Traveler Insurance Facilities, PLC v. Naples Community Hospital, Inc.
5/26/23, Judge Stargel
Topics: Motion to Dismiss; Personal Jurisdiction
The underlying action involves a dispute over allegedly unpaid or underpaid claims for emergency medical services rendered to several foreign patients by Naples Community Hospital, Inc. (NCH). The foreign travelers treated at NCH and assigned benefits to NCH. The hospital sued for payment from TIF, a travel insurance company based in the United Kingdom. TIF served as the managing agent for URV, a German insurance company. TIF disputed the amount of NCH’s bills, and NCH sued in Collier County, Florida.
TIF handles hundreds of claims in Florida. TIF and URV moved to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction, and they filed affidavits claiming that they:
(1) have no office, telephone listing, or mailing address in Florida; (2) have no officers, directors, agents, or employees in Florida; (3) have no bank accounts or other tangible personal or real property in Florida; (4) do not hold meetings in Florida; (5) have not directed any advertising specifically toward Florida residents; (6) have never underwritten insurance policies in Florida; and (7) are not aware when clients purchase travel insurance that they will be traveling to Florida. TIF's corporate representative also specifically attested that TIF's salespersons "operate exclusively within the United Kingdom and the Channel Islands."
A forum selection clause in the insurance contracts required that the action be brought in the UK, and the businesses claimed that because policies were required to be purchased by people in the UK, not in the USA or Florida, they did not have sufficient contacts with Florida to subject them to personal jurisdiction.
The trial court denied the motion to dismiss and also found that the forum selection clause was merely permissive.
On appeal, the DCA went through the framework for analyzing personal jurisdiction. To establish personal jurisdiction over a nonresident defendant, the plaintiff must show 1) that the long- arm statute is satisfied and that 2) the defendant has minimum contacts with Florida so as to satisfy due process concerns. The plaintiff has the burden, a defendant can contest jurisdiction by filing an affidavit or sworn proof, and then the burden shifts back to the plaintiff to refute the affidavit or sworn proof.
The trial court, in this case, did not address the long-arm statute, which is pretty stunning. The seminal case requiring that the long-arm statute be expressly addressed is Venetian Salami Co. v. Parthenais, 554 So. 2d 499 (Fla. 1989).
While the DCA claimed it was not doing any factfinding, the DCA assumed without necessarily deciding that section 48193(1)(a)(7), the portion of the long-arm statute dealing with breaches of contract in this state, would not apply because if a contract does not specify where the acts are performed, the law ordinarily assumes that the contract performance occurs where the party resides, and all parties lived abroad.
The DCA admitted that the effect of an assignment of benefits (which definitely took place in Florida) was an open question in Florida. Is that a contract that was performed here because the AOB was assigned here? That question will have to wait for another case, however. In this case, it didn’t matter because NCH could not satisfy prong two, the due process requirement of minimum contacts. The DCA found the relevant facts to be that Appellants have no offices, employees, or property in Florida, do not issue insurance policies in Florida, and do not advertise to Florida residents. The insurance policies at issue were marketed and sold exclusively to residents of the UK. Appellants' contacts with Florida arose when the insureds, after purchasing their insurance policies, subsequently traveled to Florida and received emergency medical treatment.
Unilateral activity by an insured (traveling to and receiving care covered by the contract in Florida) cannot rope a foreign defendant into jurisdiction. It does not matter that it was foreseeable that people buying travel insurance would travel somewhere and use the policy while abroad. Mere access to policies via the internet in Florida did not confer jurisdiction, as the one person who purchased a policy in Florida was required to—and did—provide a home address in the UK, not Florida.