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Landis v. Kolsky

Decided: December 6, 1979.


On certification to the Superior Court, Appellate Division.

For affirmance -- Chief Justice Wilentz and Justices Sullivan, Pashman, Clifford, Schreiber, Handler and Pollock. For reversal -- None. The opinion of the court was delivered by Schreiber, J.


The underlying question in this case is whether a California court had in personam jurisdiction over defendant, who had had no dealings with the plaintiff in California and who had been served personally in New Jersey, so that its default judgment sued upon here, predicated upon an implied contract, is entitled to full faith and credit under Article IV, ยง 1 of the United States Constitution.

The California judgment should be viewed against the background of a series of matrimonial proceedings between Ellen Kolsky and her former husband, Dr. Neil Kolsky. The Kolskys, each of whom had previously been married, were married on March 7, 1971 in California. At that time he was in the armed forces and resided in Maryland. After the marriage, they continued to reside in Maryland until coming to New Jersey in June 1971. The parties lived together in Dumont and Hacken-sack, until their separation three years later. A son David was born in New Jersey on January 25, 1973 and remained in the matrimonial domicile until July 1974. Dr. Kolsky has practiced and continues to practice medicine in this State. Continuing

marital discord led to a final separation in July 1974 when Mrs. Kolsky took her infant son and went to live with her parents in California.

This separation was followed by five separate lawsuits. The first action -- which directly concerns this proceeding -- was started by Mrs. Kolsky's father, Alvin Landis, in the Superior Court of California. Landis, a California attorney, alleged that Neil Kolsky had deserted and abandoned his wife and child, knowing that they "would necessarily have to move" to California. Mr. Landis also asserted that he had advanced $2,845 to pay for transporting his daughter's household and personal property from Hackensack to California and had expended $2,000 for necessaries to support his daughter and grandson. He sought damages for $4,845 and for additional monetary support afforded after filing the complaint. The Landis action was commenced on November 13, 1974. Service was made by the Deputy Sheriff of Bergen County on Dr. Kolsky at his business address in Fort Lee, New Jersey, on December 30, 1974. Default was entered upon his failure to answer. On February 18, 1975 plaintiff Landis obtained a judgment in the California Superior Court for $6,984. On August 12, 1975 Mr. Landis instituted this proceeding in the Superior Court, Law Division, Bergen County, seeking to obtain a judgment here on the basis of the California judgment.

On December 28, 1974, before he became aware of Landis's California action, Dr. Kolsky had filed a complaint for divorce on the ground of extreme cruelty in the Superior Court of New Jersey. His wife defaulted and judgment of divorce was entered on July 30, 1975. The order recited that the court had jurisdiction over the action and retained jurisdiction over custody and child support. Plaintiff Landis's New Jersey lawsuit was thereafter consolidated with Dr. Kolsky's matrimonial action.

In a fourth proceeding instituted on January 13, 1975 in California, Ellen Kolsky sought a divorce. Dr. Kolsky, served by mail, did not respond. That matter was heard in California on

February 20, 1975, and Mrs. Kolsky was awarded support of $900 per month for the child and $500 per month for herself. The final California divorce decree was entered on July 22, 1975.

A fifth action was commenced in July 1975, when Ellen Kolsky filed a petition in California for support of David and herself under the Uniform Reciprocal Enforcement of Support Act. N.J.S.A. 2A:4-30.1 et seq. However, the underlying documents only sought support for the child. The Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court in Bergen County, jurisdiction being vested in that court in accordance with the Act, dismissed the proceeding without prejudice in September 1975 because the New Jersey Superior Court that granted the divorce to Dr. Kolsky had retained jurisdiction to decide the question of support for the infant.

Ellen Kolsky also petitioned the California court for leave to revert to her maiden name, which was granted on January 12, 1976. Lastly, in June 1978, she obtained a judgment in California for $56,606 for arrearages allegedly due under the California matrimonial proceedings. At that time she resided in New Mexico.

In this setting we direct our attention to the Landis action in New Jersey to obtain a judgment for the monies due as previously adjudicated by the California Superior Court. When the matter came on for trial, plaintiff Landis's attorney introduced the California judgment and a document entitled Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law, signed by the California judge who had presided at the uncontested proceedings. The Findings were offered so that the court had something "to look at in order to determine if what was done effects [ sic ] the public policy" of New Jersey. The Findings contained a recitation by the trial judge, tracing the language of ...

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