May 5, 2016
Appeal from the Superior Court of the District of Columbia
(DRB-2765-13) (Hon. Judith A. Smith, Trial Judge) (
Colella for appellant.
A. Feldman, with whom Rebecca C. Shankman was on the brief,
BEFORE: Blackburne-Rigsby, Easterly, and McLeese; Associate
case came to be heard on the transcript of record and the
briefs filed, and was argued by counsel. On consideration
whereof, and for the reasons set forth in the opinion filed
this date, it is now hereby
and ADJUDGED that the judgment of the Superior Court is
reversed, and the case is remanded for further proceedings.
James David Spellman filed a petition in Superior Court
seeking a declaration affirming the existence of a common-law
marriage between Mr. Spellman and his late partner, Michael
Joseph Kelly. Mr. Spellman appeals from the trial court's
order dismissing the petition for lack of personal
jurisdiction over appellee Joseph Boland, in his capacity as
personal representative of Mr. Kelly's estate. We
conclude that the Superior Court has personal jurisdiction
over Mr. Boland. We therefore reverse and remand for further
there are factual disputes between the parties as to Mr.
Kelly's connections to the District of Columbia, the
trial court found the following facts that appear to be
undisputed in this court. In the fall of 1993, Mr. Spellman
and Mr. Kelly, who both lived in the District, met and began
dating. In 1998, the two decided to live together and to hold
themselves out as partners. Although Mr. Spellman and Mr.
Kelly primarily resided at Mr. Spellman's residence in
the District, Mr. Kelly also owned a home in Delaware, where
he and Mr. Spellman stayed on the weekends and during the
summer. Mr. Kelly worked in the District until 2006, when he
retired and began spending more of his time at his Delaware
home. After 2006, Mr. Kelly did some consulting work in the
District for several years, and he continued to travel to the
District and to spend time there with Mr. Spellman.
Throughout the period from 1998 to 2013, Mr. Kelly and Mr.
Spellman co-hosted social events in the District, sent joint
holiday cards from Mr. Spellman's address in the
District, and attended book clubs, the opera, and the theater
together in the District. Mr. Kelly was diagnosed with cancer
in December 2012 and passed away two months later.
Boland, Mr. Kelly's brother-in-law, filed a petition in
Delaware to probate Mr. Kelly's estate. Mr. Boland was
appointed personal representative of the estate. Once the
probate matter was opened, Mr. Spellman filed a claim for a
spousal allowance. Mr. Boland rejected Mr. Spellman's
claim on the ground that there was no documentation of a
marriage between Mr. Spellman and Mr. Kelly that would be
recognized under Delaware law. Mr. Spellman filed a petition
in the District seeking a declaration that he and Mr. Kelly
had entered into a common-law marriage. Mr. Boland filed a
motion to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction. In
opposition, Mr. Spellman argued that the trial court had
personal jurisdiction under a number of provisions, including
D.C. Code § 13-423 (a)(7)(E) (2012 Repl.), which gives
the Superior Court personal jurisdiction with respect to
claims for relief arising from a person's "marital .
. . relationship in the District of Columbia, " as long
as "there is any basis consistent with the United States
Constitution for the exercise of personal jurisdiction."
The trial court held an evidentiary hearing on the motion. At
the hearing, somewhat conflicting evidence was ...