Burnham v. Superior Court of California – Case Brief Summary

Summary of Burnham v. Superior Court of California, 495 U.S. 604, 110 S. Ct. 2105, 109 L. Ed. 2d 631 (1990).

Facts

The Burnhams lived in New Jersey prior to their separation. Mrs. Burnham (P) moved to California and filed for divorce in California state court. Mr. Burnham (D) was visiting California on business when he was served with the divorce papers. The defendant’s primary reason for visiting California was for business but while there he visited his daughters. His only contacts with California were occasional brief visits for business and to visit his children.

In a special appearance Burnham moved to quash service, contending that his contacts with California were insufficient to confer personal jurisdiction. The Superior Court of California denied the motion and the state court of appeal denied his petition for mandamus, holding that his physical presence and personal service in the state constituted valid grounds for personal jurisdiction. The Supreme Court granted cert.

Issue

  • Can a state gain personal jurisdiction over a nonresident who was personally served with process while temporarily in the state, if his purpose for being in the state is unrelated to the matter before the court?

Holding and Rule (Scalia)

  • Yes. A state can gain personal jurisdiction over a nonresident who was personally served with process while temporarily in the state, even if his purpose for being in the state is unrelated to the matter before the court.

It is an established principle that States have jurisdiction over persons physically present in the State. Service of process on a party physically present in a state is not a violation of due process. The purpose for the party’s presence within the state is of no concern as long as his presence was voluntary.

The court noted that on rare occasions, deviations from the general rule of presence in the state have been permitted. These relate only to suits arising out of an absent defendant’s contacts with the forum state. In International Shoe Co. v. Washington, the court held that minimum contacts are required in order to satisfy the due process requirements of fair play and substantial justice. There court held that there was nothing in International Shoe or its progeny that required extending its holding to transient jurisdiction.

Disposition

Judgment affirmed.

Concurrence (Brennan)

I do not agree with a rule that relies on tradition for supporting forms of jurisdiction. I would undertake an independent inquiry into the fairness of the prevailing in state service rule. The historical approach is foreclosed by our decision in International Shoe and Shaffer v. Heitner. As per Shaffer, all rules of jurisdiction must satisfy contemporary notions of due process under minimum contacts analysis.

This case is also cited as Burnham v. Superior Court. See Godfrey v. Georgia for a criminal law case brief involving a married couple seeking a divorce.


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