Following the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark decision in International Shoe v. Washington, Florida enacted its first long-arm statute, currently found in Section 48.193. This section, aptly titled “Acts subjecting person to jurisdiction of courts of state,” provides two different options for plaintiffs who are seeking to invoke the long arm of the law and bring non-resident defendants within the jurisdiction of the Florida courts.
First, a plaintiff can invoke the specific jurisdiction of the court by alleging a cause of action “arising from” a defendant’s commission of one of the nine generic acts listed under subsection (1)(a) of section 48.193. Alternatively, a plaintiff can invoke the general jurisdiction of the court under subsection (2) by alleging that the defendant engaged in “substantial and not isolated” activity within the state of Florida. Whether a plaintiff elects to invoke the court’s specific or general jurisdiction, or both, will depend upon a host of different factors, including but not limited to the cause of action asserted by the plaintiff, the nature of the non-resident defendants’ contacts with Florida and their connection with the activities that form the basis for the cause of action, and whether the non-resident defendant is an individual or business entity.
Specific Jurisdiction. The “specific” part about specific jurisdiction is in both the requirement that the defendant is alleged to have committed one of the specific acts set forth in the statute AND that the cause of action itself specifically arose out of the commission of the act. For example, if Nancy the non-resident drove her car from Nebraska to Florida and, upon crossing the state line, caused an accident which injured Paul, Nancy would have arguably submitted herself to the jurisdiction of the courts of the State of Florida in that very instant. This is because a “tortious act” is one of the nine “Acts” listed under section 48.193(1)(a) AND because Paul’s injury claim against Nancy arose from Nancy’s negligence in causing the accident. In this hypothetical, the Florida court’s jurisdiction over Nancy would only extend to Paul’s injury claim and not to other claims, unless other facts and factors were present which would authorize the Florida court to exercise jurisdiction over those claims as well.
According to the reported appellate opinions, Florida plaintiffs appear to consistently rely on one of four different grounds of specific jurisdiction found in section 48.193 (bolding is mine):
(1)(a)(1) Operating, conducting, engaging in, or carrying on a business or business venture in this state or having an office or agency in this state.
(1)(a)(2) Committing a tortious act within this state.
(1)(a)(6) Causing injury to persons or property within this state arising out of an act or omission by the defendant outside this state, if, at or about the time of the injury, either: The defendant was engaged in solicitation or service activities within this state; or Products, materials, or things processed, serviced, or manufactured by the defendant anywhere were used or consumed within this state in the ordinary course of commerce, trade, or use.
(1)(a)(7) Breaching a contract in this state by failing to perform acts required by the contract to be performed in this state.
In sum, the causes of action against non-residents is mainly centered around defendants who are alleged to have breached contracts or committed torts (or caused injury to persons or property) in Florida. And if I had to nominate one section or category for generating the most specific jurisdiction litigation, it would have to be (1)(a)(7) … breaching a contract in Florida, with the (1)(a)(2) committing a tortious act in Florida claims being a close runner up.
General Jurisdiction. The “general” part of general jurisdiction refers to the fact that once acquired over a non-resident defendant, general jurisdiction allows the Florida court to adjudicate ANY claim that the plaintiff may have against the defendant, even if the claims do not arise out of the defendant’s activities in or connections with Florida. Most often, a plaintiff would seek to invoke the general jurisdiction of the court against a non-resident corporate defendant or business entity that is based in Florida and conducting a substantial amount of business within the state. The U.S. Supreme Court set the standard for establishing general jurisdiction in Daimler AG v. Bauman, 571 U.S. 117 (2014) by requiring a plaintiff to show that a non-resident defendant’s affiliations with the state are so continuous and systematic as to render it essentially “at home” in the forum state. Thus, while the standard for establishing general jurisdiction over a defendant is much higher than the standard for establishing specific jurisdiction, the benefit of general jurisdiction, from the plaintiff’s point of view, is that it essentially opens the door to allow the plaintiff to pursue any claim against that defendant in Florida, even if the claim arose from the defendant’s international activities having nothing to do with Florida.
Pleading Specific or General Jurisdiction. Under Florida law, the plaintiff bears the initial burden of pleading sufficient jurisdictional facts to fall within the long-arm statute. In order to satisfy this requirement, the plaintiff may plead jurisdiction either by tracking the statutory language, without supporting facts OR by alleging specific facts to show that the defendant’s actions fall within at least one of the subsections of section 48.193.
Based on my review of a significant number of reported appellate opinions in Florida which involve the application or interpretation of section 48.193, most plaintiffs seem to get this pleading part right. In other words, District Courts of Appeal are rarely in the position of having to affirm the dismissal of a complaint because the plaintiff failed to adequately allege sufficient facts which fall within the ambit of 48.193. This is probably due to the fact that even if a plaintiff gets it wrong the first time around, the defendant’s initial motion to dismiss will usually educate the defendant’s counsel on the pleading requirements, which would then be corrected in an amended complaint.
Instead, as you will in my future blog posts, most of the reported section 48.193 litigation is focused around the application of the next part of the analysis (the “second prong”), which focuses on whether the plaintiff has pleaded sufficient minimum contacts and whether the parties (and the trial judge) followed the sequential burden-shifting procedure set forth in Venetian Salami Co. v. Parthenais, 554 So.2d 499 (Fla. 1989). I will cover this in detail in my next blog post.