Establishing and Defending Attacks on Personal Jurisdiction in Florida

When an out-of-state defendant gets slapped with a summons from a Florida court with an order to appear and defend a lawsuit, the defendant may have questions (among other things, to say the least). Specifically, the defendant will not only want to know why the plaintiff picked a court in Florida, but if the plaintiff can sue the defendant there in general. This blog post helps answer these questions by discussing the beginning of every Florida lawsuit: the doctrine of personal jurisdiction.

Overview of Personal Jurisdiction in Florida

Establishing personal jurisdiction—that is, a court’s power to require a defendant come into the state to defend a lawsuit there—in Florida can sometimes be simple. For example, a Florida court has personal jurisdiction if the defendant is a Florida resident. See Patten v. Mokher, 184 So. 29, 30 (Fla. 1938). Additionally, for nonresident defendants, a Florida court has personal jurisdiction if the defendant is served with process while present within the state, see Beverley Beach Props. v. Nelson, 68 So. 2d 604, 608 (Fla. 1953), if the defendant waives its challenge to personal jurisdiction, see Solmo v. Friedman, 909 So. 2d 560, 564 (Fla. 4th DCA 2005), or if the defendant consents to a Florida court’s jurisdiction, see Global Satellite Comm’n Co. v. Sudline, 849 So. 2d 466, 469 (Fla. 4th DCA 2003).

However, other times, establishing personal jurisdiction—in particular, for nonresident defendants—is not so simple. In such cases, plaintiffs will look to establish personal jurisdiction over nonresident defendants through Florida’s long-arm statute. See Fla. Stat. § 48.193 (2017). Personal jurisdiction is established using Florida’s long-arm statute through a two-step process. First, section 48.193 must authorize the basis of jurisdiction, and second, that basis must meet the constitutional requirement of due process. See Venetian Salami Co. v. Parthenais, 554 So. 2d 499, 502 (Fla. 1989).

The Reach of Florida’s Long-Arm Statute

A nonresident defendant can be subject to personal jurisdiction under Florida’s long-arm statute in two ways. First, section 48.193(1)(a) enumerates specific acts that subject a defendant to specific personal jurisdiction—meaning the defendant can only be sued within Florida for a claim that relates to or arises from the defendant’s activities in Florida. See Fla. Stat. § 48.193(1)(a). In particular, these activities include:

  • Engaging in business
  • Committing a tort
  • Owning real estate
  • Contracting for insurance
  • Causing injury through solicitation of sales or services of products
  • Breaching a contract
  • Conceiving a child (only for paternity proceedings)

See Fla. Stat. § 48.193(1)(a).

Second, section 48.193(2) states if a defendant engages in “substantial and not isolated” activities within Florida, then the defendant is subject to general personal jurisdiction—meaning the defendant can be sued within Florida for any claim, even one entirely unrelated to its Florida activities. See Fla. Stat. § 48.193(2). Florida courts have held that “substantial and not isolated” means “continuous and systematic general business contact.” See Achievers Unlimited, Inc. v. Nutri Herb, Inc., 710 So. 2d 716, 720 (Fla. 4th DCA 1998). For example, a corporation has continuous and systematic general business contact with Florida if it is incorporated in Florida or if it has its principal place of business in Florida. See Goodyear Dunlop Tires Operations, S.A. v. Brown, 564 U.S. 915, 919 (2011). For more information on establishing personal jurisdiction over corporations, see Charles Jimerson’s blog post on establishing personal jurisdiction in Florida over out-of-state defendant corporations.

The Paradox of Minimum Contacts

Once it is determined Florida’s long-arm statute permits the court to exercise personal jurisdiction, it must be established that the exercise would be constitutional. It should be noted, however, that for general jurisdiction under section 48.193(2), unlike specific jurisdiction under section 48.193(1)(a), the two-part analysis noted above essentially collapses into one: If a defendant meets the “continuous and systematic” standard, then the court also has the constitutional power to assert personal jurisdiction. See Wood v. Nova Cos. Belize, Ltd., 739 So. 2d 617, 620 (Fla. 4th DCA 1999); Meyer v. Carnival Corp., 938 F. Supp. 2d 1251, 1258 (S.D. Fla. 2013).

Nonetheless, for specific jurisdiction under section 48.193(1)(a), the court still must determine if due process is satisfied independently. Due process is satisfied, and a Florida court may constitutionally exercise personal jurisdiction over a nonresident defendant if there are sufficient “minimum contacts” between the defendant and Florida such that maintaining the suit in Florida “does not offend traditional notions of fair play and substantial justice.” Ga. Insurers Insolvency Pool v. Brewer, 602 So. 2d 1264, 1268 (Fla. 1992) (quoting International Shoe Co. v. Washington, 326 U.S. 310, 316 (1945)). In analyzing this issue, Florida courts consider the foreseeability that the defendant’s conduct would result in the filing of a suit in Florida and the defendant’s purposeful availment of Florida’s privileges and protections. Id.

Florida courts examine the quality and nature of the nonresident defendant’s activities to determine if the defendant has sufficient minimum contacts with the state. See L.O.T.I. Grp. Prods. v. Lund, 907 F. Supp. 1528, 1533 (S.D. Fla. 1995). Consequently, a nonresident defendant never has to set foot in Florida to be subject to a Florida court’s jurisdiction, as minimum contacts can include telephonic, electronic, or written communications to Florida from an outside state provided the cause of action arises from those specific communications. See Wendt v. Horowitz, 822 So. 2d 1252, 1257-58 (Fla. 2002).

Points to Remember When Defending Attacks on Personal Jurisdiction in Florida

If the defendant challenges the court’s personal jurisdiction, remember these points:

  • The complaint is only required to contain a statement of the ultimate facts showing the existence of jurisdiction; it need not contain a statement of the evidentiary facts.
  • If the defendant submits an affidavit contesting the jurisdictional facts, the burden shifts to the plaintiff to submit an affidavit with facts that support the existence of jurisdiction.
  • Next, if the jurisdictional issue cannot be determined based on the affidavits, the judge must conduct an evidentiary hearing.
  • Also, the defendant can waive the right to assert that the court lacks personal jurisdiction as a defense. For example, the defense is waived if the defendant files a pleading or a motion without asserting the court’s lack of personal jurisdiction.

Conclusion

Establishing personal jurisdiction is a requirement for every lawsuit. Sometimes, establishing personal jurisdiction is easy; however, other times, the task is more challenging. Consequently, a thorough understanding of Florida’s long-arm statute, which allows Florida state courts to exercise jurisdiction over out-of-state defendants, can be an invaluable procedural tool.

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