436 U.S. 84 (1978), 77-293, Kulko v. Superior Court of California

Docket Nº:No. 77-293
Citation:436 U.S. 84, 98 S.Ct. 1690, 56 L.Ed.2d 132
Party Name:Kulko v. Superior Court of California
Case Date:May 15, 1978
Court:United States Supreme Court

Page 84

436 U.S. 84 (1978)

98 S.Ct. 1690, 56 L.Ed.2d 132



Superior Court of California

No. 77-293

United States Supreme Court

May 15, 1978

Argued March 29, 1978



Appellant and appellee, both then New York domiciliaries, were married in 1959 in California during appellant's three-day stopover while he was en route to overseas military duty. After the marriage, appellee returned to New York, as did appellant following his tour of duty and a 24-hour stopover in California. In 1961 and 1962, a son and daughter were born to them in New York, where the family resided together until March, 1972, when appellant and appellee separated. Appellee then moved to California. Under a separation agreement, executed by both parties in New York, the children were to remain with appellant father during the school year, but during specified vacations with appellee mother, whom appellant agreed to pay $3,000 per year in child support for the periods when the children were in her custody. Appellee, after obtaining a divorce in Haiti, which incorporated the terms of the separation agreement, returned to California. In December, 1973, the daughter, at her request and with her father's consent, joined her mother in California, and remained there during the school year, spending vacations with her father. Appellee, without appellant's consent, arranged for the son to join her in California about two years later. Appellee then brought this action against appellant in California to establish the Haitian divorce decree as a California judgment, to modify the judgment so as to award her full custody of the children, and to increase appellant's child support obligations. Appellant, resisting the claim for increased support, appeared specially, claiming that he lacked sufficient "minimum contacts" with that State under International Shoe Co. v. Washington, 326 U.S. 310, 316, to warrant the State's assertion of personal jurisdiction over him. The California Supreme Court, upholding lower court determinations adverse to appellant, concluded that, where a nonresident defendant [98 S.Ct. 1693] has caused an "effect" in the State by an act or omission outside the State, personal jurisdiction over the defendant arising from the effect may be exercised whenever "reasonable," and that such exercise was "reasonable" here because appellant had "purposely availed himself of the benefits and protections of California" by sending the daughter to

Page 85

live with her mother there, and that it was "fair and reasonable" for the defendant to be subject to personal jurisdiction for the support of both children.

Held: The exercise of in personam jurisdiction by the California courts over appellant, a New York domiciliary, would violate the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. The mere act of sending a child to California to live with her mother connotes no intent to obtain nor expectancy of receiving a corresponding benefit in that State that would make fair the assertion of that State's judicial jurisdiction over appellant. Pp. 91-101.

(a) A defendant to be bound by a judgment against him 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."

International Shoe Co. v. Washington, supra, at 316, quoting Milliken v. Meyer, 311 U.S. 457, 463. P. 92.

(b) The acquiescence of appellant in his daughter's desire to live with her mother in California was not enough to confer jurisdiction over appellant in the California courts. See Shaffer v. Heitner, 433 U.S. 186, 216. P. 94.

(c) Exercise of in personam jurisdiction over appellant was not warranted by the financial benefit appellant derived from his daughter's presence in California for nine months of the year, since any diminution in appellant's household costs resulted not from the child's presence in California, but from her absence from appellant's home, and from appellee's failure to seek an increase in support payments in New York. Pp. 94-96.

(d) The "effects" rule that the California courts applied is intended to reach wrongful activity outside of the forum State causing injury within the State where such application would not be "unreasonable," but here, where there is no claim that appellant visited physical injury on either property or persons in California; where the cause of action arises from appellant's personal, domestic relations; and where the controversy arises from a separation that occurred in New York, and modification is sought of a contract negotiated and signed in New York that had virtually no connection with the forum State, it is "unreasonable" for California to assert personal jurisdiction over appellant. P. 96-97.

