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Haigh v. Abuelizam

United States District Court, D. Hawaii

April 3, 2018



          J. Michael Seabright, Chief United States District Judge


         On December 5, 2017, pro se Plaintiff Christopher Emanuel Haigh (“Plaintiff”) filed a Complaint asserting state-law claims arising from underlying and highly contentious divorce, custody, and disbarment proceedings in Illinois and Indiana. Plaintiff names as Defendants his ex-wife Aida Abuelizam, (“Abuelizam” or “A. Haigh”);[1] his ex-mother-in-law Raida Abuelizam a/k/a Raida Abuizam (“Abuizam”); Karen Bowes (“Bowes”), Plaintiff's minor daughter's representative in the underlying divorce; Ronnie Zanayed (“Zanayed”), Abuelizam's counsel in the underlying custody dispute; and Steven[2] Wittenberg (“Wittenberg”), Abuelizam's former counsel in the custody dispute (collectively, “Defendants”). Compl. at 1-3; A. Haigh Decl. ¶¶ 14, 22, 28, ECF No. 11-7 at PageID # 207, 209, 211; Abuizam Decl. ¶ 7 ECF No. 11-11.

         Before the court are two Motions to Dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction, one on behalf of Abuelizam and Abuizam, which also seeks an award of attorney's fees pursuant to Hawaii Revised Statutes (“HRS”) § 607-14.5; and the other on behalf of Bowes. ECF Nos. 11, 13. For the reasons set forth below, the Motions to Dismiss are GRANTED, and the Motion for Attorney's Fees is DENIED.


         A. Factual Background

         This action follows a series of disputes between Plaintiff and Defendants that began when Plaintiff lived in Illinois. As of March 2016, Plaintiff had moved to Hawaii.[3] With the exception of this action, all legal proceedings referenced in this action between Plaintiff and some or all Defendants occurred in Illinois or Indiana courts. And although the Complaint and briefing on the instant Motions include details related to those legal proceedings and other disputes between the parties, that history need not be repeated in detail here. Thus, the court sets forth only those facts necessary to determine the instant Motions.

         As alleged in the Complaint, [4] Plaintiff and Abuelizam have waged “an extremely contentious divorce and custody battle, ” in the “Circuit Court of Cook County, Illinois for over six years.” Compl. ¶¶ 16, 23. In addition, at some point Abuelizam allegedly gave false and misleading documents and testimony to the Indiana Supreme Court Disciplinary Commission, resulting in Plaintiff being “disbarred from the practice of law in Indiana.” Id. ¶¶ 26, 27, 189-90, 192, 194, 203, 235, 243. Plaintiff now resides in Hawaii, Defendants Abuelizam and Abuizam are citizens of and reside in Indiana, and Defendants Zanayed, Bowes, and Wittenberg are citizens of and reside in Illinois. Id. ¶¶ 4-15.

         In the course of these underlying proceedings, and thereafter, Defendants allegedly have engaged in multiple actions intended to harm Plaintiff. Id. ¶ 18. The Complaint is rife with allegations of misrepresentations by Defendants in connection with those proceedings that resulted in financial harm to Plaintiff, his loss of primary custody of his minor daughter, and interference with Plaintiff's relationship with his daughter.

         For example, on March 18, 2016, Abuelizam and Abuizam allegedly prevented Plaintiff from picking up his daughter from school in Illinois to begin court-ordered visitation with Plaintiff in Hawaii during the daughter's spring break. Id. ¶¶ 274-91. This resulted in Plaintiff and his daughter missing their flight to Hawaii, Plaintiff expending more money to stay an extra night in Illinois and to purchase new airline tickets, and Plaintiff and his daughter spending less time together in Hawaii. Id. ¶¶ 292-95.

         In addition, Abuelizam used Hawaii police officers to “serve[] a subpoena on Dr. Espiritu, ” Plaintiff's current wife, in an alleged effort to threaten Plaintiff's relationship with Dr. Espiritu and push Plaintiff to accept Defendants' offers to settle the underlying disputes. Id. ¶¶ 20, 30-32; Pl.'s Opp'n at 9-10, ECF No. 22.

         The Complaint alleges that in her capacity as representative for Plaintiff's daughter in the underlying divorce, Bowes made false statements to the court in Illinois and concurred with false statements by Abuelizam, resulting in Plaintiff losing custody, being limited to supervised visitation with his daughter, and incurring higher financial costs and debt. Id. ¶¶ 74-75, 100-07. During the time Bowes represented Plaintiff's daughter, Bowes was employed by the law firm Rinella and Rinella Ltd., and later, as a solo practitioner. See Haigh Decl. ¶ 24, ECF No. 23; Bowes Decl. ¶ 3, ECF No. 25-1. Rinella and Rinella has continued to attempt to collect from Plaintiff outstanding fees owed for work performed by Bowes. See Haigh Decl. ¶ 25, ECF No. 23; Pl.'s Ex. B, ECF No. 23-2. To be clear, all of these court proceedings took place in Illinois.

         Based on these and numerous additional allegations, the Complaint asserts state-law tort claims for conspiracy to commit fraud, fraud, abuse of process, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and alienation of affection. Id. ¶¶ 52-301. The Complaint also asserts a violation of Illinois criminal law, 720 Illinois Compiled Statutes 5/10-5.5, for alienation of affection and conspiracy to abuse Plaintiff's allotted time with his daughter. Id. ¶¶ 270-301.

         B. Procedural Background

         Plaintiff filed his Complaint on December 5, 2017. ECF No.1. On January 12, 2018, Defendants Abuelizam and Abuizam filed a Motion to Dismiss pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(2) for lack of personal jurisdiction, and for attorney's fees pursuant to HRS § 607-14.5. ECF No. 11. On January 25, 2018, Defendant Bowes filed a Rule 12(b)(2) Motion to Dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction. ECF No. 13. On March 5, 2018, Plaintiff filed separate Oppositions to each Motion and a Declaration. ECF Nos. 21-23. Replies were filed on March 19, 2018. ECF Nos. 24-25. The Motions were heard on April 2, 2018.[5]


         A. ...

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