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Florida Rejects Exercise Of Specific Personal Jurisdiction Over Out-Of-State Helicopter Manufacturer Under State Long Arm Statute And Constitutional Due Process Analysis – Professional Negligence



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The Florida Second District Court of Appeal recently reversed a
trial court’s determination that it had jurisdiction over
Robinson Helicopter Company (“Robinson”), a California
corporation with its only place of business in California, in
connection with a fatal emergency landing of an R-44 helicopter
near Tampa, Florida. The accident took place after a Florida
maintenance facility’s unsuccessful efforts to repair the
helicopter’s engine. In response to telephonic outreach to
Robinson from the Florida maintenance facility after a loss of
engine power on a prior flight, Robinson had provided the
Florida-based maintenance facility with instructions for diagnosing
and repairing the helicopter, and with replacement parts to
potentially fix the engine problem.

The decedent’s Estate filed an action against Robinson,
the Florida-based maintenance facility, and other defendants.
Against Robinson, the Estate asserted claims for strict liability
and negligence “based on a defective air inlet duct which
caused the engine failure as well as a separate negligence claim
for failing to properly diagnose, repair, and transport the
helicopter.”

In response to Robinson’s motion to dismiss, the trial
court determined “that sufficient jurisdiction facts existed
to bring the action within the ambit of [Florida’s] long-arm
statute and to establish the constitutionally required minimum
contacts.” On appeal and following a de novo
review, the Court of Appeal applied Florida’s two-part test
to determine whether personal jurisdiction existed over the
non-resident defendant Robinson, disagreed with both of the trial
court’s determinations after applying that test, and ordered
the dismissal of Robinson.

Long arm statute
analysis
. Florida’s long arm statute, as
is common in many states, has a provision requiring that a tort be
committed in Florida in order for there to be specific personal
jurisdiction. In other words, this analysis focuses on where
the tortious conduct occurred, not on where the plaintiff
ultimately suffered damages. The court found that in an ordinary
negligence action (as opposed to in actions involving fraud,
slander, or intentional torts, in which a different rule applies in
Florida), a non-resident’s telephonic communications into the
state were not sufficient to constitute a tort
committed within the state of Florida by Robinson. 

Constitutional due process clause
analysis
. To establish minimum contacts of
Robinson with Florida, the Estate needed to show that
Robinson’s contacts with Florida: “(1) are related to
the plaintiff’s cause of action or have given rise to it, (2)
involve some act by which [Robinson] has purposefully availed
itself of the privilege of conducting activities within [Florida],
and (3) must be such that [Robinson] should reasonably anticipate
being haled into court [in Florida].” 

The court found that the circumstances here were much different
from those addressed by the US Supreme Court in its recent Ford
Motor Company v Montana Eighth Judicial District Court

decision. First, in contrast to Ford in that case, Robinson
did not concede that it did substantial business in Florida.
Second, the court stated that “Robinson Helicopter Company is
no Ford Motor Company” – finding that it “is a
comparatively small company with a single facility in California
which produced fewer than fifty helicopters in 2020.” In
addition, the court found important that there was “no
indication that Robinson engages in any targeted advertising in
Florida,” and that “while Robinson does maintain a list
of ‘authorized’ dealers and service centers in various
states, including Florida, those businesses are separate
entities” and “Robinson itself has no employees,
agents, or representatives in [Florida].” Finally, the court
noted that “while the particular aircraft involved in this
case malfunctioned and caused injury within Florida, it had only
been brought into [Florida] after [its owner] had purchased it from
the dealer in Indiana.”

Ultimately, the court found that Robinson did not direct the
accident helicopter into Florida, that Robinson had not
continuously exploited the Florida market such that it must
reasonably anticipate being haled into court there, and that the
few contacts which Robinson had with Florida related to this
accident were created not by Robinson, but instead by the
plaintiff’s decedent and by the Florida-based maintenance
facility which had reached out to Robinson for advice in the repair
of the R-44 helicopter.

Robinson Helicopter Co. v.
Gangapersaud
, 2022 Fla. App. LEXIS 4257 (Fla.
Ct. App. June 22, 2022)

The content of this article is intended to provide a general
guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought
about your specific circumstances.

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