Case of the Day: In Re R.L.

The case of the day is In re R.L. (Cal. Ct. App. 2016). R.L., a child, was born in San Diego. The child’s mother, an American citizen, was living in Tijuana at the time of the birth but came to California to deliver the baby. The child tested positive for amphetamine and methamphetamine, and the state took protective custody and filed a petition alleging inadequate care. The father, a Mexican national, lived in Tijuana. The state mailed notice of the proceedings to the father at the mother’s address in Tijuana. It made efforts to locate the father, but the mother could not provide an address and other efforts, including publication of notice of the proceedings in Mexico, yielded no fruit.

While the petition was pending, the state learned that the father was in prison in Baja California. It then arranged for personal service of notice of the proceedings on him. The proceedings went forward, and the mother and father’s parental rights were terminated. The father appealed.

There was an interesting jurisdictional issue in the case, because the only basis for asserting that California was the baby’s “home state” under the UCCJEA was the baby’s birth in a California hospital. But I’ll focus just on the service issue.

It’s true that the Hague Service Convention doesn’t apply when the defendant’s address is unknown, but here, the relevant hearing didn’t happen in California until after the state learned the father was incarcerated in Mexico. The personal service in prison didn’t comply with the Convention. The court noted, however, that a lawyer had been appointed for the father, and that he had requested a continuance on the father’s behalf. This constituted a general appearance under California law, even though the father had indicated he would challenge personal jurisdiction.

This analysis is highly state-specific, but note that in federal court, a similar result will occur if a defendant answers a complaint or brings a motion to dismiss without raising insufficiency of service of process, since the objection is deemed waived if not raised at the first opportunity.

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