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Burnham v. Superior Court of California

    Brief Fact Summary
    Burnham (Defendant) argued that service of process upon him while he was present in the forum state was invalid because he lacked minimum contacts in the state.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law
    A state does not need minimum contacts with a defendant to exercise jurisdiction over him if he is served with process while physically present in the state.

    Facts
    Dennis (Defendant) and Francie (Plaintiff) Burnham lived in New Jersey.  The couple separated, and Plaintiff moved to California.  While in California on business, Defendant stopped by to visit his daughter.  He was then served with dissolution papers.  He moved to quash service, arguing that he lacked minimum contacts with California.  The motion was denied.  Defendant petitioned for mandamus, which the court of appeal denied.  The California Supreme Court denied certiorari, but the U.S. Supreme Court granted review.

    Issue
    Must a state have minimum contacts with a defendant to exercise jurisdiction over him if he is served with process while physically present in the state?

    Held
    (Scalia, J.)  No.  A state does not need minimum contacts with a defendant to exercise jurisdiction over him if he is served with process while physically present in the state.  It has been a long-time assumption of Anglo-American law, and was certainly the case at the time the Fourteenth Amendment was adopted, that a state may fully exercise its jurisdiction over a person in that state.  Authority on this point is uncommon, however this is apparently so because it has always been assumed to be true and therefore has not been much litigated.  This Court has held that “minimum contacts†must exist for jurisdiction to be exercised over an absent defendant, but the operative word is absent.  Minimum contacts have always been a substitute for physical presence and are completely irrelevant when a defendant can be found in a jurisdiction.  In this case, Defendant was served while in California, and therefore no minimum contacts analysis was necessary.  Affirmed.

    Concurrence
    (White, J.)  Some cases may exist where physical presence alone cannot confer jurisdiction, but not in this case.

    (Brennan, J.)  The majority opinion gives undue importance to historic pedigree in terms of constitutionality.  Pedigree alone does not confer constitutionality.  The in-state service rule comports with due process, and inquiry into its historical roots, although relevant, is not dispositive.

    (Stevens, J.)  The decision in this case was easy to make, and the Court has overanalyzed the issue.

    Discussion
    No majority opinion was issued in this case.  Unlike some plurality-opinion cases, however, there is no question about the effect of the decision.  All nine of the justices would appear to concur that the in-state service rule would be valid in all or almost all cases.


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