Case of the Day: In re Interest of E.H.

The case of the day is In re Interest of E.H. (Tex. Ct. App. 2014). Sara and Shlomo Hamo were married in Israel in the 1980s. In 1992, Shlomo left the family and moved to the United States—first to South Carolina and then to Texas. In 1993, Sara obtained a child support order in Israel. Sara later obtained a divorce under Jewish law in Texas (it is unclear whether the parties were ever divorced under civil law). In 2011, Sara, through the Texas Attorney General, sought registration of the Israeli child support order under the Uniform Interstate Foreign Support Act. Shlomo opposed registration, asserting that he had not been served with process in the Israeli proceeding (Sara asserted that she had served him via registered mail, as provided by Israeli law). Shlomo testified that he had been unaware of the child support order until 2011. The trial court denied registration, finding that Shlomo had not been served with process and that he had been denied due process of law in the Israeli proceeding. Sara appealed.

The facts surrounding the alleged service were as follows. In 1992, the Israeli court authorized service by mail at an address in South Carolina. A signed return receipt addressed to “Shlomo Hamo” (not Hemo) was apparently referred to in court and Sara identified the signature as her husband’s. But the receipt was not made part of the record of the Israeli proceeding, though Israeli procedural law requires it to be filed. The receipt was offered in evidence in the Texas proceeding, however. For his part, Shlomo denied any knowledge of the Israeli proceedings while they were ongoing, denied living at the South Carolina address where service supposedly was made, and denied signing the receipt.

The trial judge found, as a matter of fact, that Shlomo was never served with process. The judge discounted the receipt on the grounds, among other things, that it was addressed to Shlomo Hamo rather than Shlomo Hemo—surely a dubious conclusion given that Hebrew is not written with the Latin alphabet!

There was some question about what standard of review applied, and whether, as the state argued, the fact that the case involved child support meant the court should bend over backward to recognize the support order. But whatever standard applied, the court held that the findings of fact would have to be upheld because they were supported by sufficient evidence. I think the case could well and maybe should well have come out the other was in the first instance, but the appellate court was right, I think, to reject a challenge to the findings of fact given the mixed evidence.

From the findings of fact, the conclusions of law follow inexorably. Shlomo didn’t appear in the Israeli proceeding to litigate the service of process issue, so the mere fact that the Israeli case went to judgment carries no weight. It’s absolutely orthodox to conclude, as the court did, that where a foreign judgment (including, by the way, a sister-state) judgment by default enters and the defendant never appeared, the defendant may assert that the judgment was void because, for example, of lack of personal jurisdiction or lack of service of process.

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