Kulko v. Superior Court of California
436 U.S. 84, 98 S.Ct. 1690, 56 L.Ed.2d 132 (1978)

  • Ezra and Sharon were New York residents. They got married in California, went back to New York and lived happily for 13 years, having two children. Then they separated.
    • The couple had a legal separation agreement written up and signed in New York, giving custody of both kids to Ezra, and allowing some visitation rights and some child support to Sharon.
  • Sharon moved to California after getting a quickly ex parte divorce in Haiti. When one of her kids came to visit, Sharon secretly sent a plane ticket and got the second kid, then went to a California Court and asked them to award her full custody and force Ezra to pay child support.
  • Ezra made a special appearance and made a motion to dismiss.
    • He argued that California did not have personal jurisdiction (aka in personam) jurisdiction over him, and therefore did not have the authority to make him pay child support or take away his kids.
      • Ezra was not a California resident, and did not have “minimum contacts” with the State.
        • See International Shoe Co. v. Washington (326 U.S. 310 (1945)).
  • The Trial Court found they had in personam jurisdiction. Ezra appealed.
  • The Appellate Court affirmed. Ezra appealed.
    • The Appellate Court found that by allowing his kids to visit, Ezra had “caused an effect in the State” that gave them in personam jurisdiction.
  • The California Supreme Court affirmed. Ezra appealed.
    • The California Supreme Court found that by allowing his one kid to live with her mother (even temporarily), Ezra had “purposefully availed himself of the benefits and protections of the laws of California.”
    • The Court found that this didn’t apply to the second kid, who Sharon snatched without Ezra’s permission, but it was fair and reasonable to adjudicate both children’s fates at the same time.
  • The US Supreme Court reversed.
    • The US Supreme Court agreed with International Shoe that in order for California to have jurisdiction, the defendant “must have certain minimum contacts with the forum State such that the maintenance of the suit does not offend ‘traditional notions of fair play and substantial justice.”
      • The Court found that Ezra had done nothing to avail himself in California and therefore there was no in personam jurisdiction.
    • The Court found that if they were to find that just sending your kids to visit their mother gave a State in personam jurisdiction, people would be discouraged from entering reasonable visitation agreements.
      • That’s bad public policy.
    • The Court noted that California did have a legitimate interest in protecting resident children and in facilitating child support actions, but that wasn’t not enough to make California a ‘fair forum.’
  • Sharon was not without options. She could have gone to New York and litigated the issue there.
  • The basic point of this case is that a person must have minimum contacts with a State or at least have purposefully availed themselves of the laws of that State in order for that State to have jurisdiction over them.
    • But remember, if you ever actually go to that State and get served there, the State automatically gets jurisdiction. Also, if you make a general appearance in a court in that State, you have consented to jurisdiction.
      • See Burnham v. Superior Court (495 U.S. 604 (1990)).