David Lanier Luck, Todd R. Ehrenreich, and Jenna L. Fischman of Lewis Brisbois Bisgaard & Smith LLP, Coral Gables, for Appellant. Michael E. Riley of Gray Robinson, PA, Tallahassee; Celene H. Humphries and Thomas J. Seider of Brannock & Humphries, Tampa; Michael G. Haire Jr. of Haire Law, LLC, Tallahassee; Daniel Phillips of Phillips Law, PA, Tallahassee; Joseph J. Nagy of Kelley Kronenberg, Fort Lauderdale; and James Lucien Johnson of Gray Robinson, P.A., Orlando, for Appellees.
David Lanier Luck, Todd R. Ehrenreich, and Jenna L. Fischman of Lewis Brisbois Bisgaard & Smith LLP, Coral Gables, for Appellant.
Michael E. Riley of Gray Robinson, PA, Tallahassee; Celene H. Humphries and Thomas J. Seider of Brannock & Humphries, Tampa; Michael G. Haire Jr. of Haire Law, LLC, Tallahassee; Daniel Phillips of Phillips Law, PA, Tallahassee; Joseph J. Nagy of Kelley Kronenberg, Fort Lauderdale; and James Lucien Johnson of Gray Robinson, P.A., Orlando, for Appellees.
Florida resident Bennett Fields was seriously burned when his vaping device (made by a Texas company and sold in Florida by a Georgia company) exploded and caught fire. Fields now seeks to sue the South Korean company that manufactured the batteries in the device at the time. Given these facts and their geographic reach, it should be no surprise that this case involves Florida's long-arm statute. The trial court—concluding that Fields's claim against Samsung satisfied the statute (and determining there were sufficient minimum contacts to satisfy federal due process)—denied the company's motion to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction. We see it differently and reverse. Fields's cause of action against Samsung did not arise from any of the acts enumerated in Florida's long-arm statute.
In October 2018, Fields sustained severe injuries when his vaping device malfunctioned and caught fire in the pocket of his pants. At the time, the device contained small, cylindrical Samsung 18650 lithium-ion batteries. Fields sued Samsung (as the manufacturer of the batteries), as well as other entities involved in the design, production, and sale of the device and batteries.
Samsung moved to dismiss the complaint against it for lack of personal jurisdiction. The parties then engaged in jurisdictional discovery. At deposition, two representatives for South Georgia Vapor, the store that sold the batteries to Fields, testified that South Georgia Vapor had no existing relationship with any Samsung entity. The representatives confirmed that the company had never bought any Samsung batteries directly from any Samsung entity, and they did not know who sold South Georgia Vapor the batteries that were, in turn, sold to Fields.
Through an amended declaration, Samsung's representative conceded that Samsung had several business contacts with Florida. Four of these were contracts with utility companies to provide large-size energy storage system (ESS) batteries, control modules, and rack frames for power-grid applications. None of this equipment involved the small, cylindrical batteries at issue. The remaining Florida business contact was a now-defunct relationship with Prodeco Technologies to provide bundled battery packs to power e-bikes. Some of these packs included 18650 battery cells, but they were provided as bundled packs with a battery management system to control the entire apparatus, not as individual cells. This arrangement lasted from April 2015 to March 2017. Samsung's representative also explained the company does not sell 18650 batteries to be used in vaping devices and specifically prohibits such use.
At the hearing on the motion to dismiss, the parties debated the issue of specific personal jurisdiction. Samsung argued that its contacts with Florida were unrelated to the suit and insufficient to establish personal jurisdiction. The trial court disagreed and denied the motion. We now review that decision.
We review de novo an order determining personal jurisdiction. Wendt v. Horowitz , 822 So. 2d 1252, 1256 (Fla. 2002). Personal jurisdiction comes in two flavors: general and specific. The former exists when a foreign defendant has such "continuous and systematic" ties to the forum state that it is "essentially at home" in that forum (and thus subject to suit there). Daimler AG v. Bauman , 571 U.S. 117, 127, 134 S.Ct. 746, 187 L.Ed.2d 624 (2014) (quoting Goodyear Dunlop Tires Operations, S.A. v. Brown , 564 U.S. 915, 919, 131 S.Ct. 2846, 180 L.Ed.2d 796 (2011) ). The latter applies when a suit arises out of or relates to a foreign defendant's contacts with the forum state. Goodyear , 564 U.S. at 923–24, 131 S.Ct. 2846. Because the parties stipulated below that general personal jurisdiction does not apply, we focus only on whether specific personal jurisdiction exists.
