UNDERSTANDING FLORIDA RULES OF CIVIL PROCEDURE

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[1.0] PERSONAL JURISDICTION IN FLORIDA

A court has personal jurisdiction when it can decide for the party being sued in a case. Before a court can exercise power over a party, the U.S. Constitution requires that the party has certain minimum contacts with the forum in which the court sits.

Statutory requirements and federal Constitutional limits must be complied with for a court in Florida TO have sufficient jurisdiction over a defendant. 

Florida statutes allow for personal jurisdiction over defendants in Florida (and are natural persons) and are served with the Florida process. Personal jurisdiction refers to a “court’s power to bring a person into its adjudicative process,” referencing a court’s jurisdiction over a party’s personal rights rather than over property interests. Consequently, it is necessary that a party consents to the jurisdiction and makes a general appearance without timely objection. If the individual is a corporation incorporated in Florida or a corporation with their principal place of business in Florida, they fall into the bracket of personal jurisdiction.  An out-of-state defendant may come under a Florida Court’s personal jurisdiction if their actions trigger Florida’s Long Arm Statute.

[1.1] IN REM AND QUASI IN REM JURISDICTION

In rem jurisdiction affects the interests of all persons in a thing. It is applicable in a minimal category of cases and requires the court to control the thing itself. In rem jurisdiction usually involves actions concerning title to the property and can be used to identify all individuals’ rights in the property. A suit to quiet title to land in Florida would come under in rem jurisdiction.  For in rem jurisdiction to be applicable, five conditions must be applicable; [A.] the property must be valuable, [B.] the property must be located within the jurisdiction where the court sits at the commencement of the action, [C.] the court must have control of the property to the exclusion of the disputing parties, [D.] adequate notice must be provided of the pending action. An opportunity must be provided for all individuals to be heard according to due process, and [E.] substantive due process must be established.  

In contrast, quasi in rem jurisdiction affects the interest of specified persons in a thing. There must be physical power vested in the court over the property, usually through attachment. Additionally, the constitutional minimum contacts standard must be met. It applies when a court uses it’s in Rem jurisdiction over property to “force” a litigant over whom the court has no personal jurisdiction to appear in court by attaching property that belongs to the litigant. A quasi in rem action is commonly used when jurisdiction over the defendant is unobtainable due to their absence from the state. Any judgment will affect only the property seized, as in personam jurisdiction is unobtainable. 

Six conditions must be satisfied in quasi in rem jurisdiction: [A.] the property must be valuable to determine its worth, [B.]the property seized must be located within the state [C.] The defendant must claim interest and ownership in the property, [D.] the court must have control of the property before it can exercise quasi in rem jurisdiction to the exclusion of the defendant [D.] adequate notice must be provided of the pending action and an opportunity must be provided for the defendant to be heard in accordance to due process and [E.] substantive due process must be established with a level of a contract between the litigant and the forum state. 

[1.2] SUBJECT MATTER JURISDICTION IN FLORIDA

Statutory requirements and federal Constitutional limits must be complied with for a court in Florida to have sufficient jurisdiction over a defendant. The Florida Constitution designates judicial power across four types of courts: [A.] the County Court, [B.] the Circuit Court, [C.] The District Courts of Appeal and [D.] The Supreme Court of Florida. 

The County Court can only handle law matters as long as they fall below USD 30,000. Cases in equity that do not cross the standard of USD 30,000, landlord-tenant eviction actions, real property possession actions, uncontested or simplified divorce proceedings, and homeowners’ association’s disputes are all under the administration of this court.  This provision excludes all law matters that specifically come within the exclusive jurisdiction of the county court. 

Unlike the county court, the circuit court has appellate review and can go over county court decisions. This is the trial court of general jurisdiction, so it hears cases at law and equity, ejectment actions, real property title or boundary actions, etc. The District Court of Appeals then refers to any final circuit court decision since it hears appeals as a matter of right unless the matter is exclusively in the supreme court’s jurisdiction. This is because the Supreme Court of Florida’s appellate nature can be either discretionary or a matter of right if the subject matter pertains to matters that are exclusively the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court of Florida.

From January 1st of 2020, the circuit court’s general statutory authority to hear appeals from county court final orders and judgments were repealed. Furthermore, the circuit court’s specific authority to hear appeals from county court final judgments in misdemeanor cases was also abridged. The erstwhile jurisdiction of the circuit courts has been taken over by the district courts of appeal in [A.] the hearing of appeals of such final orders and judgments. [B. Issuance of extraordinary writs in those appellate cases; and [C.] review non-final orders in those cases as provided by rules of court.

Circuit courts will continue, however, to have appellate jurisdiction for certain types of cases under statutes that were not amended, including appellate jurisdiction for certain administrative decisions and certain decisions entered in a noncriminal infraction and other cases. 

[2.0] FLORIDA PROCESS SERVICE

The commencement of the action should see the immediate issuance of the summons or other process by the clerk or judge under their respective signature with the court’s seal. Florida Process Service can be completed by an officer authorized by law to serve process. However, the court is also sanctioned to appoint any competent person who is not interested in serving the same. 

