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Friedetzky v. Hsia

Court of Special Appeals of Maryland

July 6, 2015

CLAUDIA FRIEDETZKY
v.
ROGER HSIA

Hotten, Leahy, Raker, Irma S., Retired, Specially Assigned, JJ.

OPINION

LEAHY, J.

Appellant Claudia Friedetzky filed a petition for custody of her child, M.J., [1] in the Circuit Court for Prince George's County, Maryland. Appellee Roger Hsia (defendant below), a resident of New York, filed an answer requesting that the court order paternity testing of M.J., and then initiated discovery to acquire information relevant to matters of paternity and child support. Appellant then filed an amended complaint including claims for paternity, child support, and counsel fees, which was countered by Appellee's motion to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction.

The jurisdictional questions engendered by these actions concenter at the intersection of the Maryland Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act ("UCCJEA"), Maryland Code (1984, 2012 Repl. Vol) Family Law Article ("F.L.") §§ 9.5-101 to 9.5-318, and the Maryland Uniform Interstate Family Support Act ("UIFSA"), F.L. §§ 10-301 to 10-359.[2] The UCCJEA, governing custody and visitation, and the UIFSA, governing paternity and child support, were established to provide systematic and harmonized approaches to urgent family issues in a world in which parents and guardians, who choose to live apart, increasingly live in different states and nations. As separate legal schemes, the UCCJEA and UIFSA contain distinct jurisdictional provisions.

The central issue before us is whether a nonresident putative father's request for paternity testing in his answer to a resident mother's custody petition, coupled with his extensive discovery requests relating to paternity and child support were: (a) actions protected under the limited immunity provision of the UCCJEA, which permits a nonresident to appear in court regarding an issue of interstate custody without submitting to the jurisdiction of the court in other matters; or (b) affirmative requests for relief that satisfied the requisites for personal jurisdiction under Section 10-304(a)(2) of the UIFSA long-arm statute.

We hold that by affirmatively requesting genetic testing in his answer to Appellant's custody petition, and by initiating discovery relating to matters of paternity and child support, Appellee triggered the UIFSA long-arm statute and waived the limited immunity otherwise afforded in a custody proceeding under the UCCJEA. We further conclude, in response to Appellee's alternative argument, that Appellee had sufficient minimum contacts with the State of Maryland by virtue of his actions to establish paternity that constitutionally permit the court's exercise of personal jurisdiction over him. Accordingly, we reverse the judgment of the Circuit Court for Prince George's County granting Appellee's motion to dismiss the amended petition, and remand for further proceedings.

BACKGROUND

The parties engaged in an ephemeral affair in September 2005 in New York City, where they both lived at the time. Following their single act of intercourse, Appellant gave birth to M.J. in New York City on June 8, 2006. Throughout this timespan, Appellant was married to another man, whom she later divorced in 2010.[3]

In 2011, Appellant and M.J. relocated to Maryland where Appellant was offered a job. Appellee, who never communicated with or provided support for M.J., remains a resident of New York.

Two years after moving to Maryland, on July 31, 2013, Appellant filed a single-count custody petition against Appellee in the Circuit Court for Prince George's County requesting "immediate and permanent sole physical and legal custody" of M.J. After he was successfully served on November 14, 2013 in New York, Appellee, through counsel, filed a general line of appearance in the circuit court on January 13, 2014 as well as an answer to the custody petition. In his prayer for relief, Appellee requested that the petition be dismissed with prejudice or denied, and that the court order genetic testing to determine the paternity of M.J. He also requested reasonable attorney's fees and "such other and further relief" that the court deem appropriate. Along with his answer, on January 13 Appellee served Appellant with 40 requests for documents and 15 interrogatories-including exhaustive requests for information about Appellant's sexual partners.[4] The requests sought, among other things, M.J.'s birth certificate, Appellant's marriage certificate, the judgment of divorce, communications from her former husband, and copies of Appellant's federal and state income tax returns for the years 2005, 2006, and 2007.

Two weeks later, Appellee filed an amended answer, removing only the request for attorney's fees, as well as a request for admission of facts. Appellee subsequently deposed Appellant on May 28, 2014 and questioned her about the existence of agreements for counsel fees and child support.[5]

Meanwhile, on March 25, 2014, Appellant filed an amended petition for the establishment of paternity, sole physical and legal custody, and child support (and counsel fees). Appellant did not oppose Appellee's request for DNA testing, stating in the petition that "[b]oth Plaintiff and Defendant are in agreement that it is appropriate for the Defendant and the Minor Child to undergo such testing in order to establish his biological relationship to the Minor Child."

