Sigmund v. Rea (CA1 2/1/11)

The question here is whether Arizona has jurisdiction over a defendant’s foreign spouse when there is no marital community.

Plaintiffs sued three Missouri men for a business transaction gone bad, also naming their wives as defendants on community-property grounds. The wives moved to dismiss as to them; they personally do not have minimum contacts with Arizona (Plaintiffs agree with that) and Missouri does not have community property so there is no community which the husbands’ acts might have bound. The trial court denied the motion, reasoning that tenancy by the entirety – by which spouses hold property in Missouri – is essentially the same thing for jurisdiction purposes.

The Court of Appeals accepted the wives’ special action and granted relief.

The actions of one spouse can establish jurisdiction over the community (Rollins 1985). But there has to be a community, or at least something like it. This opinion concludes that tenancy by the entirety under Missouri’s statutes is “wholly different” from community property, not the same thing – mostly, it seems, because in Missouri a judgment or debt incurred by one spouse alone cannot reach the marital property.

The court notes in a long paragraph of dicta that the tenancy-in-common law of some states is closer to community property and that it isn’t trying to “draw a bright line” between Arizona and all tenancy-in-common states. The court doesn’t specifically point out that you have to check the statues and cases of the state at issue. The implementation and interpretation of tenancy by the entirety varies; it’s easy, in fact, to find authority for the proposition that it is indeed just like community property.

The court also says, in more dicta, that concepts of agency “might justify the exercise of jurisdiction in appropriate cases” but doesn’t here because no facts or law support an agency argument. One wonders why the court advances an argument that “might” work in other cases but has no application whatever to the one before it. As always, we’ll give the court the benefit of the doubt and assume that somebody mentioned it in a brief.

The court started out by saying that it took this special action because “we have never addressed the [jurisdiction]  question when the spouses reside in a state that does not recognize the concept of the marital community. We therefore accept jurisdiction to clarify the reach of Rollins.” What it ends up holding, though, is merely that Rollins doesn’t reach Missouri.


(link to opinion)