.032(3), Fla. Stat.”

 

To learn more about Florida’s civil immunity law click here

To learn about immunity from criminal charges, click here

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