FL: Underlying products liability suit
Facts: Client hires a New York Attorney to represent her in a products liability suit. Client is attempting to recover damages against Bristol-Myers Squibb (“Bristol-Myers”) and Medical Engineering Corp. (“Medical”) for injuries caused to her by her breast implants. The suit was initially filed in New York. Attorney hired co-counsel Weitz & Luxemburg (“Weitz”), a New York law firm. The case was transferred to U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida. Weitz hired Florida counsel upon the transfer of the products liability suit to Florida. Bristol-Myers was dismissed from the action and a $757,568.64 judgment was entered against Medical. After the judgment was entered, Client amended her malpractice complaint where she alleged that Attorney was negligent and breach her fiduciary duty in handling the litigation. Client contends that the malpractice and damages that she suffered occurred in Florida. Attorney maintains that her representation ended when the case was transferred to Florida. Attorney filed a motion to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction. In Attorney’s affidavits, she asserts that she never engaged in business in Florida and therefore is not subject to Florida’s jurisdiction. The trial court denied Attorney’s motion without affording her an evidentiary hearing.
Issue: Whether the trial court erred in denying Attorney’s motion without first holding an evidentiary hearing with regards to the jurisdictional issue?
Ruling: Yes. Even though Client responded by stating that Attorney remained involved in the representation after the transfer of the case to Weitz, Attorney was able to provide affidavits stating that (1) she did not receive any compensation for services to Client, (2) there was never any contract or fee arrangement with any Florida firm, and (3) after she transferred Client’s file to Weitz, she had no further contact with the Florida firm chosen by Weitz.
Lesson: When an attorney properly contests Florida’s long-arm jurisdiction, the client filing the malpractice suit now has the burden refute the evidence. If the client meets this burden by filing a response, Attorney may then counter Client’s response with supplemental affidavits. When affidavits are not consistent and conflicts exits, an evidentiary hearing must be afforded. In this case, the hearing would resolve disputed facts such as (1) provisions of any agreement concerning referral of the case by Attorney to Weitz, (2) the extent of Attorney’s representation after the case was transferred to Weitz and filed in Florida, and (3) whether Attorney received any compensation arising out of the Florida litigation.
Posted in: Florida