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Burnham v. Superior Court

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Brief Fact Summary.

Burnham and his wife lived in New Jersey when they agreed to separate; the wife would move to California and have custody of their two children. Although they later agreed to file for divorce on the grounds of “irreconcilable differences,” Burnham filed for divorce, in New Jersey, on grounds of desertion. He did not attempt to effect service of process on the wife. The wife then brought suit for divorce in state court in California. The California courts upheld jurisdiction; the Supreme Court granted certiorari.

Synopsis of Rule of Law.

Physical presence in the state as a basis for jurisdiction is sufficient for due process because it is one of the continuing traditions of our legal system that defines the due process standard of “traditional notions of fair play and substantial justice.”

Points of Law - Legal Principles in this Case for Law Students.

Shaffer was saying, in other words, not that all bases for the assertion of in personam jurisdiction (including, presumably, in-state service) must be treated alike and subjected to the minimum contacts analysis of International Shoe; but rather that quasi in rem jurisdiction, that fictional ancient form, and in personam jurisdiction, are really one and the same and must be treated alike--leading to the conclusion that quasi in rem jurisdiction, i. e., that form of in personam jurisdiction based upon a property ownership contact and by definition unaccompanied by personal, in-state service, must satisfy the litigation-relatedness requirement of International Shoe.

View Full Point of Law
Facts.

While living in New Jersey, Burnham and his wife agreed to separate. The wife was to move to California and have custody of their two children. They subsequently agreed to file for divorce on the grounds of “irreconcilable differences.” Burnham filed for divorce in New Jersey, but on grounds of desertion. He did not attempt to effect service of process on the wife. The wife then brought suit for divorce in state court in California. Personal service was effected on Burnham shortly thereafter when, after traveling to California for business, he visited his children and returned them to the wife’s home on the weekend. The state courts upheld jurisdiction. The Supreme Court granted certiorari.

Issue.

If a nonresident is personally served with process while temporarily in California, can a California state court assert jurisdiction over the nonresident in a lawsuit that is  unrelated to the nonresident’s activities in the state?

Held.

Yes. The due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment did not prohibit the California courts from exercising jurisdiction over Burnham based on the fact of in-state service of process.

Concurrence.

Justice Brennan

Concurring in the judgment, Justice Brennan argued that history, while important, is not the only factor in determining the rules of jurisdiction; an independent inquiry should be made into the fairness of the prevailing in-state service rule.

Discussion.

The due process standard of traditional notions of fair play and justice was developed by analogy to physical presence; jurisdiction based on physical presence constitutes due process, as one of our legal system’s continuing traditions.


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