Personal Jurisdiction over an employee does not exist for acts committed on behalf of his employer—unless done in his individual capacity.
Submitted by Anthony Stella & Carri Leininger on 13 Nov, 2023
To have jurisdiction over a defendant, a trial court must have personal jurisdiction over said defendant—whether it be specific jurisdiction or general jurisdiction. However, the “corporate shield” doctrine protects an employee from being hauled into court when he commits acts in Florida on behalf of his employer—unless such acts were in committed by the employee in his individual capacity.
More specifically, as held by the Florida Supreme Court in Doe v. Thompson, 620 So. 2d 1004 (Fla. 1993), pursuant to the “corporate shield” doctrine, personal jurisdiction cannot be asserted against an individual for an act or omission committed in a representative capacity on behalf of a corporation. See id. at 1006 (explaining that pursuant to the “corporate shield” doctrine,” an individual is not subject to personal jurisdiction for acts committed on behalf of his employer). More specifically, a corporation can be subject to the jurisdiction of the Florida courts on the basis of its own contacts with Florida, but individual officers have the protection of a corporate shield if they are acting as representatives. See id.; see also LaFreniere v. Craig-Myers, 264 So. 3d 232, 237 (Fla. 1st DCA 2018) (“The corporate shield doctrine provides that personal jurisdiction cannot be exercised over a nonresident corporate employee sued individually for acts performed in a corporate capacity.”) (citing Doe, 620 So. 2d at 1005). Frohnhoefer v. Pontin, 958 So. 2d 420, 422 (Fla. 3d DCA 2007) (“The so-called ‘corporate shield’ doctrine protects a non-resident corporate representative from being sued in Florida for acts or omissions performed on behalf of the corporation.”) (citing Doe, 620 So. 2d at 1005).
Rather, a nonresident corporate officer may be subject to the jurisdiction of the Florida courts only if that officer has acted in an individual capacity. See, e.g., Kitroser v. Hurt, 85 So. 3d 1084, 1089 (Fla. 2012) (concluding that the corporate shield doctrine did not apply because the defendant acted in his individual capacity while allegedly committing a tort in Florida). The rationale behind the “corporate shield” doctrine “is the notion that it is unfair to force an individual to defend a suit brought against him personally in a forum with which his only relevant contacts are acts performed not for his own benefit but for the benefit of his employer.” Doe, 620 So. 2d at 1006 (internal quotation marks omitted)
For example, in Doe, the plaintiff brought a gross negligence suit against a chief executive officer, alleging the officer failed to take adequate measures to prevent sexual assault. 620 So. 2d at 1004. The supreme court held that personal jurisdiction was not established, because “[the defendant’s] allegedly negligent actions are not alleged to have been taken outside his duties as [the corporation]’s president and chief executive officer; rather, [the plaintiff] alleges that he was acting within the scope of his employment.” Id. at 1006. By contrast, in Kitroser, the Florida Supreme Court held that personal jurisdiction was, in fact, conferred because, even though the defendants were in Florida on behalf of their employer, while in Florida, they committed torts in their individual and personal capacity, conferring personal jurisdiction. See Kitroser, 85 So. 3d at 1089.
Thus, when a plaintiff attempts to exercise personal jurisdiction over an out-of-state defendant, the defendant may defend against the exercise of jurisdiction pursuant to the “corporate shield” doctrine if, in fact, the defendant committed the acts in question in Florida on behalf of his employer. If, however, those acts were committed in the defendant’s individual capacity, a court’s exercise of jurisdiction over the defendant may be proper.