Perry v. Agnew, 2005 WL 1397427 (Fla. 2d DCA June 15, 2005) (Trial Court Reversed)

Sometimes the best defense is a good offense. In this case, an individual trustee working out of his office in Boston, Massachusetts was sued by three beneficiaries, one of whom was a resident of Florida. The trustee moved to dismiss the complaint for improper venue under 2004->Ch0737->Section%20203#0737.203″>F.S. § 737.203. Charlotte County Judge Isaac Anderson, Jr. denied the trustee’s motion to dismiss on two grounds, the most interesting of which was based on a finding that the trust’s Florida choice-of-law provision exempted it from the application of 2004->Ch0737->Section%20203#0737.203″>F.S. § 737.203.

The Second DCA disagreed, and reversed the trial court based on the following:

Section 2004->Ch0737->Section%20101#0737.101″>737.101(1) provides that “[u]nless otherwise designated in the trust agreement, the principal place of administration of a trust is the trustee’s usual place of business where the records pertaining to the trust are kept****” The undisputed evidence in this case established that the trust is administered . . . in Massachusetts.

Section 2004->Ch0737->Section%20203#0737.203″>737.203 provides, in pertinent part:
Over the objection of a party, the court shall not entertain proceedings under s. 2004->Ch0737->Section%20201#0737.201″>737.201 for a trust *** having its principal place of administration in another state unless all interested parties could not be bound by litigation in the courts of the state where the trust *** has its principal place of administration.

This statute is in the nature of a venue provision. Levine v. Steiger, 765 So.2d 249, 250 (Fla. 4th DCA 2000) (citing In re Estate of McMillian, 603 So.2d 685 (Fla. 1st DCA 1992)).

Thus, according to the Second DCA, the trust was not administered in Florida, and could not be sued in Florida in the absence of a determination by the trial court that “all interested parties could [not] be bound by litigation in Massachusetts.”

The Second DCA’s ruling becomes clearer when a choice-of-law provision and a venue provision are compared side by side. Although the exact choice-of-law provision at issue in this case was not provided by the court, the following is an example of the Florida choice-of-law provision I use in my trust documents:

All matters involving the validity and interpretation of this Trust Agreement are to be governed by Florida law. Subject to the provisions of this Trust Agreement, all matters involving the administration of a trust are to be governed by the laws of the jurisdiction in which the trust has its principal place of administration.

By contrast, the following is what a Florida venue provision would look like:

Any civil action or legal proceeding arising out of or relating to this Trust Agreement shall be brought in the courts of record of the State of Florida in Miami-Dade County or the United States District Court in Miami-Dade County.