Alienation of Affections Over More than One State
BASSIRI V. PILLING, 2023-NCCOA-___.
Facts: Plaintiff and his wife were married and residents of North Carolina. In 2019 through 2020, Defendant and Wife began a romantic relationship while Wife was still married to Plaintiff. Plaintiff filed for Alienation of Affections. Discovery was served on Defendant, and Defendant served responses wherein he stated that he and Wife engaged in intimate activities in California, Nevada, and Utah, but never North Carolina—and that Defendant had never set foot in North Carolina. Defendant filed motions to dismiss based on lack of subject matter jurisdiction. The trial court granted the motion and ordered that the lawsuit be dismissed because the evidence shows no conduct in North Carolina. Plaintiff appealed.
Issue: Did the trial court err in granting the motion to dismiss?
Reasoning: The Court of Appeals issued clarification for Alienation of Affections torts. Subject matter jurisdiction is conferred upon the courts by the North Carolina Constitution or by the statutes. The statutes confer broad jurisdiction on the courts to hear claims, including Alienation. The tort of Alienation of Affections is largely abolished across the nation. North Carolina remains in the handful of states that still recognize it. Opinions in this state’s Courts have held that where the acts that give rise to the claim are not in a jurisdiction that recognizes the tort, the sufficiency of the claim dies. This is a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim for which relief can be granted (12(b)(6)). However, that is not the same as a lack of subject matter jurisdiction. This confusion arises because North Carolina is often the only state that recognizes the tort when acts are alleged to span multiple states. Here, Utah also recognizes the tort. But that factual issue was irrelevant in this setting anyway; it was improper to dismiss for lack of jurisdiction. Upon remand, if the facts show that the acts occurred in neither Utah nor North Carolina, then the case would be dismissed for failure to state a claim.
Note: Subject matter jurisdiction, sufficiency of a claim, and choice-of-law are similar principles that can be confused for one another. The state courts have broad subject matter jurisdiction, broad enough to hear claims from non-residents on non-North Carolina laws even. Whether the claim has a justiciable issue is a separate consideration. Finally, which law to apply in cases where there could be more than one jurisdiction’s laws at play are also a separate consideration. Please contact an expert if your claim spans more than one state.