Many business people have a reasonable idea of what the word “jurisdiction” means generally. If you look it up on Google, that site says it’s “the official power to make legal decisions and judgments.” That’s a pretty fair overview-type description. The details of jurisdiction, and its impact on your business and business litigation actions, go much deeper, however. For in-depth knowledge of this area of the law, you need the skill of an experienced South Florida commercial litigation attorney, who can use the law to help you keep your case where you want it and avoid having to litigate in someplace where you don’t.
Recently, jurisdiction was the key to the resolution of a commercial litigation appeal between an international agricultural company and a Venezuelan cargo airline. The airline sought to litigate a multi-million dollar commercial contract dispute in state court in Miami.
The agricultural company was based in Dubai, its parent company was headquartered in India and even its U.S. subsidiary (which wasn’t part of this case) was based in Texas. Clearly, litigating a breach of contract action in Florida might be disadvantageous for the agricultural company. It might mean retaining additional attorneys, in addition to other expenses related to extensive travel and lost productivity elsewhere. So, what can you do if another company has tried to pull you into litigation in a far-flung place?
The answer may be to challenge the jurisdiction of the court to hear your case. There are two types of jurisdiction, which are subject matter jurisdiction and personal jurisdiction. The first, subject matter, wasn’t an issue in the agriculture company’s case. In a scenario like this, personal jurisdiction is the key to getting the lawsuit dismissed. Personal jurisdiction requires that you (whether that’s you as a person or you as a business entity) have sufficient minimal contacts with a state before any of that state’s courts can enter a binding judgment against you.
Showing the Existence of ‘Minimum Contacts’… or the Lack Thereof
Florida law has set up some fairly clear guideposts regarding what does, what does not, constitute sufficient minimum contacts. For example, the minimum contacts requirement “is not satisfied by a showing that a party has entered into a contract with a non-resident, or a showing that payment must be made in Florida.” In fact, even if, for example, you have a breach of contract suit over a promissory note and that note’s debt is owed in Florida and the agreement includes a choice of law provision that says that whatever court resolves the case must apply Florida law, those things still aren’t automatically enough to trigger personal jurisdiction.
Armed with these legal standards, the agricultural company was successful in showing that it lacked minimum contacts with Florida and was not subject to the jurisdiction of Florida courts.
Of course, whether you are seeking to avoid litigating in Florida (by obtaining an order of dismissal based on a lack of jurisdiction), or you are seeking to keep a case in Florida in the face of a jurisdictional challenge, you need Florida counsel to achieve the outcome you want. A knowledgeable Florida attorney can present the information you need and make the arguments necessary to get that beneficial outcome. The diligent South Florida commercial litigation attorneys at Stok Kon + Braverman are here to help, having handled a wide range of commercial litigation needs, including jurisdictional challenges.
Contact us online or by calling (954) 237-1777 to schedule your consultation and find out how this firm can help you.