Return to sender, reverse and render
May 28, 2015 2 Comments
Arguably the most famous person ever born in Tupelo, Mississippi had a little hit back in 1962 titled “Return to Sender”
I gave a letter to the postman,
He put it his sack.
Bright in early next morning,
He brought my letter back.
She wrote upon it:
Return to sender, address unknown.
No such number, no such zone.
Hopefully, Elvis wasn’t singing about sending love letters to a married person as was central to Nordness v. Faucheaux case handed down today by the Mississippi Supreme Court.
Phillip and Paige Faucheux were a military couple who moved frequently, but lived in Mississippi during the time relevant to the case. While Phillip was a resident of Mississippi he began a relationship with Francesca Nordness, a resident of Louisiana. According to the opinion:
Phillip and Francesca continued the affair while Phillip trained in south Louisiana. Phillip often would drive Francesca around in his Mazda pick-up truck with Louisiana license plates. Francesca never visited Phillip in Mississippi, and Phillip never told Francesca that he lived in Mississippi. Instead, he misled her into believing he actually lived in Memphis. His cell phone had a “901” area code—the area code for the Memphis area—and he sent her packages with a Memphis return address.
Francesca and Phillip continued to rendezvous at locations across the country, including Louisiana, Florida, North Carolina, Nevada, and Colorado—but never Mississippi. And although the two exchanged e-mails, phone calls, and text messages, Francesca never knowingly communicated with Phillip while he was in Mississippi. Phillip also sent Francesca several FedEx packages during this time, but according to Phillip’s uncontroverted testimony, he always used a Memphis return address.
Paige finally decided enough was enough and divorced Phillip. Shortly thereafter, Paige brought suit in Mississippi against Francesca for alienation of affection and a number of related torts. Francesca filed a motion to dismiss due to lack of personal jurisdiction claiming in essence “I wasn’t in Mississippi and didn’t do anything in Mississippi.” The trial court denied the motion and the parties ended up before the Mississippi Supreme Court.
Several recent alienation of affection cases before the Court have centered on claims by defendants of insufficient contact with Mississippi to support personal jurisdiction. To the best of my recollection, all of those challenges have failed until today.
In Miller v. Provident Adver. & Mktg., 2014 Miss. App. LEXIS 339, 24-25 (Miss. Ct. App. June 17, 2014) involving pro golfer John Daly, the Court of Appeals found:
[T]he alleged sexual activity between Cladakis and Daly within the state of Mississippi, which contributed to the breakup of Daly’s marriage with Miller, constituted a tort committed, at least in part, within this state. For whatever reason Cladakis and Daly chose Mississippi for the site of their liaisons, this Court finds that decision constituted a purposeful availment to activities within the state for purposes of personal jurisdiction.
In Knight v. Woodfield, 50 So. 3d 995 (Miss. 2011) the court found sufficient contacts where “Knight admitted he was aware that Dakka and Woodfield were married and that Dakka lived with Woodfield in Mississippi.”
In contrast to Miller and Knight, the Court in this case could find no purposeful contact by Francesca with the State of Mississippi.
The record includes no evidence that Francesca created sufficient purposeful minimum contacts with Mississippi by having an affair with a man she did not know lived in Mississippi. Her calls and text messages to Phillip’s Memphis telephone number do not establish minimum contacts in Mississippi. A nonresident defendant must knowingly and purposefully establish minimum contacts with the forum state—in this case, Mississippi—such that the nonresident reasonably can expect to be haled into court in that state.
Nordess, at paragraph 45. The end result from the Court was to reverse and render.
*Short practice tip – If you plan on filing an alienation of affection case in Mississippi against a non-resident of Mississippi, find some knowing contact by the paramour with the State of Mississippi. That contact could be:
- directing emails, letters, texts messages or gifts to the married person in the State of Mississippi
- knowledge by the paramour that the married person is a Mississippi resident
- presence of the non-resident paramour in the State of Mississippi to engage in a sexual act with the married person or further the illicit affair
If you can’t prove these minimum contacts your lawsuit, like the King’s letter, will be returned to sender.