Articles Posted in Jurisdiction

An issue of importance that any potential plaintiff must consider at the initiation of litigation is whether to bring his or her case in state or federal court. Given the differences in both procedural and, in more limited circumstances, substantive law to be applied, this choice can have a marked impact on the outcome of a case. Although not all litigants will have this option, since certain cases are limited to a particular forum based on their design or the issues involved, when the option presents itself litigants will often make an effort to keep the case in the chosen forum. Issues regarding the selective choice of forum were addressed in Garber v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., a recent decision from the United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida.

The Garber case arose from a slip-and-fall accident at a Wal-Mart store in Delray Beach, Florida. Following the fall, the injured customer brought a premises liability suit against Wal-Mart in the Circuit Court of the Fifteenth Judicial Circuit of Florida. Following initiation of the case, the defendant served a Request for Admission on the plaintiff, which asked in part that the plaintiff admit she was seeking less than $75,000 in damages. The plaintiff denied the admission. In a following response to interrogatory requests served by the defendant, the plaintiff claimed more than $88,000 in medical expenses. Thereafter, the defendant filed a notice of removal to federal court, since the action could’ve originally been brought in federal court because the parties were residents of diverse states and the amount in controversy exceeded $75,000. The parties then entered into a joint stipulation to dismiss the case without prejudice. Following dismissal of the first action, the plaintiff brought a second action in Florida state court, which was substantially similar to the first, except for the fact that the plaintiff added a new defendant, the manager of the Wal-Mart where the fall occurred. Following initiation of the second suit, Wal-Mart again filed a Notice of Removal. Following removal, the plaintiff made a motion in federal court to have the case remanded back to state court, since there was no federal subject matter jurisdiction. Therefore, at this juncture, the federal court needed to determine whether the presence of the new defendant eliminated possible federal jurisdiction such that the action could no longer be removed to federal court and, accordingly, should be remanded to back to state court.

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Although contract formation is often considered a formal process involving parties sitting at a conference table negotiating terms and memorializing a final agreement, every day people unknowingly enter into binding agreements that have sweeping implications for their rights. The realities of modern contracting are at the center of the Third District Court of Appeals’ recent decision in Royal Caribbean Cruises, Ltd. v. Clarke, in which the court held that the forum selection provision of a contract contained on the cruise line ticket should have been enforced by the trial court.

The Clarke litigation began when a passenger allegedly injured while abroad a Royal Caribbean Cruise vessel brought a negligence action against the company on October 9, 2013 in Miami-Dade County. The action was initiated only a few days before the expiration of the one-year limitations period imposed by the ticket contract. Shortly after the claim was brought, Royal Caribbean moved to have the case dismissed, arguing that the claim had been improperly brought in state court rather than federal court, as was provided by the forum selection provision of the ticket contract. In support of this motion, Royal Caribbean submitted an affidavit stating that the plaintiff, like all other passengers, needed to check in and accept all the terms of the ticket contract before boarding the vessel. The trial court denied the motion, holding that there was no evidence that the plaintiff actually received and read the ticket contract provisions. However, the Third District Court of Appeal unanimously reversed the trial court’s ruling and dismissed the case.

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As the Fourth District Court of Appeal’s opinion in Marina Dodge, Inc. v. Quinn demonstrates, sometimes the hardest part of a lawsuit is getting the opposing party in court. In Quinn, the Court of Appeals found that the courts of Florida could not exercise personal jurisdiction over two New York auto-retailer corporations that had been sued following a motor vehicle accident in Broward County, Florida.

As noted above, Quinn followed a 2007 motor vehicle accident that led to the serious injury of one of the drivers. The injured driver, the plaintiff in this case, purchased the vehicle involved in the crash in New York four years earlier, when she was still a resident there. Sometime after this transaction but before the accident, the driver relocated to South Florida, where she now resides. After the crash, the seriously injured driver sued the other driver involved in the accident as well as Marina Dodge, Inc. and Webster Auto Brokers, Inc., two New York auto retailing corporations, in the Broward County Circuit Court. With respect to the auto retailers’ liability, the plaintiff argued that the vehicle she purchased in New York was defective and that the defective condition led to the accident and thus her injuries. The corporations both moved to have the claims against them dismissed, arguing that the courts of Florida could not exercise jurisdiction over them. The trial court, however, denied both motions, stating that the corporations had “continuous contact that took place over years with various entities sufficient to permit jurisdiction to lie in the State of Florida.”

Despite the trial court’s certainty on the question of jurisdiction, the Court of Appeal reversed in a unanimous decision. Generally, there are two ways for a plaintiff to show that a court has personal jurisdiction over an out-of-state defendant. First, one can show that the court had specific jurisdiction. For specific jurisdiction to exist, one must first show that the state’s long-arm-statute covers the acts at issue in the suit. If that prong is met, one must then show that there exist sufficient “minimum contacts” between the out-of-state defendant and the state where jurisdiction is sought. For there to be sufficient “minimum contacts,” one must generally demonstrate that the defendant “deliberately [engaged] in significant activities within a State or has created “continuing obligations” between himself and residents of the [state]” such that “he manifestly has availed himself of the privilege of conducting business there.”Burger King Corp. v. Rudzewicz, 471 U.S. 462, 475-76 (U.S. 1985) (internal quotations marks and citations omitted). Alternatively, one can show that general jurisdiction exists. Since the Florida long-arm-statute provision for general jurisdiction is read coextensively with the constitutional requirement for general jurisdiction, see Caiazzo v. Am. Royal Arts Corp., 73 So.3d 245, 250 (Fla. 4th DCA 2011) (pdf downloadable link), one must just show that the defendant engaged in “continuous, substantial, and systematic” contact with the state.
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