Personal Jurisdiction

Posted: December 26, 2016 By: De Novo Review Category: Civil Procedure

Category: Civil Procedure

Subject: Personal Jurisdiction

By: Marty

Can a court exert personal jurisdiction over individuals who allegedly engaged in a conspiracy with a Florida resident to harm an individual in Florida even though they do not have any contacts with Florida?

Yes. In a dissolution of marriage proceeding where a husband conspired with his family members to deprive the wife of certain marital assets, we were asked to research whether the family members, who reside outside of the United States, can be joined as third-party defendants.

Florida courts focus their personal jurisdiction analysis over a non-resident defendant by using a two-step inquiry. The first step will be to determine whether the actions of the defendant fall within any of the acts defined in the Florida long-arm statute, which in pertinent part, provides:

(1)(a) A person, whether or not a citizen or resident of this state, who personally or through an agent does any of the acts enumerated in this subsection thereby submits himself or herself and, if he or she is a natural person, his or her personal representative to the jurisdiction of the courts of this state for any cause of action arising from any of the following acts:

2. Committing a tortious act within this state.

If the defendants’ actions involve a conspiracy to commit a tort, such allegations would fall under the “commi[ssion of] a tortious act within this state” language of Florida Statute § 48.193(1)(a)(2). Several Florida courts have found that the commission of a tort, for purposes of long-arm jurisdiction, does not require a defendant’s physical entry into the state, but it only requires that the place of injury be in Florida. See Allerton v. State of Fla. Dept. of Ins., 635 So. 2d 36, 40 (Fla. 1st DCA 1994)(citing Int’l Harvester Co. v. Mann, 460 So. 2d 580 (Fla. 1st DCA 1984)). The appropriate inquiry is not whether the tort actually occurred but whether the tort, as alleged, took place in Florida. See also NHB Advisors, Inc. v. Czyzyk, 95 So. 3d 444 (Fla. 4th DCA 2012). A defendant’s physical presence in the state while committing the tort is not required for personal jurisdiction. Id. See also Wood v. Wall, 666 So. 2d 984 (Fla. 3d DCA 1996)(holding that defendants’ intentional, non fortuitous acts on plaintiff, who was located in Florida, subjected defendants to the long-arm jurisdiction of Florida courts).

Establishing that the injury occurred in Florida, meaning that the defendants engaged in conduct with the intention of harming the plaintiff inside Florida, will likely confer personal jurisdiction. As an added measure, when a defendant engages in a conspiracy with a Florida resident to engage in that harmful conduct, personal jurisdiction is almost certain. This is because a plaintiff who successfully alleges a cause of action for conspiracy among defendants to commit tortious acts toward plaintiff can obtain personal jurisdiction over all co-conspirators as long as one member of the conspiracy committed tortious acts in Florida in furtherance of the conspiracy. NHB Advisors, Inc. v. Czyzyk, 95 So. 3d 444 (Fla. 4th DCA 2012). It must be noted that a court will decline to apply the co-conspirator theory to extend jurisdiction over nonresidents if the plaintiff does not plead facts supporting the existence of the conspiracy with specificity and instead provides nothing more than vague and conclusory allegations regarding a conspiracy. Id.

The second-step of the analysis is to determine whether the exercise of jurisdiction constitutes a violation of due process (i.e. the minimum contacts test). Allerton, 635 So. 2d at 40. Florida courts will ask whether the defendant “should reasonably have anticipated being haled into court” in Florida. Id. If the quality and nature of an interstate transaction is “so random, fortuitous or attenuated that it cannot fairly be said that the potential defendant should reasonably anticipate being haled into court in another jurisdiction,” this step will not be satisfied. Id. Intentional and allegedly tortious actions that are expressly aimed at the forum state along with knowledge that the out-of-state actions would have potentially devastating impact in the forum state, however, support the conclusion that the nonresident anticipated being haled into court to answer for those specific actions. Id. (finding that defendant’s alleged intentional torts aimed at a Florida resident made it reasonable for the defendant to anticipate being haled into court in Florida, satisfying the requirements for personal jurisdiction).

Thus, non-resident defendants who engage in a conspiracy to commit a tort with others, who in turn take actions in furtherance of that conspiracy within this state, will be subject to personal jurisdiction in Florida, no matter how unconnected that defendant may appear to the state.

Tag Words: civil procedure, personal jurisdiction, long-arm statute, minimum contacts, conspiracy, intentional torts

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