Wednesday, September 16, 2020
Court of Appeal:
Judge May Declare Lack of Jurisdiction Without a Hearing
Dismissal of $100,000 Suit Against Terrorist Group Is Affirmed
By a MetNews Staff Writer
The Court of Appeal for this district has held that a judge properly acted on his own motion in determining that the court lacked jurisdiction and was justified in making an in-chambers order denying a default judgment and directing entry of a judgment of dismissal.
Presiding Justice Dennis M. Perluss of Div. Seven wrote the opinion, filed Monday, which affirms the dismissal of a lawsuit seeking $100 million in damages against Al Shabaab, the terrorist group responsible for the massacre of 148 students at Garissa University in Kenya in 2015. Perluss agreed with the trial judge, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Terry A. Green, that the group’s connections to California are not so “continuous and systematic” as to justify exercising general jurisdiction over it.
The jurist said that Green ruling that the court lacks jurisdiction, without holding a hearing on the issue, was not a violation of due process rights of the plaintiffs. Seeking damages were the parents and two siblings of Angela Nyokabi Githakwa, one of the victims in the 2015 massacre, and her estate.
Green said in his Nov. 9, 2018 ruling that in light of the lack of jurisdiction, “the request for default judgment is DENIED, and the case dismissed.”
“The trial court did not err in this case by evaluating its personal jurisdiction over Al Shabaab before granting the Githakwa parties’ request for entry of a default judgment,” Perluss said in his opinion, joined by Justice Gail Ruderman Feuer and Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Timothy P. Dillon, sitting on assignment to Div. Seven.
Perluss observed that while California courts have never “directly addressed” whether trial courts have authority to decide sua sponte issues of jurisdiction before deciding whether to order entry of default judgment. He noted, however:
“[F]ederal courts have uniformly upheld the district court’s authority to do so….Determining whether personal jurisdiction exists, the federal courts reason, safeguards against entry of a void judgment.”
“That compelling rationale applies equally in California’s courts, and we adopt it as our own.”
Oral Argument Inessential
The Githkwas argued that Green erred in ordering dismissal without holding a hearing.
“The constitutional guarantee of due process requires a trial court give a plaintiff notice and an opportunity to respond before dismissing an action on its own motion,” Perluss wrote, adding:
“The right to be heard does not necessarily require the court give a party the opportunity for an oral presentation; due process may be satisfied when the party has been able to present a written argument that fully addresses the determinative issues.”
Perluss noted that Green gave the Githkwas “specific notice that it questioned its jurisdiction over Al Shabaab and expressly invited them to address that issue.”
Allegations of Complaint
The complaint alleges that Al Shabaab sent agents to live in California to recruit and radicalize members and raise money from California residents, saying that it had received between $70 million to $100 million from U.S. residents. It named six persons living in Southern California who made “significant” contributions or were instrumental in soliciting money from contributors.
Green said in his order:
“General jurisdiction exists where a party has an extensive, substantial, continuous, and systematic relationship with the forum….Admittedly, there are few parallels to draw on when applying civil jurisdictional analysis to criminal, para-state organizations….
“…Defendant’s main alleged connection with California is in the fact that they have fundraised here. Independent research has disclosed no case indicating that fundraising is sufficient to confer general jurisdiction. If some wholly innocent, non-profit from Massachusetts were to hold a fundraiser at the home of some Hollywood star, California would not suddenly acquire general jurisdiction over it.”
Agreeing, Perluss said that “the limited and sporadic connections the Githakwa parties allege Al Shabaab shares with California do not constitute the ‘continuous and systematic’ activities necessary to justify the exercise of general jurisdiction over a party.”
Al Shabaab’s default had been entered after after four inmates, who are members of the group, were served with the summons and complaint and failed to appear.
The case is Brue v. Al Shabaab, 2020 S.O.S 4476
Counsel for plaintiffs was Nazareth M. Haysbert of Haysbert Moultrie LLP in Los Angeles.
Copyright 2020, Metropolitan News Company