Long-Arm Statute or Alter Ego? Personal Jurisdiction Over Corporation in Florida Divorce

By Michael P. Sampson (part 4 of 8)

Personal Jurisdiction Long Arm Statute or Alter Ego. Colorful extended hands. Image by Tim Mossholder (Unsplash)

A spouse may attempt to bring in a corporate entity or trust into the divorce either under the Florida Long-Arm Statute or on an alter-ego theory. To pull in the foreign corporation or trust, the spouse must plead a basis for Florida long-arm jurisdiction. Alternatively, the spouse may allege the Florida court should act against the foreign entity because it’s merely the other spouse’s alter ego.

Under Florida’s Long-Arm Statute, the spouse must pass a two-pronged test for establishing personal jurisdiction over a foreign entity.  Instead, the spouse may assert personal jurisdiction is established because the entity is merely the “alter ego” of the other spouse. 

Personal jurisdiction refers to whether the actions of an individual or business entity permit the Florida court to exercise jurisdiction in a lawsuit naming the individual or business entity. See Borden v. East-European Ins. Co., 921 So. 2d 587 (Fla. 2006)See generally section 48.193, Florida StatutesWhite v. Pepsico, Inc., 568 So. 2d 886 (Fla. 1990)Venetian Salami Co. v. Parthenais, 554 So. 2d 499 (Fla. 1989) (to subject a defendant to personal jurisdiction, “due process requires that the defendant have certain minimum contacts with the forum”).

Florida Long Arm Statute

First prong: Specific Jurisdiction or General Jurisdiction

Specific Jurisdiction

Long-arm jurisdiction over a foreign corporation or entity may be specific. See sections 48.193(1)(a)-(h), Florida Statutes. Specific jurisdiction is where the defendant either personally or through an agent does any of the acts enumerated in those subsections.

Specific jurisdiction occurs “when a State exercises personal jurisdiction over a defendant in a suit arising out of or related to the defendant’s contacts with the forum.” White v. Pepsico, Inc., 568 So. 2d 886, 888 n.3 (Fla. 1990) (quoting Helicopteros Nacionales de Colombia, S.A. v. Hall, 466 U.S. 408, 414 n.8 (1984)).

General Jurisdiction

Alternatively, long-arm jurisdiction may be general. See section 48.193(2), Florida Statutes. General jurisdiction may lie when a defendant is “engaged in substantial and not isolated activity” in Florida. See Marina Dodge, Inc. v. Quinn, 134 So. 3d 1103 (Fla. 4th DCA 2014)(good analysis of specific and general jurisdiction, resulting in reversal of order denying motion to dismiss personal injury suit for lack of personal jurisdiction).

Unlike specific jurisdiction, “general jurisdiction” lies over a defendant “engaged in substantial and not isolated activity within this state.” Section 48.193(2), Florida Statutes.

There’s no “connexity” required between the nonresident’s activities in Florida and the cause of action the plaintiff asserts in the complaint. Wendt v. Horowitz, 822 So. 2d 1252, 1260 n.7 (Fla. 2002)White, 568 So. 2d at 889 n.4 (“‘Connexity’ is the term courts have adopted to mean a link between a cause of action and the activities of a defendant in the forum state.”); Am. Overseas Marine Corp. v. Patterson, 632 So. 2d 1124 (Fla. 1st DCA 1994).  For general jurisdiction, facts about the nonresident’s contacts must be extensive and pervasive. Reliance Steel Products Co. v. Watson, ESS, Marshall & Enggas, 675 F. 2d 587, 589 (3d Cir.1982).

When a spouse fails to plead any basis under the long-arm statute or under an alter-ego theory, dismissal is appropriate. For example, in Murphy v. Murphy, 342 So. 3d 799 (Fla. 1st DCA Jul 6, 2022), the trial court should have dismissed a former wife’s action against her nonresident former husband. She asked the Florida court to adjudicate her claims to domesticate and enforce a Hawaiian divorce judgment.

But Ms. Murphy failed to plead and establish a basis under Florida’s long-arm statute for specific or general personal jurisdiction over her former husband. He countered the complaint with a sworn motion to dismiss. She failed to refute his sworn statements he was a North Carolina resident whose prior residency in Florida was incidental to military service. Further, she failed to allege and establish a sufficient basis for general jurisdiction. She had to show, but couldn’t, that he presently engaged in substantial and not isolated activity within Florida.

Specific or General Jurisdiction under Florida’s Long-Arm Statute: Are the Entity’s Florida Contacts the Basis for the Spouse’s Claims Against It?

If an entity’s contacts with Florida are also the basis for the suit, those contacts may establish specific jurisdiction. For example, see section 48.193(1)(a)-(h), Florida StatutesMarina Dodge, Inc. v. Quinn, 134 So. 3d 1103 (Fla. 4th DCA 2014) (affidavits revealed few contacts between Florida and the defendant, which had engaged in isolated transactions with Florida companies, mostly over the Internet, without having targeted Florida for business); Caiazzo v. American Royal Arts Corp., 73 So. 3d 245 (Fla. 4th DCA 2011) (applying traditional minimum contacts analysis, whether or not the Internet is involved); Canale v. Rubin, 20 So. 3d 463 (Fla. 2d DCA 2009)

Businessman reading paper

In determining specific jurisdiction, courts consider:

  1. the extent to which the defendant purposefully availed itself of the privilege of conducting activities in Florida;
  2. whether the claims arise out of those activities directed at Florida; and
  3. whether the defendant’s contacts with Florida are so extensive the defendant should reasonably anticipate being brought into court in Florida. 

See Corporacion Aero Angeles, S.A. v. Fernandez, 69 So. 3d 295 (Fla. 4th DCA 2011).

Alternatively, if an entity’s contacts with Florida are not also the basis for the claims, jurisdiction must arise from the entity’s general, more persistent, but unrelated present contacts with Florida. Fla. Stat. §48.193(2).

For more about long-arm jurisdiction – specific or general – keep reading here.

Questions About Corporations and Trust in Florida Divorce?

For questions about personal jurisdiction over foreign corporations and trusts and opportunities in Florida Collaborative Divorce to resolve issues globally, contact Michael P. Sampson of Sampson Collaborative Law.

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