Brown v. Vaughn

Facts: Girlfriend, a Tennessee resident, sought and obtained an Order of Protection against her former Boyfriend, a Georgia resident.  Boyfriend challenged a Tennessee court exercising jurisdiction over him.  The trial court found:

Subject matter jurisdiction is challenged. The Court finds that [Boyfriend] has committed acts which bring him within the state of Tennessee’s jurisdiction. The Court finds there have been communications that are inappropriate, harassing and threatening of [Girlfriend] towards [Boyfriend], and [Boyfriend] towards . . . [Girlfriend] in both states. . . .

The Court makes a finding within the Tennessee statutes of physical abuse; [Boyfriend] towards [Girlfriend], both in Mexico and in Destin. The Court further finds that there was conduct of [Boyfriend] in the state of Tennessee that . . . placed [Girlfriend] in continuing fear of physical harm. On that basis, the Court will enter an order of protection in favor of [Girlfriend] against [Boyfriend].

Boyfriend appealed, challenging both the Tennessee court’s jurisdiction and the sufficiency of Girlfriend’s evidence.

The Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court.

Regarding the jurisdictional challenge, the Court writes:

The United States Supreme Court has authoritatively opined that the “existence of personal jurisdiction . . . depends upon the presence of reasonable notice to the defendant that an action has been brought and a sufficient connection between the defendant and the forum State to make it fair to require defense of the action in the forum. . . .

“[T]hree primary factors are to be considered in determining whether the requisite minimum contacts are present: the quantity of the contacts, their nature and quality, and the source and connection of the cause of action with those contacts. Two lesser factors to be considered are the interest of the forum State and convenience. . . .”

In the present case, we conclude that [Boyfriend’s] conduct had sufficient minimum contacts with this state to justify invoking jurisdiction over him. In particular, the evidence leads to the reasonable inference that [Boyfriend] repeatedly contacted [Girlfriend] in Tennessee by sending text messages to her and her husband. Significantly, one of these messages contained a picture of [Girlfriend] exiting the shower — a photograph that was identified as one [Boyfriend] had taken of [Girlfriend] in Mexico. The picture was transmitted to both [Girlfriend] and her husband in Tennessee. [Boyfriend] conceded that he had taken the picture, and failed to refute [Girlfriend’s] assertion that it could only have been sent by him. Other text messages sent from the same phone number as the one that included the picture were sent to [Girlfriend] and her husband. The messages suggested [Girlfriend] was being watched. In her petition and at trial, [Girlfriend] alleged repeated acts of physical abuse by [Boyfriend] against her, all in other jurisdictions. In addition, she reported that during their relationship, [Boyfriend], who owned many firearms, had threatened to “blow her brains out.” [Girlfriend] said after the last act of violence, she became fearful of [Boyfriend]when she began receiving the messages upon returning home to Tennessee.

Although the evidence did not show that [Boyfriend] physically came into this state, we conclude that the trial court properly exercised jurisdiction over [Boyfriend] based on numerous messages and a picture he transmitted into this state to a person he had previously abused and threatened outside the state. In our view, such contacts constituted “conduct and connection with the forum State . . . such that [Boyfriend] should reasonably anticipate being haled into court there.”

In addition, the Court found Boyfriend had waived his objection to jurisdiction by making a general appearance to contest the merits of the Petition.  Instead, he should have made a special appearance as permitted by Rule 12 of the Tennessee Rules of Civil Procedure.

Regarding the evidentiary basis for the Order of Protection, the Court found Girlfriend “alleged that [Boyfriend] had physically abused her, was stalking her and she was “very scared of him.” The evidence does not preponderate against the trial court’s findings to support the order of protection.”

Brown v. Vaughn (Tennessee Court of Appeals, Sept. 28, 2010).

Information provided by K.O. Herston, Tennessee Divorce Lawyer.

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K.O. Herston is a family-law attorney in Knoxville, Tennessee whose practice is devoted exclusively to family law, including divorce, child custody, child support, alimony, prenuptial agreements, and other aspects of family law.

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