If a person who is not a party to the action is appointed, they must make proof of service by affidavit readily.  In any event within the time during which the person served, they must respond to the process. However, failure to make proof of service shall not affect the validity of the service. Improper execution of service or any process’s return requires additional process against the party’s unserved party, causing its issuance. The same principle carries on if there are more than one defendant and the clerk or judge is required to issue as many writs of process against the several defendants as may be required by the plaintiff. 

Personal service is effectuated by delivering a copy of the initial pleading and the summons and additional documents to the defendant. This would also require the endorsement of the date and hour of service on the original process, with copies also bearing this information. This information should be furnished by the party affecting personal service, with copies of the initial pleading mailed by the court’s clerk with the notice of action to all parties whose addresses are stated in the initial pleading or sworn statement in case of service by publication.  The clerk is also responsible for a court order’s personal service since the original order must be filed with them for certification and verification. The individual completing the service is required to use the certified copy rather than the original order. 

Service by mail in Florida is entirely acceptable as long as the defendant accepts the same. However, the acceptance of the service of a complaint by mail does not waive any objection to the venue or the jurisdiction of the court over the defendant. This is different from the actual waiver of service of the summons, which is specifically requested by the plaintiff after they have notified the defendant about the commencement of the action. A waiver needs to be particular in its nature, and the notice and request for a waiver need to be in writing specifically addressed to the defendant. In case of waiver served to a company, it needs to be addressed to an officer or managing or general agent of the defendant or other agent authorized by appointment or law to receive Florida Process Service. 

The notice and request must be in writing and dispatched by certified mail, with an attached return receipt. A copy of the complaint and clear identification of the court of filing must be included, with the consequences of both compliance and failure to comply indicated to the defendant. The documents must state the date on which the request was sent, allowing the defendant twenty days to return the waiver from the date on which the request is received to return the waiver. This timeline is extended to thirty days if the defendant’s address is outside of the United States. When service of process is levied on Florida’s non-residents, it is sufficient to plead the basis for service in the language of the statute without pleading the facts supporting service.

It is imperative to provide the defendant with an extra copy of the notice and request, including the waiver, as well as a prepaid means of compliance in writing. Recorded non-compliance of the defendant with the waiver request means that the court will impose the costs subsequently incurred in effecting service on the defendant unless there is sufficiently justifiable cause for failure. Return of the waiver in time means the defendant does not need to respond to the complaint until sixty days after the reception date. To make computing the time easier, the service of process shall be deemed effected 20 days before the time required to respond to the complaint. With a waiver of service, the court can proceed as if summons and complaints were served, and there is no need for additional proof of service. 

If service of the initial process and initial pleading is not made upon a defendant within 120 days after the filing of the initial pleading, the court, on its own initiative after notice or on motion, is required to direct that service be effected within a specified time or shall dismiss the action without prejudice or drop that defendant as a party. There is leeway provided to the plaintiff if they can prove that there was a good cause for the failure or that the neglect was excusable, whereupon the court can extend the time for service for an appropriate period. When a motion for leave to amend with the attached proposed amended complaint is filed, the 120-day period for service of amended complaints on the new party or parties commences. This does require an order granting leave to amend, however. It must be explicitly provided with the summons as to the consequence of ignoring its directives. Failure to respond to the summons constitutes ‘default’ by the defendant, allowing for default judgment proceedings to be initiated against the parties.  The plaintiff’s full amount in the case or specific relief can be provided in the default judgment.

Floridas process service laws do not solely govern how the plaintiff effectuates service but also controls the defendant’s justification in objecting to how the plaintiff carried out the process.  Insufficient service of process in Florida can cause the lawsuit to be dismissed.

[2.1] PROCESS SERVICE TO INITIATE LAWSUIT (SUMMONS)

Each official summons gets a copy of the complaint attached to it (as well as other documents, depending upon the case,) which will be served upon the defendant via [A.] actual service of process, or [B.] constructive or substituted service of process.

[2.2] ACTUAL PROCESS SERVICE

Actual service of process refers to the summons’ personal delivery to the defendant named in the documents by either an authorized private process server or a law enforcement officer (Sheriff’s Department.) The server mostly does personal service by hand-delivering the documents to the defendant, though instances may provide for service by leaving the documents at the person’s abode to any person of suitable age or discretion

To settle the actual Florida process service, the officer (or private process server) issuing the process must sign it and place the court’s seal upon the same. If the signature is forgotten or omitted, it is considered a “matter of substance” under Florida law, without which the summons is void. If personal service cannot be achieved even after a diligent search for the defendant, the personal service must be shown to have not been completed, and alternative means of service may be employed.

[2.3] CONSTRUCTIVE OR SUBSTITUTED PROCESS SERVICE

Constructive or substituted service of the process allows service upon the defendant through alternative means, such as service by publication or by personal service out of the jurisdiction where the case is filed and judgment rendered (service of process in another state). Flordia process service is hierarchical, so constructive service is seen only after the failure of the actual process service. Due process requirements must be undertaken for constructive service so that the individual has the ability to present themselves in court at the time. It is necessary to ensure that the non-resident, evasive, or unknown defendant has a fair chance to present their defense in court within the given timeline. 

