Case of the Day: Societe Hellin v. Valley Commercial Capital

The case of the day is Societe Hellin S.A. v. Valley Commercial Capital LLC (Fla. Ct. App. 2018). Valley sued Societe Hellin Francisco Morillo, alleging that they had defaulted on an airplane lease and a guaranty. The lease gave a Venezuelan address for both defendants. Valley said it had made unspecified attempts to serve process on them in Venezuela Panama. It then served process on Morillo’s wife in a condominium unit in Florida, but the court quashed the service on the grounds that Morillo didn’t reside there. Valley went back and sought to serve process at the condominium several times. Valley then sought leave to make substitute service on the Secretary of State. At the hearing on the motion for substitute service, the judge said, “At some point [VCC] needs to bring [defendants] to court and [has] to get service somehow. … What are they supposed to do, go serve him in Venezuela?” The judge granted leave, and the defendants moved to quash the service. The court denied the motion to quash, and the defendants appealed.

The appellate court reversed. “Repeated attempts at service on the wrong location do not amount to due diligence.” Even though Valley had a Venezuelan address for the defnedants, “there is no evidence in the record showing that VCC made any attempt to locate or serve defendants in Venezuela or Panama.”

At the hearing on VCC’s motion to permit substitute service, the trial court asked, “What are they supposed to do, go serve him in Venezuela?” In response to this question, we note that while VCC did not have to serve Morillo in Venezuela, it did have to engage in duly diligent efforts to effect personal service upon him.

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