Florida Courts' Jurisdiction Over Foreign Assets Curtailed
By Dan Bushell
Courts’ power to do justice in civil cases depends on their ability to enforce their judgments, i.e., to compel parties to pay up when they are found liable. But courts are also wary of extending their power outside of their own territory, and thus encroaching on the power of courts in other states and countries.
In a pair of March 2014 decisions, the latter consideration prevailed, as a Florida appellate court narrowly interpreted the power of Florida courts to exercise jurisdiction over assets located outside of Florida.
In the first case, Sargeant v. Al-Saleh, decided March 5, 2014, the Fourth District Court of Appeal (based in West Palm Beach) reversed an order of the 15th Judicial Circuit, which had required that stock certificates evidencing ownership of corporations located abroad be turned over to satisfy a judgment.
The judgment in Sargeant resulted from litigation over a failed oil shipping deal, in which a jury awarded $28.8 million in favor of Mohammed Al-Saleh (reportedly the brother-in-law of the king of Jordan, according to the Palm Beach Post). To satisfy the judgment, Al-Saleh sought to compel the defendants, businessmen Harry Sargeant III and Mustafa Abu-Naba’a, to turn over stock certificates for corporations they owned. The defendants countered that Florida courts do not have jurisdiction to order the turnover of the stock certificates to the corporations they own, because they are located in the Bahamas, Jordan, the Isle of Man, and the Dominican Republic.
On appeal, the 4th DCA agreed. Finding no controlling Florida cases on point, the court was swayed by policy considerations, which it said favor letting courts in foreign jurisdictions determine rights to property located in those jurisdictions.
In the second case, Edelsten v. Mawardi, decided March 19, 2014, the court dealt with a slightly different attempt to take control of assets located outside of Florida. The plaintiff in that case sued a Florida parent company and its Ohio subsidiary in connection with a failed business deal involving an apartment complex in Dayton, Ohio, which was owned by the Ohio subsidiary. A circuit court appointed a receiver to manage the apartment complex until the dispute was resolved. The 4th DCA reversed.
Just as the court had held that Florida courts cannot order the transfer of foreign stock certificates, the 4th DCA held that Florida courts are not empowered to exercise jurisdiction to appoint a receiver over a corporation located in another state. It