There are both statutory and constitutional limitations on a Florida court's exercise of personal jurisdiction over a foreign corporation. Courts thus apply a two-step analysis to determine when personal jurisdiction exists: (1) whether the action comes within Florida's long-arm statute, and (2) whether the defendant has sufficient minimum contacts to satisfy federal due process requirements. See Venetian Salami Co. v. Parthenais , 554 So. 2d 499, 500–02 (Fla. 1989).
To pass the first step, a court must determine that the plaintiff has alleged sufficient jurisdictional facts to satisfy Florida's long-arm statute. Kitroser v. Hurt , 85 So. 3d 1084, 1087 (Fla. 2012). If this pleading requirement is met, the defendant may then provide evidence to refute the complaint's jurisdictional facts. Id. If the defendant successfully refutes those facts, the burden shifts back to the plaintiff to prove a jurisdictional basis. Id.
Long-arm statutes are based on "traditional notions of fair play and substantial justice." Aetna Life & Cas. Co. v. Therm-O-Disc, Inc. , 488 So. 2d 83, 86 (Fla. 1st DCA 1986), aff'd , 511 So. 2d 992 (Fla. 1987). They ensure nonresidents are not pulled into the courts of a state absent a sufficient connection with that state. To this end, we strictly construe Florida's long-arm statute to guarantee compliance with due process requirements. LaFreniere v. Craig-Myers , 264 So. 3d 232, 237 (Fla. 1st DCA 2018).
Florida's long-arm statute provides multiple avenues for finding specific personal jurisdiction, and the trial court determined three of them were satisfied here under subparagraphs 1., 2., and 6.:
(1)(a) A person, whether or not a citizen or resident of this state, who personally
or through an agent does any of the acts enumerated in this subsection thereby submits himself or herself and, if he or she is a natural person, his or her personal representative to the jurisdiction of the courts of this state for any cause of action arising from any of the following acts:
1. Operating, conducting, engaging in, or carrying on a business or business venture in this state or having an office or agency in this state.
2. Committing a tortious act within this state.
6. Causing injury to persons or property within this state arising out of an act or omission by the defendant outside this state, if, at or about the time of the injury, either:
a. The defendant was engaged in solicitation or service activities within this state; or
b. Products, materials, or things processed, serviced, or manufactured by the defendant anywhere were used or consumed within this state in the ordinary course of commerce, trade, or use.
§ 48.193(1)(a), Fla. Stat. In what follows, we explain why none of these three provisions have been met.
A. "Operating, conducting, engaging in, or carrying on a business or business venture in this state."
Samsung acknowledged that it had engaged in some business activities in Florida. See Foster, Pepper & Riviera v. Hansard , 611 So. 2d 581, 582 (Fla. 1st DCA 1992) ("In order to constitute doing business under [ section 48.193(1)(a) ], the nonresident defendant's activities must be considered collectively and show a general course of business activity in the state for pecuniary benefits."). But paragraph (1)(a) requires more than that for a Florida court to have personal jurisdiction. It requires that Fields's cause of action "aris[e] from" Samsung's business activities in Florida. Wendt , 822 So. 2d at 1260.
The "arising from" prong is also known as the "connexity" requirement. Fincantieri-Cantieri Navali Italiani, S.p.A. v. Yuzwa , 241 So. 3d 938, 946 (Fla. 3d DCA 2018) ; Camp Illahee Inves., Inc. v. Blackman , 870 So. 2d 80, 85 (Fla. 2d DCA 2003) ("By its terms, section 48.193(1) requires connexity between the defendant's activities and the cause of action."). It requires that there be a "nexus" or "substantial connection" between the cause of action and the defendant's activities within the state. See Citicorp Ins. Brokers (Marine), Ltd. v. Charman , 635 So. 2d 79, 82 (Fla. 1st DCA 1994).
Fields has failed to connect his injury to Samsung's business activities in Florida. The most substantial part of Samsung's battery business in Florida is its sale of large ESS batteries to utility companies, but those batteries are not the small, cylindrical 18650 batteries used here. Samsung's only sales of 18650 batteries in Florida were those made to Prodeco Technologies to power e-bikes. But those batteries were different too; they were only sold as bundled packs, not as individual batteries capable of being used in vaping devices. Fields further failed to show that the batteries used in his vaping device were in any way related to the batteries sold to Prodeco Technologies.
