The following is a summary of Buskirk v. Buskirk what is a recent and important case that discussed the reach of California’s jurisdiction in trust/probate court cases.
Buskirk v. Buskirk (August 14, 2020) 53 Cal. App. 5th 523 – holding that personal jurisdiction rules are the same for trust proceedings as they are for civil proceedings – i.e., California’s jurisdictional reach is long, personal jurisdiction depends on the connections that the defendant, and/or the facts, and/or the assets that are at issue, had or have with California
Buskirk affirms the view of personal jurisdiction that I have followed in probate court cases – i.e., that California’s jurisdictional reach is long, but, of course, it is not unlimited. Broadly viewed, the approach is: (1) was or is the defendant located in California, or (2) to what extent did the relevant facts or actions occur in California, or (3) to what extent were or are the assets that are at issue located in California? In Buskirk for example, the court held that California does have jurisdiction over the settlor/trustee although she used to be but now no longer was located in California. The court evaluated the history of the settlor/trustee’s actions in California, the relevant facts and actions that had occurred in California, and the extent that the assets that were at issue were located in California.
The opinion in Buskirk also is helpful because it is fairly long and detailed as to the various different facts that were involved and that the Court considered. There are a lot of facts in Buskirk that are also present or that could also be present in a typical California probate court case. Below you will find a summary of the opinion including some quotes from the court.
“As a matter of state law, personal jurisdiction rules are the same for civil and trust proceedings. [See Prob. Code § 17004 . . . .)”
California courts may exercise jurisdiction to determine matters concerning trust property located in California—particularly land—even if the trust is administered elsewhere.
California courts may exercise jurisdiction on any basis consistent with the state or federal Constitutions. Cal. Civ. Proc. Code § 410.10.
Court focuses on the defendants’ relationship to the forum state when assessing personal jurisdiction.
Jurisdiction is proper if a defendant has minimum contacts with the state such that the lawsuit does not offend traditional notions of fair play and substantial justice.
Personal jurisdiction can be all-purpose (also called “general”) or case-linked (also called “specific”).
With case-linked jurisdiction, the court may adjudicate only those disputes relating to defendants’ contacts with the forum.
Case-linked jurisdiction is proper when: (1) defendants have purposefully availed themselves of forum benefits; (2) the controversy relates to the defendants’ contacts with the forum; and (3) the exercise of jurisdiction comports with fair play and substantial justice.
When considering purposeful availment prong of case-linked jurisdiction test, court considers whether the defendants’ conduct connects them to the forum in a meaningful way.
Defendants purposefully avail themselves of a forum’s benefits, such that case-linked jurisdiction is proper, if they intentionally direct their activities at a forum such that, by virtue of the benefit the defendants receive, they should reasonably expect to be subject to jurisdiction there.
A defendant need not physically enter California at all to be subject to personal jurisdiction in California.
“A defendant need not physically enter California at all to be subject to personal jurisdiction here. (Halyard Health, Inc. v. Kimberly-Clark Corp. (2019) 43 Cal.App.5th 1062, 1075, 256 Cal.Rptr.3d 915.) Nor can the mother undo her lifelong California contacts by moving to a new state. No matter where they now live, Respondents’ activities have involved a trust that was created and managed in California, that is governed by California law, and that continues to hold interests in California real property. Respondents have purposefully availed themselves of the California forum.”
“Next we tackle the second prong about “relatedness”: whether the son’s claims relate to Respondents’ contacts with California. We look for a substantial connection between Respondents’ forum activities and the son’s claims. (Vons, supra, 14 Cal.4th at pp. 452, 456, 58 Cal.Rptr.2d 899, 926 P.2d 1085.)”
“To defeat exercise of case-linked jurisdiction on fairness grounds, the defendant must present a compelling case that exercising jurisdiction would be unreasonable.”
“Venue is separate from personal jurisdiction. Witkin Library Reference: 2 Witkin, Cal. Procedure (5th ed. 2008) Jurisdiction, § 158 [Ownership, Possession, or Use of Property.]”
“Among other findings, the trial court specifically found most of the Trust properties currently are in Idaho, the son is no longer a Trust beneficiary, and the mother has moved to Idaho. We accept those factual findings and do not question them.”
“Mother intentionally connected with California for her own benefit, such that connection satisfied purposeful availment prong of case-linked jurisdiction over mother in son’s action for accounting of family real estate trust, where mother was lifelong California resident, created trust with her husband in California and chose California law to govern trust, trust held interests in California real estate, mother had filed four lawsuits in California involving trust property, and, since leaving California, mother had engaged in transactions aimed at extinguishing the trust’s interests in the California real estate.”
“Daughters’ connections with California satisfied purposeful availment prong of case-linked jurisdiction in son’s action for accounting of family real estate trust, where daughters were successor beneficiaries and successor trustees of the trust, which originated in California, was governed by California law, and held interest in California real estate, daughters participated in trust transactions, and daughters physically came to California to get their mother, who was trustor, and to move her to Idaho, which triggered the trust changes at issue.”
“Uncle’s connections with California satisfied purposeful availment prong of case-linked jurisdiction in son’s action for accounting of family real estate trust, where uncle had role in managing trust, which originated in California, was governed by California law, and held interest in California real estate, uncle also participated in the trust’s real estate transactions, and uncle assisted in moving trustor mother from California to Idaho, which was event that changed trust’s operation.”
“Son’s claims for accounting of family real estate trust and for removal of trustees related to mother’s, uncle’s, and daughters’ contacts with California, as required for court to assert case-specific jurisdiction over them; mother, uncle, and daughter were connected to California through the trust, which was the topic of the son’s suit, suit asserted that they harmed son and the trust by engaging in below-market California land deals and that mother created an impermissible conflict of interest, son claimed the transactions rendered them unfit to serve as trustees, and son sought appointment of professional fiduciary as trustee and claimed he had been refused an accounting.”
“Exercise of case-linked jurisdiction over mother, uncle, and daughters was fair in son’s action for accounting of family real estate trust; son was resident of California, mother previously had chosen to litigate in California regarding trust, daughters or their agents came to California to move mother to Idaho, uncle was successor trustee and managed its affairs for mother, who had lived in California for 89 years, and while mother was elderly and one daughter had cancer, court would make reasonable accommodations.”
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Remember, every case and situation is different. It is important to obtain and evaluate all of the evidence that is available, and to apply that evidence to the applicable standards and laws. You do need to consult with an attorney and other professionals about your particular situation. This post is not a solicitation for legal or other services inside of or outside of California, and, of course, this post only is a summary of information that changes from time to time, and does not apply to any particular situation or to your specific situation. So . . . you cannot rely on this post for your situation or as legal or other professional advice or representation.
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Best to you, David Tate, Esq. (and inactive California CPA) – practicing in California only
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