Supreme Court of the United States - 495 U.S. 604, 110 S.Ct. 2105, 109 L.Ed.2d 631
In 1990, the Supreme Court decided on Burnham v. Superior Court, involving a divorce dispute between a husband (Burnham) and wife (Heitner) over personal jurisdiction. Burnham, a New Jersey resident, went to California for business and to see his children who were with Heitner. While there, Heitner served him divorce papers. Burnham argued that the California court lacked personal jurisdiction because he had minimal contact with the state and his visit was unrelated to the divorce case.
The California courts and the Supreme Court both ruled that personal jurisdiction was valid based on Burnham's physical presence in the state. They applied a historical approach to personal jurisdiction, maintaining that a state court could exercise jurisdiction over a nonresident served with papers within the state. The Court further concluded that physical presence satisfied due process requirements.
The case clarified that physical presence was enough to establish personal jurisdiction without analyzing minimum contacts or reasonableness. It also emphasized the importance of adhering to historical and constitutional principles.
The Supreme Court is examining whether a nonresident who was served with process while temporarily in California can be subject to the state's jurisdiction in a suit unrelated to their activities in the state. Due process requires adherence to established rules and principles of jurisprudence for the protection and enforcement of private rights, including principles of public law governing a state's jurisdiction over persons and property. Physical presence remains important in determining jurisdiction, and jurisdiction based on physical presence alone is still considered valid under due process. The court finds that Mr. Burnham's connections to California were too weak to establish that it was fair for California to assert jurisdiction over him and his property. The court argues that introducing a "reasonableness" inquiry could create uncertainty and lead to more legal disputes over the basis for jurisdiction.
Justice White concurs with Justice Scalia's opinion in upholding the lower court's ruling that personal service in the forum state is sufficient to establish jurisdiction over a nonresident. Justice White acknowledges that this rule is widely accepted and does not violate due process, unless it lacks common sense or appears arbitrary. Claims of unfairness are not considered unless the nonresident's presence in the forum state is involuntarily accidental. In this case, personal service in California satisfies the requirements for jurisdiction.
The author argues that a modern approach to jurisdictional analysis is necessary, and that compliance with contemporary notions of due process is required for every assertion of state-court jurisdiction. The historical pedigree of the transient jurisdiction rule is relevant, but not the sole determinant in determining whether it is consistent with due process. The rule provides clear notice to defendants voluntarily present in a particular state that they are subject to suit in that forum and is consistent with reasonable expectations. Without transient jurisdiction, a transient would have the full benefit of the power of the forum State's courts as a plaintiff while retaining immunity from their authority as a defendant, creating an asymmetry.
Justice Stevens agrees with the judgment in the case but did not join the Court's opinion in Shaffer v. Heitner due to its broad scope. He also declines to join the opinions of Justice Scalia and Justice Brennan in this case. However, he concurs that the historical evidence, fairness considerations, and common sense all support the decision, making it an easy case to affirm.
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