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05/10/90 HARRIET RYMER v. NELSON POOL

May 10, 1990

HARRIET RYMER, APPELLANT
v.
NELSON POOL, APPELLEE



Appeal from the Superior Court of the District of Columbia; Hon. Joseph M. Hannon, Trial Judge

Before Newman and Farrell, Associates Judges and Mack, Senior Judge.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Newman

Appellant Rymer, a United States citizen, resident in the U.S. Virgin Islands, sued Appellee Pool, a citizen of the Dominican Republic, in Superior Court for (1) fraudulent inducement to marry and (2) unjust enrichment for fraudulently obtaining property from her. After hearing from counsel, but before any evidentiary hearing, the Judge dismissed the case for failure to state a claim for which relief could be granted under D.C. law. We find that, under the circumstances of this case, it was error for the trial court to apply D.C. law without first engaging in a choice-of-law analysis and considering the applicability of the law of the other jurisdictions that have an interest in this suit. We thus reverse and remand this case for a choice-of-law determination, including any evidentiary hearing appropriate to that task.

I

Assuming as true the allegations pleaded in the complaint, as we must for purposes of our review of a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim for which relief may be granted, Rong Yao Zhou v. Jennifer Mall Restaurant, 534 A.2d 1268, 1269 (D.C. 1987); Vicki Realty v. Laufer, 482 A.2d 359, 364 (D.C. 1984), we are presented with the following set of facts. Appellant Rymer, a U.S. citizen residing in the U.S. Virgin Islands, first met Appellee Pool, a citizen of the Dominican Republic, on a cruise ship in the Caribbean in 1982. She was a passenger on the ship and he worked on board as a waiter. They became friendly during the cruise and afterwards maintained contact with each other. Several times, Pool, from the Dominican Republic, called Rymer, in the Virgin Islands, and professed his love for her. During these conversations, he also urged her to come to the Dominican Republic and marry him. Rymer did go to the Dominican Republic and, in January 1983, Rymer and Pool were married.

After the wedding, Rymer returned to the Virgin Islands and petitioned the Immigration and Naturalization Service to classify Pool as the immediate relative of a United States citizen, so that he could apply for an immigrant visa. Pool was granted a visa in 1984. Shortly after obtaining the visa, he journeyed to the Virgin Islands and lived there with Rymer for approximately three weeks.

During 1983 and 1984, relying upon the marriage relationship, Rymel sent money to her husband in the Dominican Republic. In addition, Rymel gave Pool money in 1984 to travel to Washington, D.C. to visit relatives.

Pool came to Washington, D.C. in late 1984 and, shortly thereafter, by letter, informed Rymer that he did not love her, that he did not wish to live with her, and that he had married her only to obtain his immigration "green card".

Since these incidents, Pool has divorced Rymer and allegedly married his Dominican Republic girlfriend Pool apparently still lives in the District of Columbia.

Plaintiff filed a complaint in Superior Court, suing defendant Pool for fraudulent inducement to marry and unjust enrichment for fraudulently obtaining property from her. Defendant filed an answer with the court asserting as a defense that plaintiff had failed to state a claim upon which relief could be granted; the answer did not address the choice-of-law question. Defendant did not file any motions with the court prior to trial that focused on plaintiff's failure to state a claim, and plaintiff never had the opportunity prior to trial to refute the argument that no claim for which relief may be granted exists or to focus the court's attention on the possibility that D.C. substantive law should not be applied in resolving this case.

On the morning of trial, in a brief off-the-record conference in chambers, defendant orally moved to dismiss the case for failure to state a claim for which relief may be granted. In the courtroom, the Judge then heard from counsel concerning the legal basis for the claim. Before any evidentiary hearing, the trial Judge ruled from the bench that the complaint was dismissed for failure to state a claim for which relief may be granted under D.C. law.

II

We have before us a suit that has very little to do with the District of Columbia, but to which D.C. substantive law has been applied. According to the pleadings and the plaintiff's pretrial statement, it appears that the parties did not court each other in the District of Columbia, the marriage did not occur in the District of Columbia, and the parties never lived together in the District of Columbia. Apparently, all relevant transactions took place either on a cruise ship in the Caribbean, in the U.S. Virgin Islands, or in the Dominican Republic. The only contacts the parties have with the District are (1) defendant moved to the District after the marriage (and after he committed the alleged torts for which he is being sued), (2) defendant informed plaintiff by letter mailed from the District that he had fraudulently induced her to marry him, (3) plaintiff travelled to the District to persuade defendant to remain married to her, and (4) defendant presently lives in the District of Columbia and can personally be served here.

While this case has little to do with the District of Columbia, neither the parties nor the trial court ever raised the issue that a law other than the law of the District of Columbia should be applied in this case. In fact, when the trial court rendered its decision, it considered only D.C. law. Generally, when parties do not raise the issue of the applicability of foreign law, a court is under no obligation to apply ...


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