Dawson-Austin v. Austin

Dawson-Austin v. Austin, 968 S.W.2d 319 (Tex. 1998) discusses what constitutes "seeking affirmative action" in the context of a special appearance. In that case, the defendant filed several motions in the same instrument with, or subsequent to, her special appearance. One of the subsequently filed motions requested a continuance on the hearing for special appearance and was not made subject to the special appearance. The supreme court held that the motion did not constitute a general appearance because the motion merely asked the court to defer action on all matters, thus it was not inconsistent with the defendant's assertion that the court lacked jurisdiction. Id. at 323. Dawson-Austin filed a motion to quash service, plea to the jurisdiction, and special appearance in one in-strument. Id. at 321. However, the document did not make the filing of the motion to quash and plea to the jurisdiction specifically subject to the special appearance. Id. The court determined that filing the motion to quash and plea to the jurisdiction in the same instrument did not contravene the requirements of Rule 120a, the special appearance rule. See id. at 322. Further, the court pointed out that several of the intermediate courts of appeals had not held that the "subject to" language is a requirement to avoid waiver. Id. at 323. Austin started a business in Minnesota before his marriage to Dawson-Austin ("Wife"). Id. at 320. During the marriage, Husband's business substantially increased in value. Id. Husband and Wife lived in Minnesota for most of their marriage. Id. They also acquired property in other locations, including a home in California. Id. at 320-21. After they separated, Husband moved to Texas, and Wife moved to California. Id. at 321. Six months after moving to Texas, Husband filed for divorce in Texas. Id. Wife filed a special appearance objecting to the Texas court's jurisdiction to divide the marital estate. See id. The record showed that Wife had never lived in Texas and had traveled to Texas only a few times on business. Id. The trial court overruled her special ap-pearance, and the court of appeals affirmed. Id. Wife petitioned the Texas supreme court, which granted review. Beginning its jurisdictional discussion, the Texas supreme court explained in Dawson-Austin, "The United States Constitution permits a state court to take personal jurisdiction over a defendant only if it has some minimum, purposeful contacts with the state, and the exercise of jurisdiction will not offend traditional notions of fair play and substantial justice." Id. at 326. The Court made clear that the lack of personal jurisdiction over Wife did not end the inquiry with regard to whether the trial court could divide marital property located in Texas. See id. at 327. "Even though the district court did not have in personam jurisdiction over Wife, it is possible under the United States Constitution, and thus under Texas law, for the court to have had jurisdiction to divide the marital estate located in Texas." Id. In Dawson-Austin, "the property in Texas in which the parties claimed an interest was Husband's Dallas home and Texas bank accounts, which the parties agreed was community property, and the stock certificate evidencing Husband's shares in his business." Id. To determine whether the trial court had jurisdiction to divide this property, the Dawson-Austin court began by recognizing that, historically, "a state court could exercise jurisdiction over property within the state's borders and determine the rights and interests of non-residents." Id. (citing Pennoyer v. Neff, 95 U.S. 714, 24 L. Ed. 565 (1877)). The court then explained that the United States Supreme Court abandoned this position in Shaffer v. Heitner, 433 U.S. 186 (1977). Id. The Shaffer court held that jurisdiction over property "must be based on minimum, purposeful contacts and must not offend traditional notions of fair play and substantial justice." Id. (citing Shaffer, 433 U.S. at 212, 97 S. Ct. at 2584). The Dawson-Austin court succinctly summarized Shaffer as follows: "Shaffer was a shareholder derivative suit against officers and directors of two Delaware corporations. A Delaware court sequestered defendants' stock in the corporations, even though neither defendants nor their stock were physically present in Delaware, basing its jurisdiction to do so on a Delaware statute that deemed Delaware the situs of ownership of all stock in Delaware corporations. The Supreme Court held that neither defendants nor their stock had sufficient contacts with Delaware to justify the state court's exercise of jurisdiction over them." Dawson-Austin v. Austin, 968 S.W.2d 319, 327 (Tex. 1998) (citing Shaffer v. Heitner, 433 U.S. 186 (1977)). In reaching this conclusion, the Shaffer court reasoned as follows: The fiction that an assertion of jurisdiction