DEFENDANT CAN’T ESCAPE TEXAS FIGHT OVER THE OSWALD GRAVE MARKER

Lensing v. Card
Dallas Court of Appeals, No. 05-13-00353-CV (November 13, 2013)
Justices FitzGerald (Opinion), Francis, and Myers
Dallas is filled with reminders of and tributes to President John F. Kennedy because of the tragic events here on November 22, 1963. This week, the Dallas Court of Appeals addressed another reminder of that fateful day—the original headstone of Lee Harvey Oswald’s grave. The putative owners of Oswald’s grave marker, whose parents had entrusted it to relatives years ago, discovered that it was on display in a museum in Illinois. They sought its return. When Wayne Lensing, the Illinois resident who claimed he had rightfully purchased the headstone, refused to return it, the owners filed suit here in Dallas. Lensing unsuccessfully filed a special appearance in an attempt to avoid litigation in Texas. The Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court’s denial of Lensing’s special appearance.

Donald and Ida Mae Card owned Lee Harvey Oswald’s grave marker. (How it came to be theirs, the opinion does not say.) After they entrusted the grave marker to extended family for safekeeping, one of those family members, Holly Ragan, sold the artifact to an Illinois resident, Wayne Lensing. When Donald and Ida Mae passed away, their children sought to recover the headstone. Holly Ragan denied knowing its whereabouts. But Donald’s and Ida Mae’s children discovered that the marker was in a private museum in Illinois, owned by Lensing. When Lensing refused to return the grave marker to them, Donald’s and Ida Mae’s children filed suit in Dallas County.

In the trial court, Lensing filed a special appearance to challenge personal jurisdiction. The trial court denied the special appearance, and Lensing filed an interlocutory appeal from that ruling. Lensing argued (1) he did not have sufficient minimum contacts with Texas for the exercise of jurisdiction, and (2) the court’s exercise of jurisdiction would offend traditional notions of fair play and substantial justice.

Affidavits and other evidence showed that in early 2010, Holly Ragan made the initial phone call to Lensing, proposing a sale of Lee Harvey Oswald’s grave marker. After subsequent conversations, Lensing agreed to purchase the headstone. Lensing then flew his personal plane to Fort Worth, Texas, took the headstone from Holly Ragan’s car, stayed in a nearby motel for one night, and then flew back to Illinois the following day. Furthermore, the bill of sale between Lensing and Ragan was executed in Texas. Analyzing these facts, the Court agreed that Lensing had “purposefully availed himself of the privilege of doing business in Texas” and had the requisite “minimum contacts” with Texas, based on the sale transaction, to support specific jurisdiction. In so doing, the Court focused on the physical facts of Lensing’s conduct and contacts, expressly dismissing as “irrelevant” any evidence that Lensing “subjectively believed he was buying the grave marker from its rightful owner.”

The Court further agreed that the exercise of jurisdiction did not offend traditional notions of fair play and substantial justice. It is more convenient to litigate this dispute in Texas—the witnesses and other parties are in Texas, the dispute will be governed by Texas law, and the events in dispute occurred here. The Court therefore affirmed the trial court’s denial of Lensing’s special appearance.

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