Siegel v. Novak, 2006 WL 119545 (Fla. 4th DCA Jan 18, 2006) Probate litigation is often rife with conflict of law issues. For example, it is not uncommon to have a trust governed by the law of one jurisdiction (e.g., Florida law) administered in another jurisdiction (e.g., New York). In this case the parties were litigating whether the decedent’s sons had standing to challenge trust disbursements made from their mother’s revocable trust prior to her death. Both sides agreed New York law applied to the trust accounting issue. The point of contention arouse around standing. Under New York law the sons had standing to sue, under Florida law they apparently did not. Question for Florida Court: Does New York law apply to the standing issue or does Florida law apply? In other words, is standing to sue a substantive or procedural matter for choice of law purposes? Palm Beach County Judge Gary L. Vonhof ruled the decedent’s sons lacked standing under Florida law and thus dismissed their claims on summary judgment. The Fourth DCA reversed holding that standing is a substantive matter for choice of law purposes, thus New York law applied because New York bore the most significant relationship to the trust, thus the decedent’s sons had standing to sue. The Fourth DCA explained its ruling as follows:

“In a choice of law context, Florida maintains the traditional distinction between substantive and procedural matters.” “As the forum state in this case, Florida law determines whether [the issue of standing] is substantive or procedural for choice of law purposes.” Generally, when confronted by a choice of law problem, a court will apply foreign law when it deals with the substance of the case and will apply the forum’s law to matters of procedure. Substantive law generally relates to the rights and duties of a cause of action, while procedural law involves the “‘machinery for carrying on the suit.'”. No Florida case has decided whether standing is a substantive or procedural matter for choice of law purposes. Recently, the eleventh circuit has indicated that “[u]nder Florida’s choice of law provisions, Florida law governs all substantive issues, including the question of whether an individual has standing and capacity to sue.” In Merkle v. Robinson, 737 So.2d 540, 542 (Fla.1999), the Florida Supreme Court held that “statute of limitation choice of law questions [should be treated] the same as ‘substantive’ choice of law questions which,**** Florida decides pursuant to the ‘significant relationship’ test.” In this area, the question of standing to assert a claim is analogous to a statute of limitations defense. Both issues relate to whether a cause of action may proceed; neither involves the “machinery for carrying on the suit” once the right to proceed has been determined. The ability to bring an action at law is a “most valuable attribute” of a legal right, a factor favoring the classification of standing as a substantive matter. Here, the right of the [decedent’s sons] to challenge the distributions from the trust should be decided under New York law. For the challenged distributions, New York bears the most significant relationship to the trust. (Emphasis added; internal citations omitted.)