Burnham v. Superior Court of California County of Marin

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Court Documents

United States Supreme Court

495 U.S. 604

Burnham  v.  Superior Court of California County of Marin

No. 89-44  Argued: Feb. 28, 1990. --- Decided: May 29, 1990


During a trip to California to conduct business and visit his children, petitioner Burnham, a New Jersey resident, was served with a California court summons and his estranged wife's divorce petition. The California Superior Court denied his motion to quash the service of process, and the State Court of Appeal denied mandamus relief, rejecting his contention that the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment prohibited California courts from asserting jurisdiction over him because he lacked "minimum contacts" with the State. The latter court held it to be a valid predicate for in personam jurisdiction that he was personally served while present in the forum State.

Held: The judgment is affirmed.

Justice SCALIA, joined by THE CHIEF JUSTICE, Justice WHITE, and Justice KENNEDY, concluded in Parts II-A, II-B, and II-C that the Due Process Clause does not deny a State's courts jurisdiction over a nonresident, who was personally served with process while temporarily in that State, in a suit unrelated to his activities in the State. Pp. 2-12.

(a) To determine whether the assertion of personal jurisdiction is consistent with due process, this Court has long relied on the principles traditionally followed by American courts in marking out the territorial limits of each State's authority. See Pennoyer v. Neff, 95 U.S. 714, 722, 24 L.Ed. 565. The classic expression of that criterion appeared in International Shoe Co. v. Washington, 326 U.S. 310, 316, 66 S.Ct. 154, 158, 90 L.Ed. 95, which held that a state court's assertion of personal jurisdiction must not violate "traditional notions of fair play and substantial justice." Pp. 608-610.

(b) A formidable body of precedent, stretching from common-law antecedents through decisions at or near the crucial time of the Fourteenth Amendment's adoption to many recent cases, reflects the near-unanimous view that service of process confers state-court jurisdiction over a physically present nonresident, regardless of whether he was only briefly in the State or whether the cause of action is related to his activities there. Pp. 610-616.

(c) Burnham's contention that, in the absence of "continuous and systematic" contacts with the forum, a nonresident defendant can besubjected to judgment only as to matters that arise out of or relate to his contacts with the forum misreads this Court's decisions applying that standard. The standard was developed by analogy to the traditional "physical presence" requirement as a means of evaluating novel state procedures designed to do away with that requirement with respect to in personam jurisdiction over absent defendants. Nothing in International Shoe or the subsequent cases supports the proposition that a defendant's presence in the forum is not only unnecessary to validate such novel assertions of jurisdiction, but is itself no longer sufficient to establish jurisdiction. Pp. 616-619.

Justice SCALIA, joined by THE CHIEF JUSTICE and Justice KENNEDY, concluded in Parts II-D and III that:


This work is in the public domain in the United States because it is a work of the United States federal government (see 17 U.S.C. 105).