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Villarreal v. Arnold

United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division

December 20, 2016

Leticia Villarreal, Plaintiff,
Jonathan I. Arnold, Defendant.


          Manish S. Shah United States District Judge

         Plaintiff Leticia Villarreal and defendant Jonathan Arnold were engaged to be married over a decade ago. Before this action commenced, the parties litigated state-court actions in California and Illinois and two federal-court actions in this district-one of which was voluntarily dismissed, while the other is currently awaiting a decision on appeal. Villarreal believes that the amended complaint in that action (the one on appeal) is frivolous and that Arnold only filed it to extort and intimidate her. Accordingly, she brings this lawsuit against Arnold for abuse of process and intentional infliction of emotional distress. Arnold moved to dismiss the complaint under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). In her response brief, Villarreal says she intends to withdraw the intentional infliction of emotional distress claim. That claim is therefore voluntarily dismissed without prejudice and the only claim that remains is for abuse of process. For the reasons discussed below, Arnold's motion to dismiss is granted.

         I. Legal Standards

         Under Rule 12(b)(6), a complaint may be dismissed for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. On a 12(b)(6) motion, courts accept as true all well-pleaded facts, construe the complaint in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, and draw all reasonable inferences in the plaintiff's favor. Yeftich v. Navistar, Inc., 722 F.3d 911, 915 (7th Cir. 2013). Courts do not accept as true statements of law that appear in the complaint. Id. To survive Arnold's motion, the complaint must “state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Id. (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). A claim is plausible when the pleadings include factual content from which the court can draw reasonable inferences that the defendant is liable for the relevant conduct. Yeftich, 722 F.3d at 915 (quoting Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009)).

         II. Facts

         Villarreal and Arnold had a marriage ceremony in Dana Point, California, in 2004. [1-1] at 2.[1] The Los Angeles County recorder mailed Villarreal and Arnold a letter, informing them that a marriage license was never filed on their behalf and that they should rectify this error “to protect [their] marital and property rights.” [1-1] at 3-4. Several months later, Arnold obtained a second marriage license, but that license also was never filed and it ultimately expired. [1-1] at 4. By 2006, the relationship between Villarreal and Arnold had ended. Id. Villarreal petitioned to dissolve the “marriage” in California and Arnold filed for the same in Illinois. Id. Villarreal moved the California court to require the parties to litigate the dispute in California; in support of this motion she attached a declaration that stated the parties were married in 2004. [1-1] at 4-5. She also moved to dismiss Arnold's Illinois petition because the parties were not legally married, citing the failure to file the marriage certificate with the Los Angeles County recorder. [1-1] at 5. After reaching an agreement and stipulating that they were not married, the parties dismissed their dissolution petitions in California and Illinois. Id.

         Their legal disputes grew more contentious. Arnold filed an action in this district seeking to recover the value of the gifts he gave Villarreal over the years, based on her misrepresentations and/or omissions about the validity of their marriage, which made Arnold believe Villarreal was his wife. [1-1] at 5. In response, Villarreal moved the California court to vacate the stipulation they had reached as to the invalidity of the marriage. [1-1] at 6. Arnold's federal-court action was stayed until the California court issued a final ruling that refused to vacate the parties' stipulation. Id. When the stay was lifted, Villarreal filed a motion for summary judgment on all of Arnold's claims in the pending lawsuit. Id. Judge Grady granted Villarreal's motion, referring to one of Arnold's arguments as “preposterous, ” and noting more generally: “The federal courts are not a proper venue for petty score-setting.” [1-1] at 9, 13; Arnold v. Villarreal, No. 09 C 7399, 2014 WL 2922810, at *3, *5 (N.D. Ill. June 27, 2014). Arnold then moved to vacate or amend the judgment. [1-2] at 1. Judge St. Eve denied the motion, noting that his claims were “frivolous.” [1-2] at 8; Arnold v. Villarreal, No. 09 C 7399, 2014 WL 4434580, at *3 (N.D. Ill. Sept. 9, 2014). That action is on appeal, awaiting a ruling from the Seventh Circuit.

         Villarreal filed her own suit in this district, accusing Arnold of malicious prosecution, abuse of process, and intentional infliction of emotional distress. [17-3] ¶¶ 1-23. Upon learning that Arnold intended to appeal Judge Grady's grant of summary judgment against him, Villarreal voluntarily dismissed her complaint without prejudice. [17-4] at 1. On January 15, 2016, Villarreal filed a new complaint that initiated this action, accusing Arnold of abuse of process and intentional infliction of emotional distress. [1] ¶¶ 1-20.

         III. Analysis

         A. Choice of Law

         In this diversity-jurisdiction case, the law of the forum state applies. See Malone v. Corr. Corp. of Am., 553 F.3d 540, 542 (7th Cir. 2009) (citing Guar. Trust Co. of N.Y. v. York, 326 U.S. 99 (1945)). Illinois law applies to this action.

         A choice-of-law determination is necessary only when a difference in the law will result in a different outcome. Townsend v. Sears, Roebuck & Co., 227 Ill.2d 147, 155 (2007). The party seeking the choice-of-law determination bears the burden of proving that a conflict of law exists and that it will make a difference in the outcome of the action. Bridgeview Health Care Ctr., Ltd. v. State Farm Fire & Cas. Co., 2014 IL 116389, ¶ 14 (2014).

         Villarreal argues that California law should apply for four reasons: “(1) Ms. Villarreal has always been domiciled in California; (2) her injuries occurred in California; (3) California is the place where the conduct which caused her injuries occurred; and (4) California is the place where the relationship between the parties is centered.” [33] at 4-5. To support her argument, she cites Illinois case law that rejects the lex loci delicti approach to deciding choice-of-law conflicts and instead applies the most significant relationship test. See, e.g., Esser v. McIntyre, 169 Ill.2d 292, 297-98 (1996). These factual and legal assertions are misplaced. They go to the second part of the choice-of-law analysis, which a court only considers when it has already been established that an actual conflict exists. Villarreal has not made the threshold showing that a conflict between California and Illinois law exists as to the tort of abuse of process or that it would result in different outcomes.

         In fact, California and Illinois law are similar and would lead to the same outcomes with respect to both of the disputed issues in this action. Abuse of process is an injury to the person under both California and Illinois law. Cantu v. Resolution Trust Corp., 4 Cal.App.4th 857, 886-87 (1992);[2]Withall v. Capitol Fed. Sav. of Am., 155 Ill.App.3d 537, 545 (1987). In both states, the statute of limitations is two years. Cal.Civ.Proc.Code § 335.1; 735 ILCS 5/13-202. The limitations period begins to run, in both states, from the date of the last act that gives rise to the abuse of process claim. Cantu, 4 Cal.App.4th at 887; Whithall, 155 Ill.App.3d at 545. With respect to proving liability for an abuse of process claim, both California and Illinois law require two elements: (1) an ulterior ...

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