In response, on March 26, Appellee filed a motion to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction. In this motion, Appellee argued that the court could not exercise personal jurisdiction over him, a non-resident of Maryland, in proceedings for paternity, child support, or attorney's fees because the requirements of the long-arm statutes pertaining to child support and paternity contained in the Courts and Judicial Proceedings Article and the UIFSA were not satisfied. Appellee also withdrew his request for genetic testing, citing as grounds his discovery that Appellant had been married at the time M.J. was conceived and born.

In her opposition filed on April 15, Appellant countered that Appellee did not raise the issue of jurisdiction in his answer and that by requesting genetic testing, he purposefully availed himself of the benefits of the State of Maryland. Appellant further noted that Appellee appeared in the circuit court and engaged in discovery, specifically as to the paternity issue. Following Appellee's timely reply, the circuit court denied the motion to dismiss in an order dated May 1, 2014 (entered on May 16, 2014).

Appellee filed a motion for reconsideration, presenting more extensive arguments why the long-arm statutes applicable to the issues of paternity, child support, and counsel fees were not satisfied. The court held a hearing on the motion on June 30, 2014. The court explained that had the case been filed as a child support and paternity case at the outset, jurisdiction would have been proper in New York, not Maryland. Having read the parties' written arguments, the court asked the parties to address (1) whether the establishment of personal jurisdiction in the custody matter can extend to the other issues raised in the amended complaint; and (2) whether Glading v. Furman, 282 Md. 200 (1978) was applicable to the case under consideration.

Regarding the first issue raised by the court, Appellee argued that Appellant initially brought a proper issue (sole legal and physical custody) within the court's jurisdiction and then attempted to "bootstrap in these other issues that [the court] wouldn't have jurisdiction over" by adding them in the amended complaint. Appellee maintained that under the UCCJEA, he properly filed an answer on the limited issue of child custody, but there was no jurisdiction to address the request for child support and paternity contained in the amended complaint. Appellant responded that it was Appellee who requested paternity testing in the first place, thereby availing himself to the jurisdiction of the Maryland court under UIFSA on the issue of paternity and child support.

The court observed that custody was obviously not in dispute; instead, the court commented, "[e]verybody knows that . . . you are fighting to keep your client from having to pay child support; alternatively, that you have put it off as long as possible. And they are fighting to get child support as soon as possible." The court expressed the central issue as whether it had jurisdiction to move forward or whether the child support and paternity claims needed to be litigated in New York. The court reserved this determination. Accordingly, the court signed a consent order prepared by the parties on June 26, 2014 (entered on July 8, 2014), awarding sole legal and physical custody of M.J. to Appellant, but stating that "the court reserves on the remaining outstanding issues."

After the hearing, the parties filed memoranda addressing the Glading case, which held that once a court obtains jurisdiction over a party to an action, the court retains jurisdiction over the parties for all proceedings arising out of the original cause of action under the "continuing jurisdiction" doctrine. Appellee asserted that Glading was factually distinguishable because that case involved a former Maryland-resident defendant who was served in Maryland, whereas Appellee, a New York resident, was served in New York. He further argued that the case preceded the enactments of the UCCJEA and the UIFSA and that jurisdiction is not proper under those acts. Appellant rejoined, arguing, inter alia, that under Glading, the court had continuing jurisdiction over the child support and paternity claims because those claims arose out of the custody action; that Appellee had reasonable notice and opportunity to be heard on the added claims; that Glading is consistent with, not replaced by, the UCCJEA and UIFSA; and that personal jurisdiction was proper under the UIFSA long-arm statute.

On July 8, 2014, the court entered a summary order providing that "pursuant to MD Code Ann., Fam. Law § 9.5-108, [6] the Motion for Reconsideration is GRANTED"; that "the Consent Order dated June 27, 2014 shall remain in full force and effect"; and that "all remaining claims are DISMISSED without prejudice." The court then closed the case. Appellant noted a timely appeal on August 7, 2014. Appellant presents six questions for our review:

I. "Whether a court may exercise personal jurisdiction over a nonresident for paternity and child support claims in connection with a custody claim where an independent ground for UIFSA jurisdiction is met;"
II. "Whether a nonresident who affirmatively prays for relief in the form of a paternity test waives contest to the exercise of UIFSA jurisdiction under § 10-304(a)(2);"
III. "Whether a nonresident who avails himself of the jurisdiction [of the court] by engaging in discovery practice on UIFSA claims consents to the exercise of UIFSA ...

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