The Law School Authority

Burnham v. Superior Court Case Brief

Summary of Burnham v. Superior Court
495 U S  604 [1990]

Relevant Facts: Pet. Burnham was married in W. Va in 1976. The next year they moved to N.J. where they had two children.  10 yrs later the couple separated, Mrs decided to move to CA.  They agreed to file for divorce “irreconcilable differences.” Pet filed for divorce in N. J. under grounds of desertion but did not effectuate service of process.  Mrs. brought suit in CA early the next year 1988.  When Pet visited CA he went to visit his children.  Pet was served with a CA summons and complaint for divorce.  He then returned to N. J.  Pet. made special appearance.

Legal Issue(s): Whether the exercise of personal jurisdiction based on service on the defendant while in the state comports with traditional notions of fair play and substantial justice?

Court’s Holding: Yes

Procedure: Husband’s Mot. to quash service. The Supr Ct denied the motion and the Court of Appeal denied mandamus relief.   S. Ct. Affirmed.

Law or Rule(s): The individual State’s have personal jurisdiction over non residents who are physically present in the State.

Court Rationale: Jurisdiction based on 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” The States have the power to hale before its courts any individual who could be found within its borders, and that once having acquired jurisdiction over such a person by properly serving process, the State could retain jurisdiction to enter judgment.   Shaffer was saying that Q in R and personam jurisdiction are one and the same, i.e. that form of in personam juris is based upon a property ownership contact and by definition unaccompanied personal, in-state service, must satisfy the minimum contacts requirement in situations where the Df was not present in the forum. Df during the few days he was in CA derived the benefit that his health and safety were guaranteed by the State’s police, fire, and emergency medical services.  He was free to travel the roads and waterways, he enjoyed the fruits of the State’s economy.

Plaintiff’s Argument: (Pet)  A non resident can be subjected to judgment only as to matters that arise out of or relate to his contacts with the forum.  A State lacks jurisdiction over an individual only when the individual has minimum contact w/ the forum.

Defendant’s Argument: A Df who is physically present in the state is subject to suit therein.

Transient Rule: If a Df visits another State, . . . he knowingly assumes some risk that the State will exercise its power over his property or person while there.  His contact w/ the State though minimal, gives rise to predictable risks.  By so visiting the Df actually “avails himself of significant benefits provided by the State.”



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