Burnham v. California

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Burnham v. California
Court Supreme Court of the United States
Citation 495 U.S. 604, 110 S.Ct. 2105, 109 L.Ed.2d 631
Date decided May 29, 1990


  • Petitioner Dennis Burnham was married to Francie Burnham in 1976 in West Virginia
  • In 1977, they moved to New Jersey where they had children
  • In 1987, the two decided to separate.
  • In the same year of 1987, Mrs. Burnham moved to California with their 2 kids after they decided to divorce on grounds of "irreconcilable differences."
  • Dennis filed for divorce on grounds of "desertion" in New Jersey. The husband continued to live in New Jersey
  • In 1988, Mrs. Burnham filed for divorce in California state court. Later that month, Dennis was in California on business & went to visit the kids. He took the oldest to San Francisco for the weekend. Upon his return, he was served with California court summons.

Procedural History

  • Petitioner made a special appearance in the California Superior Court, moving to quash the service of process on the ground that the court lacked personal jurisdiction.
  • Superior court of California denied the motion.
  • California Court of Appeal denied mandamus relief.


Whether due process requires a similar connection between the litigation & the defendant's contacts with the State in cases where the defendant is physically present in the State at the time process is served upon him.


The husband cited Shaffer v. Heitner to state the transient jurisdiction was as equally wrong as the court claiming personal jurisdiction purely based on ownership of property within the forum state.

Antonin Scalia: No, transient jurisdiction doesn't even need a minimum contacts analysis.


In-state service of process is sufficient to uphold jurisdiction.

Constitutional due process permits the exercise of personal jurisdiction based solely on the personal service within the forum state.




Jurisdiction based on physical presence alone constitutes due process because it is one of the continuing traditions of our legal system that define the due process standard of "traditional notions of fair play and substantial justice."


transient jurisdiction = a defendant is personally served with process while physically present in the forum state