Hunt v. Hooper, — So.2d —-, 2008 WL 5191505 (Fla. 2d DCA Dec 12, 2008)

As I’ve written before, Florida is the largest recipient of state-to-state migration in the U.S. [click here]. This fact has all sorts of implications for trusts-and-estates matters. For example, figuring out where to litigate a trust dispute can be a lot harder than you’d suspect. Do you sue where the trust was executed? where the settlor died? where the settlor resided when he signed the trust agreement? where the trustee is located? where the beneficiaries are located? where the trust assets are located? Based on the particular facts of a case, reasonable minds could disagree on which, if any, of these traditional bases for jurisdiction/ venue should control.

Rather than having to figure this out on a case-by-case basis Florida’s trust code provides a tie-breaker: F.S. 736.0205. Under this statute the trustee’s residence usually controls: if you’re suing the trustee, you have to sue him in his home state.  Sounds simple enough, but figuring out how this statute works in real life has generated a good amount of work for Florida’s appellate courts [click here, here].

In the linked-to case the issue was whether F.S. 736.0205 applies where the trustee resides in a foreign country (Canada). The trial court said yes, but the 2d DCA said no:

Under the plain language of section 737.203[FN1], “the court shall not entertain proceedings under s. 737.201 for a trust registered, or having its principal place of administration, in another state.” (Emphasis added.) There is no indication in the statute that it intends its reach to be broader than its plain language suggests, and we have found no cases applying section 737.203 to trusts whose principal place of administration is a foreign country. Furthermore, we have serious concerns regarding the ability of the courts in many foreign countries to apply Florida law in construing a dispute like the one in this case.

[FN1.] The text of section 737.203, which was repealed and renumbered effective July 1, 2007, see ch.2006-217, §§ 2, 48, 49, Laws of Fla., now appears in section 736.0205, Florida Statutes (2007).

Regardless of the statutory-construction point addressed above, based on the facts of this case it clearly should be litigated in Canada. I think the 2d DCA realized this point and went out of its way to signal alternate arguments for getting this case moved to a Canadian court:


.  .  .  [T]he Trustee was domiciled in Canada, the Father and the Trustee were married in Canada and maintained their primary residence there, the Trustee did not conduct any business in Florida, all trust administration occurred in Canada, the trust property was located in Canada, and none of the beneficiaries were located in Florida.


Because we conclude that section 737.203 is inapplicable to this case, we reverse the trial court’s order dismissing the Children’s action against the Trustee. We note that the Trustee raised a jurisdictional argument in her motion to dismiss that the court did not rule upon. The Trustee should not be prohibited from pursuing this argument on remand. We also note that the Trustee is not precluded from raising any objections to venue upon traditional forum non conveniens grounds on remand.

Lesson learned:

If you’re working on a motion to dismiss where the facts clearly point towards litigation outside of Florida, the arguments you want to make sure you nail are:

  • The trust is a foreign trust administered in another state. F.S. 736.0205
  • The Florida court lacks in personam jurisdiction over the trustee.
  • The Florida court lacks in rem jurisdiction over the trust’s property.
  • A Florida venue is improper based on traditional forum non conveniens grounds.