Foreign Personal Representative Does Not Submit to Personal Jurisdiction in Florida

In Juega v. Davidson, 105 So.3d 575 (3rd DCA 2012), the Florida appeals court held that personal jurisdiction in Florida over foreign personal representative is not obtained solely by taking action as a foreign personal representative in Florida.

Mr. Juega was appointed in Spain as the personal representative of the decedent’s estate, who passed away as a resident of Spain. Juega joined a lawsuit in Florida, as the foreign personal representative, to collect a debt from a third party.   After the estate was closed in Spain, the third party then counterclaimed Juega in his individual capacity for civil conspiracy and conversion. Juega moved to dismiss, on the grounds that the Florida court did not have personal jurisdiction over him.

The court started by citing to the rule that a party who brings a suit in one capacity cannot be counterclaimed in a different capacity.

A plaintiff who brings or maintains an action solely in its capacity as the representative of another is not an “opposing party” against whom a counterclaim might be filed. Hall v. McDonough, 216 So.2d 84, 85 (Fla. 2d DCA 1968). A counterclaim cannot properly be brought or maintained against that plaintiff in its individual capacity. Id. Accord, Fidelity-Philadelphia Trust Co. v. Ball, 208 So.2d 282 (Fla. 3d DCA 1968). Moreover, Florida Rule of Civil Procedure 1.170 states that a counterclaim may only be brought against an “opposing party.”

After noting that this alone would warrant dismissal, the court then addressed a probate rule seemingly on point that could grant jurisdiction.  Section 734.201(3) of the Florida Probate Code provides

Jurisdiction by act of foreign personal representative. — A foreign personal representative submits personally to the jurisdiction of the courts of this state in any proceeding concerning the estate by:
. . . .
(3) Doing any act as personal representative in this state that would have given the state jurisdiction over that person as an individual.

In rejecting that argument that this statute could confer personal jurisdiction in Florida over the  foreign personal representative, the court explained:

As the Florida Supreme Court has stated, “[t]he Florida Probate Code constitutes a unified statutory scheme intended to govern all probate matters–section 731.102, Florida Statutes(2007), expressly states that the probate code ‘is intended as unified coverage of its subject matter.'” Hill v. Davis, 70 So. 3d 572 (quoting § 731.102, Fla. Stat. (2007)) (emphasis added). There is simply no basis for the appellees’ assertion that by virtue of participating in a civil action in capacities other than as an individual, Juega submitted to the jurisdiction of the court under the Probate Code. See also Crescenze v. Bothe, 4 So. 3d 31, 33 (Fla. 2d DCA 2009) (addressing a different section of the Probate Code but finding that “[i]t is clear from the language of the statute and its place in Chapter 733 of the Probate Code that section 733.710(1)applies exclusively to claims against an estate in a probate proceeding and has no application in a civil action to terminate a trust.”) (emphasis added). Here, there was no ancillary estate opened in Florida, nor was Juega ever appointed a “personal representative” by the circuit court.

To further emphasize its ruling, the court also held that the requirements of Florida’s long arm statute to confer personal jurisdiction were not met.

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