We therefore conclude that Fields's cause of action did not arise from Samsung's business activities in Florida under subparagraph 1.
B. "Committing a tortious act within this state."
Next, the trial court determined it had personal jurisdiction under subparagraph 2. because Samsung committed a tort within the state. Although Samsung does not have a physical presence within Florida, this does not necessarily preclude a finding of personal jurisdiction under subparagraph 2. See Dean v. Johns , 789 So. 2d 1072, 1076 (Fla. 1st DCA 2001) ("Florida courts have consistently held that physical presence within Florida is not a requirement for personal jurisdiction."). For example, courts have recognized that nonresident defendants can be subject to Florida's jurisdiction when they make tortious communications into Florida. See Wendt , 822 So. 2d at 1260 (holding that a nonresident defendant can commit a tortious act in Florida under the long-arm statute through "telephonic, electronic, or written communications" into Florida).
But Fields's cause of action against Samsung is for strict products liability, which does not fall into this recognized class. See Stonepeak Partners, LP v. Tall Tower Cap., LLC , 231 So. 3d 548, 554 (Fla. 2d DCA 2017) ("[T]he Wendt rule is applied when the tort ‘involves some sort of communication directed into Florida for purpose of fraud, slander, or other intentional tort.’ " (quoting Wiggins v. Tigrent, Inc. , 147 So. 3d 76, 86 (Fla. 2d DCA 2014) )); Kountze v. Kountze , 996 So. 2d 246, 252 (Fla. 2d DCA 2008) ("The reasoning of the cases expanding the reach of subsection [(1)(a)2.] does not appear to have been used in typical negligence actions, but has been applied primarily to defamation, slander, fraud, and other intentional torts.") (citation omitted). We therefore find that the reasoning in Wendt does not apply here.
That Fields was injured in Florida, by itself, is not enough to find that Samsung committed a tort within the state. See Metnick & Levy, P.A. v. Seuling , 123 So. 3d 639, 645 (Fla. 4th DCA 2013) ("[The long-arm statute] necessarily focuses analysis not on where a plaintiff ultimately felt damages, but where a defendant's tortious conduct occurred."). Because Fields's complaint does not allege Samsung committed a tortious act within the state of Florida, the trial court erred by concluding it had personal jurisdiction under this provision. See Robinson Helicopter Co., Inc. v. Gangapersaud , 47 Fla. L. Weekly D92, 2022 WL 38498 (Fla. 2d DCA Jan. 5, 2022) (holding that the court did not have personal jurisdiction under section 48.193(1)(a) 2. where the plaintiff was injured by a helicopter in Florida and sued the California helicopter manufacturer for negligence).
Fields's cause of action fails to satisfy subparagraph 2.
C. "Causing injury to persons or property within this state."
Finally, the trial court determined it had personal jurisdiction under subparagraph 6.b. because Samsung injured someone within the state while its products were being used and consumed within the state. But again, Fields failed to show what he needed to under this provision.
The Florida Supreme Court has explained this provision requires a plaintiff to establish that "the non-resident manufactured or serviced a product which was used within this state in the ordinary course of commerce and trade, and which injured a person in this state." Electro Eng'g Prods. Co., Inc. v. Lewis , 352 So. 2d 862, 864 (Fla. 1977). Beyond that, the plain language of the statute requires that the defendant's actions occur "at or about the time of the injury." § 48.193(1)(a) 6., Fla. Stat.
Fields failed to show that the 18650 batteries that exploded in his pocket were used within Florida in the ordinary course of commerce and trade. In fact, Samsung specifically prohibits its 18650 batteries from being used in vaping devices and does not sell them for that purpose. South Georgia Vapor could not identify who sold the batteries to them.
The sales of bundled 18650 batteries to Prodeco Technologies also fail to satisfy subparagraph 6. because they ended in March 2017. Fields's injury occurred nineteen months later in October 2018. These two events did not occur at or about the same time. Like the provisions discussed above, subparagraph 6. fails to provide a basis for specific personal jurisdiction in this case.
We conclude the trial court erred in finding Fields's claim against Samsung satisfied Florida's long-arm statute. Given this, we need not reach the due process prong of personal jurisdiction. We thus reverse and remand with directions to the trial court to dismiss the action against Samsung.
REVERSED and REMANDED with instructions.
Lewis and Roberts, JJ., concur.