Burnham v. Superior Court of Cal.

495 U.S. 604, 110 S. Ct. 2105 (1990)



A court can take jurisdiction based on physical presence alone. A state court's assertion of personal jurisdiction satisfies the Due Process Clause if it does not violate traditional notions of fair play and substantial justice. Deviations are permissible, but only with respect to suits arising out of an absent defendant's contacts with a state.


A married couple who had for some years resided in New Jersey decided to separate. The wife moved to California with the couple's two children, while the husband continued to reside in New Jersey. The husband subsequently traveled to California on business and to visit the children. While in California, he was personally served with process in a divorce action filed in California state court by his wife. Appearing specially in the California Superior Court, he moved to quash the service of process on the ground that the court lacked personal jurisdiction over him because his only contacts with California were a few short visits undertaken to conduct business and visit his children. On appeal, the California Court of Appeal’s affirmed the superior courts decision. The case was elevated on certiorari to the Supreme Court of the United States.


Did the court acquire personal jurisdiction over the husband?




The Court held that the forum state had personal jurisdiction over the husband in the pending divorce action because the requisite minimum contacts were satisfied by the husband’s physical presence in the forum, even if on unrelated matters. Due process was satisfied because service of process occurred while the husband was in the forum.

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