Thursday, July 16, 2009

Third DCA Reverses Finding No Personal Jurisdiction Over Foreign Defendant

In Vos, B.V. v. Payen (3D08-2635), the Third District reversed "because Vos’ general business contacts with Florida were insufficient to support the plaintiffs’ assertion of personal jurisdiction over Vos."

The court described the facts as "heartbreaking" and relate to "1995 through 1997, [when] a tainted batch of children’s fever medicine was distributed in Haiti causing the deaths of more than seventy children, and the serious illness of a number of other children. Public health officials traced the deaths and illnesses to a shipment of glycerin that was manufactured in China, purchased through a German company, and eventually sent to Haiti by Vos. The plaintiffs are either the personal representatives of the estates of the deceased children, or the parents of the survivors."


"As an initial matter, it is undisputed that the instant claim does not specifically relate to, or arise out of, Florida activity...Thus, the sole issue on appeal is whether the courts of Florida may properly exercise general personal jurisdiction over Vos by way of its regular business contacts with Florida, unrelated to the present claim. See § 48.193(2), Fla. Stat. (1997)."


“An assertion of general jurisdiction under [section 48.193(2)] requires a ‘showing of continuous and systematic general business contacts’ with this state...The requisite threshold of “continuous and systematic” contacts is significantly more demanding than the showing necessary to establish specific jurisdiction because section 48.193(2) does not require any connection between a plaintiff’s claim and the defendant’s Florida activities. Furthermore, to establish general personal jurisdiction, a plaintiff must show that the defendant’s conduct in connection with Florida is “such that he [or she] should reasonably anticipate being haled into court []here.”

During the relevant time period: (1) Vos had no offices or employees in Florida; (2) Vos did not own any assets or real estate in Florida; (3) Vos did not distribute any chemicals into or through Florida; (4) Vos did not advertise in Florida; and (5) Vos never sent representatives to Florida. Thus, the plaintiffs’ case depends on characterizing Vos’ contacts with A&V, Quem, and SunBank as so pervasive that this Dutch corporation should reasonably anticipate being sued in Florida on an unrelated matter.

A foreign defendant’s de minimis contacts with Florida cannot form the basis of an assertion of personal jurisdiction in Florida, where the plaintiff’s claim arises out of an unrelated foreign incident.

Therefore...we hold that because Vos’ Florida “sales” during the relevant time period amounted to just 0.236% of its total annual sales, they are de minimis and are insufficient to support an exercise Florida’s jurisdiction.

Finally, we address the evidence found by the trial court to be “most damaging” to Vos’ case—Vos’ alleged use of Florida’s banking system to facilitate its sales to A&V. Our review of the evidence on this issue reveals that in the transactions involving A&V, CommerzBank Nederland sent shipping documents to SunBank, SunBank notified A&V of the documents’ arrival, A&V signed the trade acceptance forms and submitted payment to SunBank. SunBank then transferred the funds and paperwork to CommerzBank. Vos’ involvement in the process was virtually non-existent, and SunBank merely operated to facilitate the international transfer of money under a letter of credit. Such contacts are clearly insufficient to establish personal jurisdiction over Vos.


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