Trial Court Could Look Beyond Four Corners of Complaint To Dismiss Case Based on Forum Selection Clause


Plaintiff sued defendant for statutory and tort claims. Defendant moved to dismiss per Fla. R. Civ. P. 1.140 based on forum selection clause in contract signed with Plaintiff that governed all disputes between the parties. Defendant introduced forum selection clause by attaching a copy of the applicable contact to his Motion to Dismiss. Plaintiff had not attached the contract to her complaint as her claims were not based on the contract.

The trial court denied the motion to dismiss finding that it was limited to considering the four corners of the complaint on a Motion to Dismiss. The Third DCA overturned the trial court’s ruling, finding:

As a general rule, when considering a motion to dismiss, a trial court is limited to the allegations within the four corners of the complaint and any attachments. See e.g., Minor v. Brunetti, 43 So. 3d 178 (Fla. 3d DCA 2010). However, there are several exceptions to this general rule. For example, a court is permitted to consider evidence outside the four corners of the complaint where the motion to dismiss challenges subject matter jurisdiction (See, e.g., Seminole Tribe of Fla. v. McCor, 903 So. 2d 353 (Fla. 2d DCA 2010); Barnes v. Ostrander, 450 So. 2d 1253 (Fla. 2d DCA 1984)) or personal jurisdiction (See, e.g., Venetian Salami Co. v. Parthenais, 554 So. 2d 499 (Fla. 1989)), or where the motion to dismiss is based upon forum non conveniens (Kinney Sys., Inc. v. Continental Ins. Co., 674 So. 2d 86 (Fla. 1996); Fla. R. App. P. 1.061) or improper venue (See, e.g., Barclays Bank, PLC v. Munoz, 890 So. 2d 1252 (Fla. 3d DCA 2005); Merrill Lynch, Pierce, Fenner & Smith, Inc. v. Nat’l Bank of Melbourne & Trust Co., 238 So. 2d 665 (Fla. 4th DCA 1970)). A motion to dismiss based on a contractual forum selection clause is similar, in many respects, to a motion to dismiss for improper venue. We can discern no reason for treating them differently for purposes of applying the exception to the “four corners” rule. This is especially so because, in Florida, forum selection clauses are presumptively valid and it is the burden of the party seeking to avoid that contractual agreement to establish “that trial in the contractual forum will be so gravely difficult and inconvenient that he will for all practical purposes be deprived of his day in court.” Corsec, S.L. v. VMC Intern. Franchising, LLC, 909 So. 2d 945, 947 (Fla. 3d DCA 2005) (quoting Manrique v. Fabbri, 493 So. 2d 437, 440 (Fla. 1986)).

STEINER TRANSOCEAN LIMITED v. MILENA EFREMOVA, Case No. 3D12-2390 (3d DCA March 13, 2013).

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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