Family Law Keyed to Weisberg

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Kulko v. Superior Court

Citation. Kulko v. Superior Court of Cal., 436 U.S. 84, 98 S. Ct. 1690, 56 L. Ed. 2d 132, 1978 U.S. LEXIS 87 (U.S. May 15, 1978)

Brief Fact Summary. Appellee separated from appellant and moved to California. After their children joined her in California, appellee attempted to bring a divorce suit in California against appellant, who still resided in New York.

Synopsis of Rule of Law. In order to establish personal jurisdiction a defendant must have certain minimum contacts with the forum State so as not to offend traditional notions of fair play and substantial justice.

Facts. Appellant Ezra Kulko married appellee Sharon Kulko Horn in 1959 during appellant’s three-day stopover in California en route from a military base in Texas to a tour of duty in Korea. At the time both parties were domiciled in and residents of New York. Appellee immediately returned to New York after the marriage, as did appellant after his tour of duty. The two lived in New York for 13 years and then separated. Appellant remained in New York with their children, while appellee moved to California. She briefly returned to sign a separation agreement providing the children would live in New York. Immediately afterward appellee flew to Haiti and procured a divorce incorporating the terms of the agreement. In 1973 appellant’s daughter told her father that she wanted to remain in California after her Christmas vacation. Appellant bought her a one-way ticket. In 1976 appellant’s other child called his mother and told her he wanted to live with her in California. She sent h
im a plane ticket unbeknownst to his father, and he flew to California and took up residence with his mother and sister. Less than a month later, appellee commenced this action against appellant in the California Superior Court seeking to establish the Haitian divorce decree as a California judgment; to modify the judgment to award her full custody of the children; and to increase appellant’s child-support obligations. Appellant appeared specially and moved to quash service of the summons on the ground that he was not a California resident and lacked sufficient minimum contacts with the State to warrant assertion of personal jurisdiction over him. The trial court summarily denied the motion to quash, and appellee sought review. The California Supreme Court sustained the lower court rulings.

Issue. Did appellant have sufficient minimum contacts with California to allow California to assert personal jurisdiction over him in this matter?

Held. Appellant’s act of permitting his daughter to spend more time in California did not amount to his purposefully availing himself of the benefits and protections of California’s laws so as to permit California to assert personal jurisdiction.
The California Supreme Court found that personal jurisdiction may be exercised when a nonresident defendant caused an effect in that State and jurisdiction over causes arising from that effect is reasonable. It found that appellant had purposefully availed himself of the protections and laws of California by sending his daughter to live there with her mother.

The Due Process Clause operates as a limitation on the jurisdiction of state courts over nonresident defendants. In order to exercise such jurisdiction certain minimum contacts must be established so as to not offend traditional notions of fair play and substantial justice.

In reaching its decision the Court did not rely on the appellant’s glancing presence in the State or his marriage there, nor could it have. It did not rely on the fact that at separation appellant ha agreed to allow his children to live in California 3 months per year because it would discourage parents from entering into reasonable visitation agreements and it could arbitrarily subject one parent to suit in any State the other parent chose to spend time while having custody.

The purposeful act of allowing his daughter to spend more time in California than required under the agreement is insufficient to show that he purposefully availed himself of the benefits and protections of its laws. California’s assertion of personal jurisdiction was unreasonable in that it involved an agreement entered into with virtually no connection to the forum State.

Basic considerations of fairness favor appellant’s State of domicile as the proper forum. It was the State of the marital domicile where his entire family resided prior to the separation. The single act of allowing his daughter to spend more time in California is not one that a reasonable parent would expect to result in the substantial financial burden and personal strain of litigation in a forum 3,000 miles away. Jurisdiction in such cases would impose an unreasonable burden on family relations.

Discussion. The Court found that the single act of permitting his daughter to spend more time in California than required under a separation agreement was insufficient to establish the minimum contacts with California such that it would not offend traditional notions of fair play and substantial justice to assert personal jurisdiction over appellant.