I have known clients who have opened bank accounts in other states where garnishments are more difficult. These clients have asked me whether a Florida court could issue an order garnishing the account or imposing another order concerning money in out-of-state (foreign) financial accounts. An appellate decision issued last year suggest that Florida courts lack authority to affect foreign state financial accounts.
The case was a criminal forfeiture action. The Seminole County Florida Sheriff seized the defendant’s bank accounts in other states. The appellate court said that criminal forfeiture is an in rem proceeding, and to have subject matter jurisdiction in an in rem proceeding the court must have jurisdiction over the property which is subject of the action. Because Florida courts do not have jurisdiction over property located outside the state, the trial court did not have jurisdiction to permit the Sheriff to seize the foreign account.
Garnishment actions are in rem, or quasi in rem. A Florida court does not have jurisdiction to garnish an account opened outside Florida because it lacks jurisdiction over the money. In federal courts, forfeiture suits are initially brought against a person but a subsequent turnover order directed against the defendant’s assets is in rem and subject to similar jurisdictional limitations.