A valid judgment imposing a personal obligation or duty in favor of the plaintiff may be entered only by a court having jurisdiction over the person of the defendant. The existence of personal jurisdiction, in turn, depends upon the presence of reasonable notice to the defendant that an action has been brought and a sufficient connection between the defendant and the forum state to make it fair to require defense of the action in the forum.
The parties married in California, but resided in New York during their married life. After they separated, and with the father's agreement, the mother moved to California with the children, while the father remained in New York. The mother filed an action in California to modify a child support award entered in New York. The father was served with a summons, and filed a motion to quash, arguing that the California court did not have personal jurisdiction. The California trial and appellate courts refused to quash the summons. The father sought review in the United States Supreme Court.
Did the California court err in refusing to quash the summons?
The Court determined that California state courts were constitutionally unable to exercise personal jurisdiction over the father as a nonresident, nondomiciliary parent of minor children domiciled within California because he lacked sufficient minimum contacts with California. By merely consenting to his children's living with the mother in contradiction of the parties' separation agreement, the father did not purposefully avail himself of the benefits and protections of California law. Particularly, because the action was domestic in nature, the father did not derive any commercial or financial benefit from his children's presence in California. Therefore, his actions were not such that it was fair, just, or reasonable to require him to conduct his defense to the child support modification in California.