Miami and South Florida are commercially vibrant areas. In addition to having many businesses whose activities are strictly contained in the United States, the Miami area has many businesses whose contacts and interactions spread outside the United States, due in part to its unique diversity, geography and culture. This can sometimes lead to special challenges when contract disputes and commercial litigation issues arise with partners based outside the United States. In one recent tortious interference case involving a Miami LLC and a Brazilian entity, the Third District Court of Appeal concluded that the rules of jurisdiction did not prevent the litigation from going forward in Florida.
The Brazilian company was a business that manufactured and marketed irrigation tubes. That company was seeking to enter into contracts with the Republic of Guinea, but it needed financing first. The company hired the Miami entity to “structure, negotiate and obtain a line of financial credit.” In exchange, the Miami business received a finder’s fee.
Unhappy with the way events unfolded, the Brazilian entity decided to cancel the contract. It refused to pay the Miami company anything. This led the Miami entity to sue its former contract partner in Miami-Dade County Circuit Court for tortious interference. The Brazilian company tried to get the case dismissed by launching a procedural attack. It argued that the state court in Florida lacked jurisdiction over it because the Miami entity had not gone through the correct procedural steps to serve the defendant in Brazil. Specifically, the defendant contended that the rules required the plaintiff to use something called “letters rogatory,” and that the plaintiff hadn’t complied with this.
The trial judge denied the defendant’s request and allowed the case to proceed. The defendant appealed, but again lost. The problem for the defendant was that the actual rules were not exactly like what it argued that they were. The Brazilian government, some time previously, had signed a pact called the “Inter-American Service Convention.” This pact meant that an entity suing another entity based in Brazil was no longer necessarily obligated to use letters rogatory. Under the convention, service is valid if you retain a properly licensed Brazilian attorney and that lawyer personally serves the defendant.
In this case, the plaintiff won because it and its attorneys understood the rules and had fully complied with them. It had proof that it retained a Brazilian attorney in good standing and that attorney had personally served the defendant in Brazil.
The plaintiff’s method of service not only had to satisfy Brazil, though, but also Florida. The appeals court stated that, under Florida’s laws, any method of service is acceptable as long as “it does not contradict any self-executing international agreement or implementing statutes, or as long as such method is not expressly prohibited by the law of the foreign state.” The plaintiff’s method of executing personal service carried out by a Brazilian lawyer in good standing to practice there did not run afoul of any agreement between Brazil and the United States, did not violate any statutes and was not explicitly barred by the laws of Brazil. Therefore, the method was permissible and the Florida court had jurisdiction over the defendant.
Commercial litigation can contain many layers of potential complexity, especially if one or more of the entities involved is an international one. Success involves more than just having the facts and the law on your side –- it also involves making sure you follow all of the rules of procedure too, such that procedural errors do not derail your case. The skilled Florida commercial litigation attorneys at Stok Folk + Kon have spent many years representing businesses throughout all points in the litigation process, and have the knowledge and experience to help you with pursuing your case.
Contact us online or by calling (305) 935-4440 to schedule your consultation.
More blog posts:
‘Continuing’ Torts and the Statute of Limitations in Florida Tortious Interference Cases, Florida Business Lawyers Blog, Nov. 29, 2016
Default Judgment Blocks Arguments About Liability in Florida Contract Dispute Case, Florida Business Lawyers Blog, Nov. 11, 2015