Thursday, March 3, 2011

Dismissal For Lack Of Personal Jurisdiction Required When Complaint Fails To Allege Jurisdiction

In Henderson v. Elias (4D10-458 & 4D10-1135), the Fourth District reversed the trial court's order denying a motion to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction.  The appellants filed a motion in the trial court seeking to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction and, among other things, to dismiss for inconvenient forum.  Both the jurisdictional issue and the forum issue were appealed but only the jurisdictional issue warranted reversal.  

The original complaint [petition] included the bare jurisdictional allegation that "the court possessed  jurisdiction over Stardale because of the court’s 'inherent jurisdiction to monitor the administration of the [e]state'.” The appellants filed a motion to dismiss which resulted in the appellee's filing an amended petition.  
In the amended petition, the personal representative alleged that the probate court had jurisdiction over Stardale pursuant to the court’s “inherent jurisdiction to monitor the administration of an   estate, including the authority to issue injunctions freezing assets claimed to belong to a decedent’s estate.” In addition, the personal  representative alleged  that  Stardale was “owned 50% by the  [e]state and 50% by Henderson.” Stardale filed a  motion to dismiss, claiming insufficient service of process.
Henderson filed another motion to dismiss the amended petition on the grounds that Stardale was an  indispensible party to any injunctive relief  the court might grant.  In the meantime, the estate personally served Stardale’s registered agent....Henderson’s counsel, who had also been Stardale’s counsel at the prior hearing, advised the probate court that he was appearing on   behalf of Stardale on a limited  basis to contest jurisdiction. The estate argued that the court had personal jurisdiction over Stardale because Stardale’s primary place of  business was in Palm  Beach County. Additionally, Stardale borrowed money from Elias and from Lydian Bank, and those obligations arose  in  Palm  Beach County. Payment on these loans was also to be made in Palm Beach County....Stardale responded by arguing that, since it was a foreign corporation, the estate was required to plead jurisdictional allegations in its amended petition which were sufficient to establish personal jurisdiction over Stardale. Stardale went on to argue that the jurisdiction allegations in the amended petition were insufficient to show that Stardale’s conduct fell within the scope of Florida’s long-arm statute, section 48.193(1), Florida Statutes (2009), or to show that Stardale had sufficient  minimum contacts with Florida to satisfy constitutional due process requirements.   
The court then discussed the two-part test that is used when a non-resident defendant challenges a court's personal jurisdiction over it. “‘First, it must be determined that the  complaint alleges sufficient jurisdictional facts to bring the action within the ambit’of  Florida’s long-arm statute,  section  48.193.”...“If so, ‘the next  inquiry is whether sufficient  “minimum contacts” are demonstrated to satisfy due process requirements.’”

Initially, it is the plaintiff's burden to plead sufficient allegations to establish personal jurisdiction over a non-resident defendant "by pleading the basis for service in the language of the statute without pleading the supporting facts."  In response, the defendant can file a motion to dismiss which, by itself, "does nothing more than raise the legal sufficiency of the pleadings." To contest the actual allegations, the defendant "must file  affidavits in support of his position."..."The burden is then placed upon the plaintiff to prove by affidavit the basis upon which jurisdiction may be obtained."

In this case, the appellant did not file affidavits in support of his position and, therefore, only challenged the legal sufficiency of the pleadings.  Therefore, the court "need only address the first prong."  However, in this case, the plaintiff had failed to satisfy the first prong.  The plaintiff/appellee:
made no allegations of conduct by Stardale which would subject the corporation to the jurisdiction of a Florida court under section 48.193(1)....The petition contains no allegations that Stardale is Henderson’s alter ego....Likewise, no allegations of a principal-agent relationship were found in the petition....Because the allegations in the petition are insufficient, the trial court should have dismissed the amended petition as to Stardale without prejudice.


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