Tennessee case summary on jurisdiction over real estate in divorce.

Fatma Adel Sekik v. Nehad Abdelnabi, et al.

Divorce Court has Jurisdiction Over Gaza Strip Real Estate

The wife in this Knox County, Tennessee, case was from Cairo, Egypt, and the husband was from Palestine.  They married in Egypt and moved to the United States where they had four children.  The husband owned a business as an electronics technician in Knoxville, and the wife primarily took care of the home and children.  She also did some work as a translator.

In 2012, the husband believed the wife was having an affair with another man, and was sentenced to 17 years for assault and kidnapping of that man.

The wife filed for divorce and requested custody of the minor children.  One contentious part of the divorce was property located in the Gaza Strip.  The husband had allegedly transferred this property to his family members.  The court ordered the husband to order these parties to pay revenues from those properties directly to the wife.

In 2017, the wife learned that the husband’s brother was attempting to sell the Gaza property under a power of attorney from the husband.  She made a motion for emergency relief, and the trial court ordered the husband to execute a quitclaim deed, or the equivalent under Palestinian law, to transfer the property to the wife.

The wife later amended her complaint to add the family members as defendants.  These were mailed to their address in Georgia, and she also attempted service through the Tennessee Secretary of State.  When they failed to answer, she sought a default judgment for the $450,000 they had allegedly received for the sale.  This judgment was entered in 2018.  After further proceedings, a final judgment was entered, which included parenting provisions and an award of alimony.  Since the husband was still in prison, the final order specified that there would be no prison visits by the children.  The husband, his brother, and sister-in-law then appealed to the Tennessee Court of Appeals.

They raised various issues, the first of which was whether the court had subject matter jurisdiction over issues involving the Gaza property.  The appeals court zeroed in on the fact that the property in question was, indeed, part of the marital estate.  The order in question did not purport to set aside the transfer of the property.  It merely ordered the parties to pay to the wife the amount realized from the sale of that property.  The court noted that the wife was merely being paid for the asset, and that nobody disputed that it was a marital asset.

The court then turned to the question of personal jurisdiction over the non-spouse parties.  The appeals court noted that the issue boiled down to whether they had sufficient contacts with Tennessee, and whether they were personally served.  Under Tennessee law, a tortious act or omission within the state is sufficient to support the required minimum contacts.

In this case, such an allegation was contained in the complaint.  In addition, they had filed a counterclaim and cross-claim against the parties, without making an objection as to jurisdiction.  Under these circumstances, the appeals court held that personal jurisdiction was satisfied.

On the merits of the case, the appeals court agreed with the lower court that the wife had established a conspiracy cause of action against the relatives.  For example, the brother testified that he got involved in the property transaction only because he knew the divorce was pending.  After carefully analyzing the evidence, the Court of Appeals agreed with the lower court’s ruling.

The Court of Appeals also analyzed the evidence regarding the valuation of the marital estate and concluded that the lower court’s resolution was appropriate.

After analyzing a number of other issues in the case, the Court of Appeals, in an opinion penned by Judge J. Steven Stafford, affirmed the lower court’s judgment in all respects.

No. E2019-01302-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Nov. 18,  2020).

See original opinion for exact language.  Legal citations omitted.

To learn more, see The Tennessee Divorce Process: How Divorces Work Start to Finish.

To learn more, see Property Division in Tennessee Divorce.

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