FL: Underlying divorce, negotiated marital settlement agreement
Facts: Client hired a NY Attorney to represent him in his divorce from his former wife and to negotiate the marital settlement agreement (“agreement”). Under the agreement, the parties’ rights and obligations were to be interpreted under NY law. A NY court entered the final judgment of the divorce, including the agreement. Under the agreement, Client’s grocery store chain was to be sold for $87,500,000. Client’s former wife was to receive 55.7% of shares of stock and 55.7% of the proceeds from the sale. The former wife’s attorney received a letter from another NY attorney stating that the grocery store chain was being reduced by $2,000,000, but her number of shares would increase to make up for the loss. Client’s former wife sued client in a NY court, and won $4.2 million plus interest. This award was the difference between what client paid her and what she was owed under the settlement agreement. Client’s former wife then filed an action in Florida to garnish Client’s bank account in Florida. Client sued attorney for legal malpractice, alleging that attorney was negligent in failing to incorporate language into the settlement agreement that would make sure him and his former wife would get their respective shares.
Issue: Whether there is statutory basis for jurisdiction in Florida when all of the necessary legal work was performed in New York?
Ruling: No, the facts do not bring it within Florida’s long arm statute, and the attorney did not have sufficient “minimum contacts” with Florida to satisfy due process requirements. The tort of legal malpractice occurred, if at all, in New York because it was a NY court that entered judgment against client, not a FL court.
Lesson: A tort occurs in Florida if (1) attorney engaged in acts that injured the client in Florida and (2) client cause of action in tort is substantially related to attorney’s acts. Specifically, courts will look at where the legal work was performed and where court settlement agreements or judgments are entered to determine where a tort occurred.