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Skinner v. Skinner

Court of Appeals of Texas, First District

December 19, 2013

MICHAEL SKINNER, Appellant
v.
PAMELA SKINNER, Appellee

On Appeal from the 257th District Court Harris County, Texas Trial Court Case No. 1213030

Panel consists of Justices Jennings, Sharp, and Brown.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

Harvey Brown Justice

Michael Skinner appeals a trial court's judgment dismissing his divorce proceeding after granting his estranged wife's special appearance. In his sole issue, Michael argues that his wife Pamela, who lives in Florida, waived her right to a special appearance by submitting a letter to the district clerk that requested a dismissal before she filed her verified special appearance. We affirm.

Background

Michael and Pamela are a married couple from Orlando, Florida. After more than 20 years of marriage, Michael moved to Texas, eventually filing for divorce in Harris County. Pamela—who never left Florida—was served citation there. The divorce petition did not allege any jurisdictional facts to establish personal jurisdiction over Pamela in the Texas court.

Pamela wrote a letter to the district clerk stating that she did not have an attorney, acknowledging that she had 20 days to file an answer to Michael's petition, stating that she did not plan to miss that deadline, but including a statement that she was "requesting a motion to Dismiss the Petition for Divorce under the grounds that I need a change of venue and need the case tried in Orlando Florida." She gave the following reasons in support of dismissal:

The Petitioner Mike Skinner and I have resided in Orlando FL since 2003 and we presently have Real Property here in Orlando including the marital home as well as all marital debt actively in both our names.
. . . I am NOT able to proceed in any way with a divorce that is not in Orlando where we both have lived and still have existing property, vehicles, and debts.

Within the 20-day answer period, Pamela retained an attorney and filed two pleadings: Respondent's Special Appearance and Original Answer Subject To Respondent's Special Appearance. In the sworn pleading, Pamela again stated that she and all marital assets were in Florida. She also asserted that there was an ongoing divorce proceeding in the Florida court system involving the couple in which she sought spousal support, and she declared that she had never been to Texas and had no contacts with the state.

Michael filed a response arguing that the special appearance should be denied because Pamela's letter "constitute[d] a general appearance and waive[d the] right to specially appear" because it contained a motion to dismiss and a motion to transfer venue. The trial court sustained the special appearance and dismissed the case. Michael appeals that ruling.

Standard of Review

Whether a nonresident is subject to personal jurisdiction in Texas is a question of law we review de novo. BMC Software Belgium, N.V. v. Marchand, 83 S.W.3d 789, 794 (Tex. 2002). Likewise, we review a trial court's ruling on waiver of a special appearance de novo. Moore v. Pulmosan Safety Equip. Corp., 278 S.W.3d 27, 32 (Tex. App.—Houston [14th Dist.] 2008, pet. ...


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