Case Name: Adrian Stewart, et al. v. Richard Hanson, et al.
Case No.: 19CV340607

I. Background

This action appears to arise from a landlord-tenant dispute over the habitability of the premises rented by plaintiffs Adrian Stewart, Maria Royal, and Amber Stewart (collectively, “Plaintiffs”) at 386 Coyote Creek Circle.[1] Although the complaint lacks clarity[2], it appears Plaintiffs’ grievance is that they could not access their garage and had no hot water—without any rent abatement—while the garage was being repaired. Plaintiffs purport to assert causes of action against themselves for: (1) conspiracy; (2) fraud; (3) intentional misrepresentation; (4) fraud in contract formation; (5) breach of contract; (6) elder abuse; and (7) substandard housing. It appears they actually attribute the conduct giving rise to these causes of action to defendants Richard Hanson, Leonard Ataide[3], Park West Condominiums, and Common Interest Management Services, although the relationship between these defendants and their involvement in this dispute is not especially clear.

Currently before the Court is a motion by defendant Richard Hanson (“Hanson”) to quash service of the summons on the ground of lack of personal jurisdiction.

II. Discussion

A defendant may move to quash service of the summons on the ground the court lacks personal jurisdiction. (Code Civ. Proc., § 418.10, subd. (a)(1).) “Personal jurisdiction over a [ ] defendant depends upon the existence of essentially two criteria: first, a basis for jurisdiction must exist [ ]; second, given that basis for jurisdiction, jurisdiction must be acquired by service of process in strict compliance with the requirements of our service statutes.” (Ziller Electronics Lab GmbH v. Super. Ct. (1988) 206 Cal.App.3d 1222, 1229, original italics.) Hanson does not dispute there is a basis for the exercise of personal jurisdiction; he solely disputes whether the Court acquired personal jurisdiction over him through service of process in conformity with the Code of Civil Procedure. He argues Plaintiffs served him with a defective summons. And so, Plaintiffs bear the burden of proving “‘the existence of jurisdiction by proving [ ] the facts requisite to an effective service.’” (Summers v. McClanahan (2006) 140 Cal.App.4th 403, 413, quoting Dill v. Berquist Construction Co. (1994) 24 Cal.App.4th 1426, 1439–40.)

A party must be served with process, including a code-compliant summons, for a court to acquire personal jurisdiction over that party. (Ruttenberg v. Ruttenberg (1997) 53 Cal.App.4th 801, 808–09.) A summons must be signed and issued by the clerk under the seal of the court in which the action is pending. (Code Civ. Proc., § 412.20, subd. (a).) The summons must be directed to the defendant and contain all of the information required by Code of Civil Procedure section 412.20, including the names of the parties to the action, the title of the court where the action is pending, and the specified warnings regarding the filing of a responsive pleading and risk of default. In California, the Judicial Council provides a form summons with the required warnings that a plaintiff fills in and thereafter presents to the clerk for signing and issuance. (See Code Civ. Proc., §§ 412.10–412.20.) The clerk retains the original summons issued and provides the plaintiff with a copy to be served on the defendant. (See Code Civ. Proc., § 412.10.) The summons must then be served, along with the complaint, using one of the authorized methods of service set forth in Code of Civil Procedure, Title 5, Chapter 4. (Code Civ. Proc., § 413.10.) “After a summons has been served on a person, proof of service of the summons as provided in Section 417.10 or 417.20 shall be filed unless the defendant has previously made a general appearance.” (Code Civ. Proc., § 417.30.)

The Court’s file reflects the clerk issued a form summons directed to Hanson on January 23, 2019. On March 13, 2019, Plaintiffs filed a proof of service reflecting Hanson was served with the summons, complaint, and “addendum to complaint”[4] at the Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Office on March 6, 2019. Indeed, Hanson confirms he voluntarily went to the Sheriff’s Office to retrieve process on March 6, 2019. (Hanson Decl., ¶ 2.) Hanson states the process he received consisted of a summons, complaint, and motion for leave to amend the complaint. (Hanson Decl., ¶ 2 & Exs. A–C.) But the summons he received was directed to Common Interest Management Services and did not have his name anywhere on it.[5] Because the summons served on Hanson was not directed to him, it did not comply with Code of Civil Procedure section 412.20, subdivision (a). Accordingly, Hanson’s argument that he has not been served with sufficient process is meritorious.[6] To be sure, Plaintiffs do not advance any responsive argument in their opposition.

In conclusion, the Court lacks personal jurisdiction over Hanson because Plaintiffs did not serve him with a code-compliant summons.[7] The motion to quash is, therefore, GRANTED.

[1] Plaintiffs are representing themselves in this action. Even as self-represented litigants, Plaintiffs are still expected to comply with the law—including the California Rules of Court and Code of Civil Procedure—like any attorney appearing before this court. (See Kobayashi v. Super. Ct. (2009) 175 Cal.App.4th 536, 543.) The Court’s website contains a “Self-Help section” with resources for self-represented litigants and can be accessed at the following URL: http://www.scscourt.org/self_help.shtml.

[2] Plaintiffs have, among other things, pasted quotations from cases and entire statutes into the complaint in a manner that does not elucidate their claims or theories of liability.

[3] In the complaint, Plaintiffs named Leonard “Attaide” as a defendant. On January 18, 2019, they filed a motion for leave to amend the complaint to correct the spelling of his name to “Ataide.”

[4] There is no document by the name of “addendum to the complaint” in the Court’s file.

[5] Hanson also makes several points about the sufficiency of the allegations in the pleading and whether they apprise him of the claims against him sufficient to allow him to respond. These arguments go beyond the issue before the Court; the sufficiency of a pleading may be challenged by demurrer. (See, e.g., Lickiss v. Financial Industry Regulatory Auth. (2012) 208 Cal.App.4th 1125, 1135.)

[6] Hanson also suggests Plaintiffs should have served him with an amended summons because they requested leave to amend the complaint. Courts have held “that service of an amended summons is discretionary in the instance of amended pleadings involving original parties [ ] but mandatory in the instance of amended pleadings adding new parties [ ].” (Gillette v. Burbank Community Hospital (1976) 56 Cal.Appl.3d 430, 433, citing Code Civ. Proc., § 412.10.) Plaintiffs have only requested leave to amend to correct a spelling error in the name of an existing party. Thus, Hanson’s suggestion is not well-taken.

[7] In light of this conclusion, it is unnecessary to address Hanson’s argument that the exercise of jurisdiction would be unreasonable. Moreover, reasonableness is part of the distinct burden-shifting analysis used when a defendant challenges the factual basis for the exercise of jurisdiction, particularly the sufficiency of minimum contacts, which is not implicated here. (See generally ViaView, Inc. v. Retzlaff (2016) 1 Cal.App.5th 198, 209–10, 216–17.)