Personal Jurisdiction Over A Runaway Fianceé

Here’s a case about a guy’s worst nightmare. You buy her the expensive ring. But then a couple of months later she splits for the coast with the ring, some of your stuff, and even your dog! The question is can you obtain personal jurisdiction over your ex. That was the question before the Second Department on June 26th in Dreznick v Lenchner, 2007 NY Slip Op 05680. The plaintiff and the defendant resided together in New York and entered into an engagement to be married. Approximately 18 months after becoming engaged, the defendant terminated the engagement and left the plaintiff’s residence with an engagement ring, a dog, and other items of personal property allegedly belonging to the plaintiff. The plaintiff demanded the return of the property. The defendant refused, and the action was commenced. The defendant was a domiciliary of California at the time the action was commenced.

The plaintiff’s first cause of action sought the return of the engagement ring based on Civil Rights Law § 80-b and the tort of conversion. Four additional causes of action were based on breach of contract, unjust enrichment, and return of personal property. In her answer, the defendant asserted the affirmative defense of lack of personal jurisdiction and she moved for summary judgment dismissing the complaint on that ground. The Supreme Court denied the defendant’s motion, and upon searching the record, granted the plaintiff summary judgment on his cause of action for return of the engagement ring.

The Second Department affirmed finding that the plaintiff established personal jurisdiction over the defendant. What is curious about the Second Department’s decision is that it found that personal jurisdiction was obtained on the cause of action for the return of the engagement ring under CPLR 302(b). That section grants personal jurisdiction over non-residents and non-domiciliaries in “matrimonial actions.” Since the plaintiff and defendant were never married, it is unclear how CPLR 302(b) could apply.

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