On December 5, 2019, the Mississippi Supreme Court, en banc, affirmed the DeSoto County Circuit Court’s dismissal of Douglas Michael Long Jr.’s Complaint against Pennsylvania resident David J. Vitkauskas for alienation of affections. Vitkauskas moved the court to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction. The court agreed the out-of-state defendant lacked minimum contacts to the forum and, despite argument of counsel, there was insufficient evidence to allow the complaint to go forward.
After Douglas and Catherine A. Long divorced, the plaintiff sued the Pennsylvania resident for alienation of affections. However, the court’s personal jurisdiction requires contacts to Mississippi sufficient to expose the out-of-state defendant to the jurisdiction of the trial court. At the hearing on the motion to dismiss, the plaintiff did not testify. Instead, counsel presented argument about what testimony and evidence would show. That plan would prove unsuccessful.
According to counsel: Douglas and Catherine lived in Olive Branch, Mississippi; Catherine worked in Memphis, Tennessee, where Vitkauskas was her supervisor; and during the marriage, Catherine and Vitkauskas exchanged numerous phone calls and text messages, to include outside of working hours at night and on weekends. Phone logs came into evidence without objection. Counsel continued: Vitkauskas sent gifts to Douglas and Catherine’s Olive Branch home, purportedly indicating the sender’s knowledge of the forum. Douglas’s counsel informed the court that Catherine kept a journal which indicated Vitkauskas having visited the couple’s Olive Branch home. Without proper authentication, the journal did not come into evidence.
According to the plaintiff, the case was like Knight v. Woodfield, 50 So. 3d 995 (Miss. 2011). The trial court disagreed, as the only evidence in the record was the log of phone calls and texts; and Catherine had a Memphis, Tennessee number!
The personal jurisdiction question is two-pronged: whether the nonresident defendant may be reached by Mississippi’s long-arm statute; and whether minimum contacts exist to comport with constitutional Due Process requirements. Answering the first question presented no difficulty for Douglas. However, the plaintiff faltered in proving minimum contacts, thus offending traditional notions of fair play and substantial justice. Recall Int’l Shoe Co. v. Washington, 326 U.S. 310, 316 (1945) from law school.
The Knight case did not save Douglas. There, Knight had known the married couple lived in Mississippi. Even though Knight never presented himself in Mississippi, his knowledge of the forum plus calls and texts constituted minimum contacts. Douglas failed to show that Vitkauskaus purposefully directed his actions at a Mississippi resident. Therefore, Douglas failed to satisfy personal jurisdiction’s requirement for minimum contacts.
Nordness v. Faucheux, 170 So. 3d 454, 461 (¶¶ 28-30) (Miss. 2015) controlled: “For purposes of a state court’s exercise of personal jurisdiction over a nonresident, these cases make clear the Due Process Clause’s requirement of evidence that the nonresident purposefully—not accidentally or unknowingly—engaged in minimum contacts within the forum state, sufficient to submit himself to the personal jurisdiction of that state’s courts. As the Supreme Court has stated numerous times, due process requires that, for a state court to exercise personal jurisdiction over a nonresident, the person reasonably must expect that his or her actions could lead to him or her being ‘hailed into court’ in that state.”
Despite what good evidence might have shown had it been offered into court, and despite argument of counsel, the record was devoid of evidence that Vitkauskas knew of Catherine’s Mississippi residency. The lesson seems to be simple. Do not go into court with mere argument. Take competent witnesses and admissible evidence.
Long v. Vitkauskas, No. 2018-CA-00548-SCT