Brief Fact Summary. Plaintiff Dennis Burnham, a New Jersey resident, was served with process for divorce by his wife in California, while he was visiting California on business.
Synopsis of Rule of Law. Jurisdiction based on physical presence alone constitutes due process because it is one of the continuing traditions of our legal system that define the due process standard.
Issue. Whether the Due Process clause denies a state court jurisdiction over a non-resident who was personally served with process while temporarily in that state, in a suit unrelated to his activities in that state.
Held. No. The Supreme Court upheld the ruling of the California Superior Court.
Jurisdiction based on physical presence alone constitutes due process because it is one of the continuing traditions of our legal system that define the due process standard. That standard was developed by analogy to physical presence.
Concurrence. Justice Brennan concurred, in which he was joined by Justices Marshall, Blackmun, and Justice Sandra Day O’Connor. Justice Brennan differs from the majority in that he believes physical presence in a state permits jurisdiction not because service of process occurred on the person in the state, but because by voluntarily coming into the state, the defendant avails himself of the benefit and privileges of the law of the state, even if only for a short period of time.
Justice Stevens also concurred. His concurrence only notes that this was a very easy case to decide given the historical evidence and considerations of fairness.
Discussion. An individual’s physical presence in a state at the time process is served upon them satisfies traditional notions of fair play and substantial justice. Thus the Court rejected the argument that a state lacks jurisdiction unless the litigation arises out of his activities in the state.