High court revisits jurisdiction of Nevada family courts

The Nevada Supreme Court in an en banc setting will rehear the landmark Landreth v. Malik, a case that limited the jurisdiction of state family courts to married parties and children, but not unmarried, childless cohabitating couples.

According to an amicus brief summary, the appeal regards a default judgment stemming from a property dispute between Amit Malik and Dlinn Landreth, who lived together in Las Vegas for four years.

In September 2006, a year after the childless couple parted ways, Malik filed an action in Clark County Family Court, seeking half the equity in a valley home, half of other property acquired during the relationship and all of his personal property.

Served properly, Landreth still failed to file a timely answer, despite the fact Malik granted several oral and written time extensions.

In December he filed the default and noticed Landreth.

A hearing was held in February and Landreth moved to set the default aside, arguing Malik agreed to another extension.

The judge denied her motion and awarded Malik half the equity and granted his other requests.

Landreth appealed the decision on the basis of subject matter jurisdiction.

Justice Michael Douglas wrote for the majority in a tight 4-3 decision that the court had limited jurisdiction because their authority is derived by state law.

The dissent written by Justice James Hardesty “reasoned that the statute was open to more than one interpretation.”

Hardesty wrote that family courts are also district courts, which get their authority from the Nevada Constitution. Any legislative limitations, therefore, were invalid.

Interestingly, the dissent found the district court judge did err because the record did not clearly indicate Landreth was served after the final extension expired.

The cases argued include Hay v. Hay (1984), where an unmarried, childless couple was allowed to settle property disputes in family court.

The family court had jurisdiction because the couple consented to jurisdiction and held themselves out as a married couple.

In Barelli v Barelli, family court resolved alimony and property issues because the couple had an oral contract. But the majority opinion held that there was no claim eligible for the family court.

Here’s the high court’s summary.

What isn't mentioned, anywhere, is what impact the case might have on the voter-approved Nevada Domestic Partnership Act that went into effect in October 2009. Not only does the act conflict with the Nevada case, it flies in the face of the Federal Defense of Marriage Act.

The case is Lankreth v. Malik (125 Nev. Adv. op. 61) 2009