MINIMUM CONTACTS FOR ALIENATION OF AFFECTION

February 9, 2011 § 4 Comments

Kristina and her husband Eric lived in Long Beach, Mississippi.  Kristina commuted to work in Louisiana, where she began having a sexual relationship with William, a co-worker.  All physical contact between Kristina and William occurred exclusively in Louisiana.

When they were apart, Kristina and William pursued their mutual infatuation via e-mail, cell phone and text messages.  Many of the electronic communications were sent and received by Kristina while she was physically located in Mississippi.

Eric discovered the relationship and asked William to leave his wife alone.  William persisted.  Eventually Eric and Kristina were divorced and Kristina moved to Louisiana and married William.

Eric sued William in the County Court of Harrison County, Mississippi, for alienation of affection, alleging that his damages occurred in Mississippi, and that Kristina had sent and received communications while she was in the state.

William moved unsuccessfully to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction and took an interlocutory appeal to the supreme court.

In the case of Knight v. Woodfield, decided January 6, 2011, the Mississippi Supreme Court found that the phone calls, text messages and e-mails were sufficient “minimum contacts” with Mississippi to confer personal jurisdiction.  The court cited International Shoe Company v. Washington, 326 US 310, 316 (1945), which states that “A defendant has ‘minimum contacts’ with a state if the defendant has purposefully directed his activities at residents of the forum and the litigation results from alleged injuries that arise out of or relate to those activties.”

The court also found that allowing the suit to go forward in Mississippi would not offend traditional notions of fair play and substantial justice because Mississippi has an interest in providing a forum for its residents who are injured by nonresidents and for other reasons.  

The opinion, written by Justice Carlson, includes this language about the tort of alienation of affection:

Mississippi’s interest is enhanced because Louisiana does not recognize the tort of alienations, making Mississippi the only viable forum for Woodfield’s claims … the purpose of the tort of alienation of affections is the ‘protection of the love, society, companionship, and comfort that form the foundation of marriage …’ [citations omitted] Permitting claims for alienation of affections protects the marriage relationship and provides a remedy to those who have suffered loss of consortium as a result of the conduct of others …”

Justice Waller, joined by Chandler, dissented, disagreeing with the majority that the electronic communications constituted minimum contacts with Mississippi.

We’ve talked here before about the viability of alienation of affection as a cause of action.  From the language in this case, it appears that alienation is as viable as ever.

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§ 4 Responses to MINIMUM CONTACTS FOR ALIENATION OF AFFECTION

  • Tim Holleman says:

    First, thanks for the website I enjoy reading the legal issues discussed.

    Second, I questioned this decision when it came down because where is an email “received”. When you send email it goes to a server somewhere (probably not in Mississippi i. e. AOL). When some “receives” an email they are actually accessing an email account on this server (probably not in Mississipp i. e. AOL) through their computer. So the email was never sent to or “received” in Mississippi unless the server its sent to is located in Mississippi. Its sent to a server somewhere and is accessed by an a computer located in Mississippi. The problem is in the decision the email is treated like a letter sent via the U. S. Mail which physically arrives in Mississippi. An interesting question isn’t it?

    • Larry says:

      It is almost mind-bending to try to reconcile our traditional notions of jurisdiction with the ever-advancing tide of technological change. I agree with Randy’s comments below that it appears Mississippi is trying to be in line with other jurisdictions on this issue. But who knows where this will go as technology keeps pushing aside the limitations of space and time.

      Thanks for your comment.

  • Randy says:

    Some commentators have suggested the Court was reaching in this opinion, but it appears to be in accord with other jurisdiction cases such as Internet Doorway, Inc. v. Parks, 138 F. Supp. 2d 773 (S.D. Miss 2001) where a single email to a MS resident causing harm was sufficient to establish jurisdiction.

    • Larry says:

      Of course, we don’t try alienation cases in Chancery. My primary interest is whether it will continue as a cause of action since it’s often used coercively in connection with domestic litigation.

      Thanks for the insight into long-arm jurisdiction, though. Lawyers get lots of questions about these things, and they need to know how to advise therr clients.

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