Divorcee in hard place over engagement rock

Steve Korris Nov. 21, 2007, 2:46am

AUSTIN � Wayne and Linda Small wish to recover a diamond from a Virginia woman who divorced their son, and the Texas Supreme Court has decided that they can require her to defend her possession of the ring in a Texas court.

The Supreme Court on Nov. 16 cleared the way for the Smalls to sue former daughter in law Shana Mattson Small in Montgomery County district court.

District Judge Jerry Winfree sided with Shana Mattson Small, ruling that no Texas court could exercise jurisdiction over her.

The Ninth District Court of Appeals at Beaumont reversed Winfree in February.

Shana Mattson Small petitioned the Supreme Court for review. The Court denied the motion in August and denied a rehearing Nov. 16.

Judge Winfree must now prepare for trial to determine whether the Smalls presented the diamond as a gift or a loan.

Their son, Brian Small, and Shana Mattson became engaged in 2000.

Shana came to Texas. Brian's parents let her choose from diamonds they owned for one to set in her ring.

She chose a 1.75 carat diamond. At a jewelry store in Texas, she and Brian had it set in a ring they bought.

They married in 2001. She filed for divorce in Virginia in 2004.

Linda asked Shana to return the diamond. Shana did not return it.

The Smalls sued Shana in 2005, alleging conversion and theft.

Winfree found that the claims did not arise from Shana's contacts with Texas and she did not purposefully avail herself of the privilege of conducting activities in Texas.

He found that Linda told Shana the diamond was a gift.

On appeal, the Ninth District declared that Winfree's findings went against the great weight and preponderance of evidence.

Justice Hollis Horton wrote, "Texas clearly has an interest in resolving ownership questions about its citizens' tangible personal property."

He wrote that the transfer occurred in Texas, the property prior to transfer was owned by Texas residents, and the diamond was set in a ring in Texas.

He wrote, "By coming to Texas to get tangible personal property owned by Texas residents, Shana purposefully availed herself of Texas law to protect whatever interest she had in the diamond upon its transfer."

He shrugged off her claim that as a graduate student at the University of Virginia, she would face extreme hardship in traveling to Texas.

He wrote that schools take breaks, allow leave from class and allow students to make up classes.

Finally he scolded Winfree for finding that Linda Small said the diamond was a gift.

He wrote, "Trial courts should avoid reaching the merits of a dispute in resolving whether a Texas court can exercise personal jurisdiction over a defendant."

Catherine Palmore represents Wayne and Linda Small. Kenna Seiler represents Shana Mattson Small.

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