There are several issues of law that are presented in the case scenario involving Little Jimmy O’Leary and Sally Johnson. The main issue is what’s known as a conflict of laws. Conflict of Laws is the legal process of determining the relevant courts that have jurisdiction over a case at hand, and also determining the appropriate laws that the court should apply in its decision over a case. In the present scenario Mr. O’Leary, domiciled in Alabama got into an auto accident in Florida with Ms. Johnson, domiciled in New York. Both parties owned homes in Florida. Mr. O’Leary filed suit for the accident in Alabama with proper service to Ms. Johnsons, concurrently, Ms. Johnson sued Mr. O’Leary in a Florida federal circuit court.
The suit in Alabama was improperly filed, regardless of the proper service to Ms. Johnson. The auto-accident occurred in a foreign jurisdiction (Florida), and Ms. Johnson is a resident of New Jersey. Thus, the court lacked personal jurisdiction over her. Furthermore, since the issue at hand occurred in a different state the court also lacked subject-matter jurisdiction to decide the controversy. According to the fact pattern, Ms. Johnson lacked the minimal contacts necessary with Alabama for the Alabama court to enforce jurisdiction (International Shoe Co. v. Washington). Ms. Johnson’s motion to dismiss should be upheld and the Alabama state court should decline to take the case. The proper venue would be either the jurisdiction in which the defendant resides, or where a substantial portion of the events at issue occurred.
Ms. Johnson’s service of process to Mr. O’Leary is clearly defective and the federal court did not have jurisdiction over the case regardless. In order for service on him to be correct there must have been some attempt to personally deliver the summons to. The process server, unable to locate Mr. O’Leary, simply left the documents with one of his tenants at a home he owns in Florida. From the fact pattern there is no reason to believe that Ms. Johnson did not know his address (he had already initiated suit in Alabama), and he should have been served personally. A tenant is not closely related to the defendant and leaving the documents with him was inappropriate. Thus, the default judgment was defective.
Ms. Johnson relied on the theory of Diversity Jurisdiction by bringing Mr. O’Leary to Federal Court. At first glance, this seems appropriate because the parties are residents of different states. The choice of the Florida court was appropriate because the incident occurred within the confines of the jurisdiction. If service was proper, personal jurisdiction may have been established. Where diversity jurisdiction failed in the present scenario was the claim being for fifty thousand dollars. Under federal statute, the value of the case must exceed the sum of seventy-five thousand dollars. As Ms. Johnson was only suing for fifty thousand dollars, she did not meet this bar to bringing an action in federal court and thus it was the inappropriate venue to bring her claim.
International Shoe Co. v. Washington 326 U.S. 310 (S.C. US 1945)
Peggy Karley, Joanne Banker Hames and Paul A. Sukys, ”The Courts and Jurisdiction” in Civil Litigation (Clifton Park: Delmar, 2012)