Service by Publication

Florida Statute 49.011 allows for service by publication as an alternative to actual service of process in a civil lawsuit. Under this statute, this constructive form of service is only allowed in specific circumstances for specific defendants. Constructive notice assumes that the defendant receives the notice even when not delivered in person. This service of process is permitted only on a judge’s order after a sworn declaration has been given of the failure to locate the defendant after exercising due diligence. The court considers publication effective whether or not the defendant reads it. Constructive service may also refer to a non-resident defendant. 

For more information on serving legal papers, contact Undisputed Legal our Florida Process Service department at (800) 774-6922. Representatives are available Monday-Friday 8 am – 8 pm EST.  If you found this article helpful, please consider donating.  Thank you for following our blog, A space dedicated to bringing you news on breaking legal developments, interesting articles for law professionals, and educational material for all. We hope that you enjoy your time on our blog and revisit us!  We also invite you to check out our Frequently Asked Questions About Process Servers.

Sources

1. Shaffer v. Heitner, 433 U.S. 186 (1977)

2. ch. 2020-61, L.O.F; “Know Your Court.” Florida Courts.

3. F.S. 26.012: Jurisdiction of the circuit court. § 26.012,

4. § 924.08, F.S, supra note 2 

5. Article V, § 4(b)(1), Fla. Const

6. Under Article V, § 4(b)(3), Fla. Const: 

(1)District courts of appeal shall have jurisdiction to hear appeals that may be taken as a matter of right from final judgments or orders of trial courts, including those entered on review of administrative action, not directly appealable to the supreme court or a circuit court. They may review interlocutory orders in such cases to the extent provided by the supreme court’s rules.

(2)District courts of appeal shall have the power to review administrative action, as prescribed by general law directly.

(3)A district court of appeal or any judge thereof may issue writs of habeas corpus returnable before the court or any judge thereof or before any circuit judge within the territorial jurisdiction of the court. A district court of appeal may issue writs of mandamus, certiorari, prohibition, quo warranto, and other writs necessary to the complete exercise of its jurisdiction. To the extent necessary to dispose of all issues in a cause properly before it, a district court of appeal may exercise any of the circuit courts’ appellate jurisdiction.

7. See Rule 1.070(i)(2)(A) to (G) of the Florida Rules of Civil Procedure.

8. Florida Statute 42.031(1)(a)

9. Rule 1.070(a) of the Florida Rules of Civil Procedure.

10. Service of process by publication; cases in which allowed.—Service of process by publication may be made in any court on any party identified in s. 49.021 in any action or proceeding:

(1)To enforce any legal or equitable lien or claim to any title or interest in real or personal property within the jurisdiction of the court or any fund held or debt owing by any party on whom process can be served within this state.

(2)To quiet title or remove any encumbrance, lien, or cloud on the title to any real or personal property within the jurisdiction of the court or any fund held or debt owing by any party on whom process can be served within this state.

(3)To partition real or personal property within the jurisdiction of the court.

(4)For dissolution or annulment of marriage.

(5)For the construction of any will, deed, contract, or other written instrument and a judicial declaration or enforcement of any legal or equitable right, title, claim, lien, or interest thereunder.

(6)To reestablish a lost instrument or record that has or should have its situs within the court’s jurisdiction.

(7)In which a writ of replevin, garnishment, or attachment has been issued and executed.

(8)In which any other writ or process has been issued and executed, which places any property, fund, or debt in the custody of a court.

(9)To revive a judgment by motion or scire facias.

(10)For adoption.

(11)In which personal service of process or notice is not required by the statutes or constitution of this state or by the United States Constitution.

(12)In probate or guardianship proceedings in which personal service of process or notice is not required by the statutes or constitution of this state or by the United States Constitution.

(13)For termination of parental rights under part VIII of chapter 39 or chapter 63.

(14)For temporary custody of a minor child, under chapter 751.

(15)To determine paternity, but only as to the legal father in a paternity action in which another man is alleged to be the biological father, in which case it is necessary to serve process on the legal father to establish paternity about the alleged biological father

11. 49.021 Service of process by publication, upon whom.—Where personal service of processor, if appropriate, service of process under s. 48.194 cannot be had, service of process by publication may be had upon any party, natural or corporate, known or unknown, including:

(1)Any known or unknown natural person, and, when described as such, the unknown spouse, heirs, devisees, grantees, creditors, or other parties claiming by, through, under, or against any known or unknown person who is known to be dead or is not known to be either dead or alive;

(2)Any corporation or other legal entity, whether its domicile be foreign, domestic, or unknown, and whether dissolved or existing, including corporations or other legal entities not known to be dissolved or existing, and, when described as such, the unknown assigns, successors in interest, trustees, or any other party claiming by, through, under, or against any named corporation or legal entity;

(3)Any group, firm, entity, or persons who operate or do business, or have operated or done business, in this state, under a name or title which includes the word “corporation,” “company,” “incorporated,” “inc.,” or any combination thereof, or under a name or title which indicates, tends to indicate or leads one to think that the same may be a corporation or other legal entity; and

(4)All claimants under any of such parties.

12. Florida Statute 48.171.

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