Meyer v. Meyer, __ So.2d __, 2006 WL 1708155 (Fla. 5th DCA June 23, 2006)
Venue rulings can be powerful tools in litigation. Requiring parties to drop their lawsuit in one state and re-file in another (in this case New York) may sound like a minor inconvenience, but the real life implications are significant. A party seeking to enforce his or her rights under a Florida-law governed trust in another state must now hire two sets of lawyers: local counsel to file the initial complaint and navigate the civil procedure requirements of that jurisdiction plus Florida counsel to educate a probate judge in another state regarding what can be very complicated and state-specific Florida trust laws.
In this case an alleged beneficiary of the trust filed a petition in Florida seeking construction of a Florida-law governed trust. The trial court denied a motion to dismiss on venue grounds under F.S. § 737.203. The trial court was reversed by the Fifth DCA. The most significant aspect of the Fifth DCA’s opinion is that it basically maps out the factual allegations a party seeking to keep an action involving a Florida-law governed trust in this state should prove.
Here, the trust is being administered in New York where the trustee resides. None of the parties has any connection with the state of Florida, and we note that the petition filed by Laurie does not contain any factual allegations showing that venue properly lies in this state. Because a proper objection has been filed by parties who are beneficiaries of the trust protesting the proceedings by the Florida court concerning a trust registered or having its principal place of administration in New York, the trial court should have properly applied the dictates of section 737.203. We are unable to determine whether this is what the trial court did because it simply denied the motion to dismiss without revealing the basis for its denial. Accordingly, we reverse the order denying the motion to dismiss and remand for the purpose of allowing the trial court to determine whether all interested parties could be bound by litigation in New York. Perry. If the trial court finds the parties may be bound by New York litigation, “the court shall continue, stay, or dismiss the suit” filed by Laurie. Perry, 903 So.2d at 377. If the parties are not bound, the court may deny the motion to dismiss.
We note, parenthetically, that although the trust agreement contains a choice of law provision, it does not designate Florida as the principal place for administration of the trust. Unless specified 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 or, if he or she has no place of business, the trustee’s residence.” § 737 .101(1), Fla. Stat. (2005). Accordingly, New York is the principal place for administration of the trust because the trustee is a resident of that state and the trustee’s attorney for legal matters pertaining to the trust is also in New York.