Tuesday, July 03, 2007, 7:55 PM

If Your Spouse Cheats, Hope It Happens In NC

Today the COA vacated a judgment for criminal conversation and alienation of affections on the basis that there was no personal jurisdiction over the defendant, a CA resident. The case is Brown v. Ellis.

Defendant and plaintiff's wife (Wife) had an affair. Wife lived in NC. Defendant lived in CA. They were coworkers who communicated regularly by phone. Apparently they hooked up during business trips outside NC. The trial court found personal jurisdiction. The case went to trial. Plaintiff won a judgment for $350k in compensatory damages and $250k in punitives. (At $600,000 affair, it was quite an expensive affair!)

Defendant appealed. Plaintiff argued jurisdiction was proper based on defendant's emails and phone calls to Wife. Specifically, plaintiff relied on the long-arm statute providing jurisdiction over a defendant where "[s]olicitation or services activities were carried on within this State by or on behalf of the defendant." Defendant countered that the record didn't establish that Wife was in NC when she received the calls and emails.

The COA reversed because plaintiff didn't allege that Wife was physically present in NC at the time of defendant's alleged solicitations.

If that sounds like a technicality, it is. But these cases are often decided along fine lines. For instance, in a 2000 case the COA found personal jurisdiction based on allegations that a SC defendant telephoned plaintiff's husband in NC to solicit his affections. But in a 2003 case the COA found no personal jurisdiction where defendant's only contact with plaintiff's spouse in NC was during a three-day period in which no misconduct was alleged.


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