November 10, 2013

Burnham v. Superior Court of California - 495 U.S. 604, 110 S.Ct. 2105, 109 L.Ed. 631 (1990) - Supreme Court of the United States

FACTS: Dennis and Francie were married in WEst Virginia.  1 year later they moved to New Jersey and had 2 children.  10 years later the decided to separate and Francie moved to CA.  They had agreed she would file for divorce.  He ended up filing in NJ on grounds of desertion but he did not attempt to serve her.  She then brought suit for divorce in CA.  When Dennis was in CA he was served w/ a CA court summons and Francie's divorce petition.  He went back to NJ.

HISTORY: He made a special appearance to quash the service of process on grounds the court lacked personal jurisdiction (although he had short business trips and visits to his children) Superior Court denied the motion, CA Court of Appeals denied mandamus relief.

ISSUE: Does due process require a connection between the litigation and the defendant's contact w/ the state in cases where the defendant is physically present in the state at the time process is served upon him?


Early view is that states have jurisdiction over defendants "no matter how fleeting his visit" (326)  If the defendant however was brought into the state by force or fraud they were exempt.(327)

The court knows of no state that has abandoned in-state service as a basis of jurisdiction. 

Defendant claims a lack of "continuous and systematic" contacts as outlined in Shoe.  However, this rule has weakened over time as technology and interstate business grew.  "Physical presence alone constitutes due process b/c it is one of the continuing traditions of our legal system that define the due process standard of `traditional notions of fair play and substantial justice.'" (329)

Defendant goes on to claim that in Shaffer the ruling "compels the conclusion that a state lacks jurisdiction over an individual unless the litigation arises out of his activities in the state" (330).  Shaffer was not saying that all bases for in personam must be treated the same but that quasi in rem and in personam are really one in the same.

CONCURRENCE #1: Arguments that the rule would operate unfairly as applied to the non-resident need not be entertained b/c there would be "endless, fact-specific litigation." (332)

No difference between those who go to CA for 3 days and are served and those who aren't.

Wrong to say that ancient traditions have been law of the land.  Yet, American courts have ruled many times on the issue that defendant's have clear notice that voluntary presence in a state makes them subject to suit in that state.

PART I - Critical insight of Shaffer is all rules of jurisdiction must "satisfy contemporary notions of due process." (333)