Goldstein v. Feeley, Ky. S. Ct., Jurisdiction, Writs of Prohibition and Mandamus

Goldstein v. Feeley, __ S.W.3d __ (Ky. 2009)

A limited Decree of Dissolution was entered in 2003, dissolving the marriage of Ruby JoAnn Young-Layer and Robert James Layer and reserving the remaining issues, including the division of marital property, for future determination. In 2006, Robert died.  No property issues had been resolved.  Upon the wife’s motion, Robert’s estate was substituted as the real party in interest in the dissolution matter.  In March 2008, on the wife’s motion, the court entered a restraining order to prevent Appellant from transferring any interest in the estate’s assets without court order or agreement of the wife.  Appellant then filed motions to set aside the restraining order and to dismiss the dissolution action for lack of personal jurisdiction.  The court denied his motions.  The wife then asked the court for a temporary injunction in place of the restraining order.  Before the court could hold hearing on the matter, Appellant petitioned the COA for a writ of mandamus and prohibition. The COA denied the petition on the grounds that Appellant had an available remedy through an interlocutory appeal of the injunction.

SC affirmed.  Such writs are authorized in two circumstances: 1) where a court is acting out of its (subject matter) jurisdiction, and 2) where the lower court has jurisdiction but is proceeding erroneously and there is no adequate remedy by appeal. Because the question of personal jurisdiction is reviewable on appeal, writs are unavailable to litigants claiming lack of personal jurisdiction.  Therefore, the COA correctly denied Appellant’s writ.  Regardless of the question of personal jurisdiction, the trial court retained in rem jurisdiction to determine the nature and extent of the marital property and the authority to equitably divide it.      

Digested by Sarah Jost Nielsen, Diana L. Skaggs + Associates