Ernesto Suarez v. Roberto Guzman
3d DCA 3/x/23, Judge Emas
Topics: Personal Jurisdiction
Suarez lives in California. Guzman sued Suarez to partition an E-Trade investment account where both were listed as joint tenants with right of survivorship. Suarez moved to dismiss the lawsuit, arguing that Florida courts lacked personal jurisdiction over him.
Along with his motion to dismiss, Suarez attached an affidavit where he contested the claim of personal jurisdiction in the Complaint including his minimum contacts with Florida.
Guzman filed an affidavit supporting the jurisdictional allegations that conflicted with Suarez’s “in many respects.” Where the affidavits created a question of fact, the trial court is supposed to hold an evidentiary hearing just on the issue of personal jurisdiction. The trial court did not do so because it became convinced that regardless of personal jurisdiction, the court had in rem jurisdiction over the investment account. An order denying a motion to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction is an appealable nonfinal order under Rule 9.130(a)(3)(C)(i).
On appeal, the DCA did not buy the argument that because the court made its decision based on in rem, not personal, jurisdiction, no evidentiary hearing was required. The trial court “adjudicated and denied Suarez’s motion to dismiss, which was based on personal jurisdiction,” so it necessarily determined the personal jurisdiction question. The Court held that if the lower court, on remand, wanted to hold that it could exercise in rem jurisdiction over the property without the need for establishing personal jurisdiction, that was fine. The Court was not commenting on the merits. (NOTE: Honestly, because the circuit court made no findings on the question of personal jurisdiction, it seems that that is exactly what the court already did—essentially find the question of personal jurisdiction moot because it was exercising in rem jurisdiction. That said, the plaintiff did file an affidavit and that triggered the need for the evidentiary hearing. Ultimately, this seems like another appeal where the remand will just result in the same outcome).
Terry P. Roberts
Director of Appellate Practice Fischer Redavid PLLC