over property is anything but an assertion of jurisdiction over the owner of the property supports an ancient form without substantial modern justification. Its continued acceptance would serve only to allow state-court jurisdiction that is fundamentally unfair to the defendant. We therefore conclude that all assertions of state-court jurisdiction must be evaluated according to the standards set forth in International Shoe and its progeny. (Shaffer, 433 U.S. at 212, 97 S. Ct. at 2584.) After its discussion of Shaffer, the Dawson-Austin court offered the following analysis of the facts before it: "The location in Texas of property that either is or is claimed to be part of the marital estate does not supply the minimum contacts required for the court to exercise jurisdiction over Wife. Husband bought his Dallas home, opened his Texas bank accounts, and brought his business's stock certificate to Texas after he separated from Wife. We do not believe that one spouse may leave the other, move to another state in which neither has ever lived, buy a home or open a bank account or store a stock certificate there, and by those unilateral actions, and nothing more, compel the other spouse to litigate their divorce in the new domicile consistent with due process. One spouse cannot, solely by actions in which the other spouse is not involved, create the contacts between a state and the other spouse necessary for jurisdiction over a divorce action." Dawson-Austin, 968 S.W.2d at 327 (citing In the Interest of S.A.V., 837 S.W.2d 80, 83-84 (Tex. 1992) (holding that without personal jurisdiction over one parent, a court could still decide custody of a child living in the State, but could not determine support and visitation)). The Dawson-Austin court continued, "Moreover, Wife's claim to a part of the value of the stock is completely unrelated to the situs of the certificate; rather, it is based on the parties' efforts to increase the value of Husband's business, most of which occurred in Minnesota." Id. The court concluded, "In no sense can it be said that Wife ever 'purposefully availed' herself of the privilege of owning property in this State." Id. (citing Burger King Corp. v. Rudzewicz, 471 U.S. 462, 475, 105 S. Ct. 2174, 2183-2184, 85 L. Ed. 2d 528 (1985)). Hence, "the district court lacked jurisdiction to adjudicate Wife's claim to part of the value of the business's stock or to divide the marital estate." Id. at 328. The Dawson-Austin court ultimately held, "The district court had jurisdiction only to grant a divorce and not to determine the parties' property claims." Id. The Court held that the defendant who filed a special appearance and a motion to quash and sought a con-tinuance of the hearings on both matters did not waive her jurisdictional challenge. Id. at 323-24. The court explained that because the defendant requested a continuance of the hearing on the special ap-pearance, she also had to request a continuance of the hearings on non-jurisdictional matters in order to stay within the requirement of Rule 120a(2) that jurisdictional challenges "shall be heard and determined before . . . any other plea or pleading may be heard." Id. at 323. The court distinguished the case that would have been presented if the defendant had sought and obtained a continuance of the special-appearance hearing in order to conduct non-jurisdictional discovery before the special appearance was decided. Id. The court noted that in such circumstances, it would be important that the defendant delayed conducting non-jurisdictional discovery until after the special appearance was decided. Id. In sum, a couple's principal place of residence was in Minnesota and they owned a home in California. Id. at 320-21. They had been to Texas only once, years before, to attend a business convention. Id. at 326. After the couple separated, the husband moved to Texas and filed for a divorce there. Id. at 321. The wife filed a special appearance, which the trial court denied. Id. The Texas Supreme Court reversed, holding that the wife lacked "purposeful, minimum contacts" with Texas. Id. at 326. The defendant filed a special appearance, a motion to quash service of process, a plea to the jurisdiction, and a plea in abatement. Id. The plaintiff set a hearing on these matters, and the defendant requested a motion for continuance on the day of the hearing. Id. The supreme court stated that the specially appearing defendant's request for a continuance of the special appearance hearing "did not request affirmative relief inconsistent with [the defendant's] assertion that the district court lacked jurisdiction" and that, because of rule 120a's requirement that a special appearance must be determined before "any other plea or pleading may be heard," the defendant did not waive her spe-cial appearance by requesting a continuance on the other matters. Id.