In Quackenbush v. Steelman, the appellate court ruled that the defendant lacked contacts with North Carolina to confer jurisdiction on due process grounds.
By Carrie Tortora, Family Law Attorney
The facts alleged in Plaintiff’s complaint are as follows: Plaintiff and Defendant are citizens and residents of New Jersey. In April 2008, Plaintiff and her husband, Robert T. Quackenbush, attended the Defendant’s husband’s funeral, where they met the Defendant for the first time. At the time of the funeral, Defendant invited Mr. Quackenbush to stop by her home to pick up some of her husband’s belongings that might have “sentimental value” to him. In October 2009, Defendant learned that Mr. Quackenbush was planning to attend Bike Week in Florida, and she convinced him to allow her to accompany him. Mr. Quackenbush drove to Florida, while Defendant took a plane flight. While in Florida, Defendant pretended to be Mr. Quackenbush’s wife and seduced him into having sex with her. The defendant urged Mr. Quackenbush to stay an extra week with her in Florida, and although he declined, he allowed her to drive back to New Jersey with him. On the return trip, Defendant and Mr. Quackenbush stopped for dinner in North Carolina, where they stayed overnight in a hotel and engaged in sexual intercourse that night and the following morning. During their time in North Carolina, Defendant continually implored the Plaintiff’s husband to leave his wife and move in with her when they returned to New Jersey. Upon their return to New Jersey, Defendant and Mr. Quackenbush moved in together, and Mr. Quackenbush bought Defendant gifts. Ultimately, Defendant convinced Mr. Quackenbush to file a complaint for divorce from Plaintiff; however, Mr. Quackenbush eventually dismissed his complaint for divorce and has reconciled with Plaintiff.
Quackenbush v. Steelman: Deciding Jurisdiction on Due Process Grounds
The Court of Appeals agreed with the trial court’s conclusion that the Defendant lacked sufficient minimum contacts with North Carolina to confer jurisdiction on due process grounds. The court cited several factors from prior appellate decisions in determining whether minimum contacts exist, including “(1) the quantity of the contacts, (2) the nature and quality of the contacts, (3) the source and connection of the cause of action to the contacts, (4) the interest of the forum state, and (5) the convenience to the parties.”
While no single factor controlled, the Court emphasized that the “quantity of the contacts” factor “militates against a finding of jurisdiction over Defendant.” In addition, as to the second and third factors, the court noted that the parties had been interacting for six months, which detracted from the importance of their brief 18-hour visit to North Carolina. Additionally, the court noted that Mr. Quackenbush’s affections had already been alienated – or at least were in the process of being alienated – before the Defendant and he arrived in North Carolina. With respect to criminal conversation, although the Court acknowledged that the parties had sex in North Carolina, the court noted that “this factor alone is not dispositive [of the jurisdictional issue].” Finally, the court noted that, aside from the 18-hour stay in North Carolina, none of the three individuals involved had any connection to North Carolina, and that accordingly there was no evidence that North Carolina was a more convenient forum.
In light of the fact that North Carolina is one of the few states that maintain claims for alienation of affection and criminal conversation, this case suggests the courts will scrutinize jurisdictional issues in these cases so as to discourage potential forum shopping.
Carrie Tortora practices family law in North Carolina with the law firm of Gailor, Hunt, Jenkins, Davis & Taylor.
This article aims to assist family lawyers dealing with divorce proceedings that take place in England and Wales but require service in a foreign jurisdiction.