(e) Since appellant remained in the State of marital domicile and did no more than acquiesce in the stated preference of his daughter to live with her mother in California, basic considerations of fairness point decisively to appellant's State of domicile as the proper forum for adjudicating this case, whatever be the merits of appellee's underlying claim. Pp. 97-98.

Page 86

(f) California's legitimate interest in ensuring the support of children residing in California without unduly disrupting the children's lives is already being served by the State's participation in the Uniform Reciprocal Enforcement of Support Act of 1968, which permits a California resident claiming support from a nonresident to file a petition in California and have its merits adjudicated in the State of the alleged obligor's residence, without either party's having to leave his or her own State. New York is a signatory to a similar statute. Those statutes appear to provide appellee with means to vindicate her claimed right to additional child support from appellant and collection of any support payments found to be owed to her by appellant. Pp. 98-101.

Appeal dismissed and certiorari granted; 19 Cal.3d 514, 564 P.2d 353, reversed.

MARSHALL, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BURGER, C.J., and STEWART, BLACKMUN, REHNQUIST, and STEVENS, JJ., joined. BRENNAN, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which WHITE and POWELL, JJ., joined, post, p. 101.

MARSHALL, J., lead opinion

MR. JUSTICE MARSHALL delivered the opinion of the Court.

The issue before us is whether, in this action for child support, the California state courts may exercise in personam jurisdiction over a nonresident, nondomiciliary parent of minor children domiciled within the State. For reasons set forth below, we hold that the exercise of such jurisdiction would violate the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.


Appellant Ezra Kulko married appellee Sharon Kulko Horn in 1959, during appellant's three-day stopover in California en route from a military base in Texas to a tour of duty in Korea. At the time of this marriage, both parties were domiciled in and residents of New York State. Immediately following

Page 87

the marriage, Sharon Kulko returned to New York, as did appellant after his tour of duty. Their first child, Darwin, was born to the Kulkos in New York in 1961, and, a year later their second child, Ilsa, was born, also in New York. The Kulkos and their two children resided together as a family in New York City continuously until March, 1972, when the Kulkos separated.

Following the separation, Sharon Kulko moved to San Francisco, Cal. A written separation agreement was drawn up in New York; in September, 1972, Sharon Kulko flew to New York City in order to sign this agreement. The agreement provided, inter alia, that the children would remain with their father during the school year but would spend their Christmas, Easter, and summer vacations with their mother. While Sharon Kulko waived any claim for her own support or maintenance, Ezra Kulko agreed to pay his wife $3,000 per year in child support for the periods when the children were in her care, custody, and control. Immediately after execution of the separation agreement, Sharon Kulko flew to Haiti and procured a divorce there;1 the divorce decree incorporated the terms of the agreement. She then returned to California, where she remarried and took the name Horn.

The children resided with appellant during the school year and with their mother on vacations, as provided by the separation agreement, until December, 1973. At this time, just before Ilsa was to leave New York to spend Christmas vacation with her mother, she told her father that she wanted to remain in California after her vacation. Appellant bought his daughter a one-way plane ticket, and Ilsa left, taking her

Page 88

clothing with her. Ilsa then commenced living in California with her mother during the school year and spending vacations with her father. In January, 1976, appellant's other child, Darwin, called his mother from New York and advised her that he wanted to live with her in California. Unbeknownst to appellant, appellee Horn sent a plane ticket to her son, which he used to fly to California where he took up residence with his mother and sister.

Less than one month after Darwin's arrival in California, appellee Horn commenced this action against appellant in the California Superior Court. She sought to establish the Haitian divorce decree as a California judgment; to modify the judgment so as to award her full custody of the children; and to increase appellant's child support obligations.2 Appellant appeared specially and moved to quash service [98 S.Ct. 1695] of the summons on the ground that he was not a resident of California and lacked sufficient "minimum contacts" with the State under International Shoe Co. v. Washington, 326 U.S. 310, 316 (1945), to warrant the...

To continue reading