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Minimum Deadly Contacts

By Jesse Noltimier. Full Text. 

Domestic violence is a national epidemic. Roughly one in three women will experience some form of domestic violence during their lifetime. Women are also seventy times more likely to be killed in the two weeks after leaving their intimate partner than at any other time during their relationship. Thus, it is not surprising that the only safe haven available to those who escape their abusers is often located outside of the state where the violence occurred.

The difficulties do not end once a survivor moves to another state. If she wants to obtain a lifesaving domestic violence protection order, she may be denied legal protection because the court lacks personal jurisdiction over the out-of-state abuser. Personal jurisdiction is a due process protection that ensures a defendant has certain “minimum contacts” with the state before it renders a judgment—in this case, a protection order—personally binding on him. But this is often difficult to establish when the abuser has no ties to the new state and is unaware that the survivor now resides there.

A survivor is therefore left with two untenable choices. She can return to her abuser’s home state—the very state she fled—and file her protection order there. Or, alternatively, she can remain in the new state and wait for her abuser to commit additional acts of domestic violence. This Note argues that survivors escaping abuse should not be placed in such a difficult position. The Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment protects an out-of-state defendant from being subject to personal jurisdiction in a state with which he has no connection. But it is an entirely different situation when a person engages in a pattern of abusive conduct toward another based on a pre-existing relationship.

This Note makes two arguments for authorizing jurisdiction in interstate domestic violence cases. First, a survivor should be able to obtain a protection order before the abuser reaches out to the new state. Nothing in the Constitution suggests that a state court lacks the power to subject an abuser to its authority in this situation. Second, if the abuser reaches out to the new state by, for example, calling the survivor’s cellphone that he does not realize is in the new state, courts have an even stronger basis for exercising jurisdiction under existing case law.