Metropolitan News-Enterprise


Friday, October 22, 2021


Page 1


Court of Appeal:

California Has Personal Jurisdiction Over Visiting Georgian

Action Reinstated Against Man Who Beat Wife, Sexually Assaulted Her While in State  


By a MetNews Staff Writer


Div. One of the First District Court of Appeal has declared that a judge erred in dismissing an action on the ground that California lacks personal jurisdiction over a Georgia resident who allegedly beat and sexually assaulted the plaintiff, who was then his wife and who also lives in Georgia, while the two were visitors in Riverside County,

The appeals court reinstated a lawsuit brought by a woman it denominated “Jane Doe” who is identified in Georgia proceedings as “Rossel Sara Aguirre” or “Sara Damron.” In an opinion filed Wednesday, Justice Gordon B. Burns said that the misconduct alleged to have been committed in California satisfies the requirement of such minimal contacts as to comply with due process.

He rejected the contention by the defendant, Scott Damron, that trial of the action here should be barred under the doctrine of forum non conveniens.

Damron, who earned a law degree in Kentucky and was admitted to practice there, is listed by the State Bar of Georgia as a member in good standing, though he presently bills himself as a “healthcare entrepreneur,” heading a company known as Castle Medical LLP.

Single Visit

The only contact with California that the Damrons had was the trip to Riverside and one other stay in the state. Burns said that “it is well settled that jurisdiction is proper even when the alleged tort occurred during a single, brief visit” to a state, observing that “[t]he classic example is a visitor who negligently causes a car accident.”

1959 Case

He pointed to a 1959 California Supreme Court case, Owens v. Superior Court of Los Angeles County, which, he recited, “held that a court may properly exercise jurisdiction over a non-resident who was sued in tort for a dog bite.” Burns said that liability was based on “the defendant’s ownership and possession of the offending dog while in the state,” remarking that “nothing more was required to satisfy due process.”

(The justice did not mention that when the dog-bite occurred, the defendant was a California resident, unlike Scott Damron and his wife who, when the attacks took place in Riverside, were merely visitors. The dog-owner later moved to Arizona. Chief Justice Roger Traynor did say in the cited case that “the cause of action arose out of defendant’s activities in this state, namely, his ownership and possession of the offending dog” and that this “alone is sufficient under the due process clause to permit the courts of this state to assert personal jurisdiction over him.”)

Inappropriate Forum

Burns wrote that “[i]f a negligent car accident or dog bite suffices” for purposes of conferring personal jurisdiction over a defendant whose conduct occurred within the state, “surely an assault does, too.”

He remarked:

“Visitors to a state should reasonably expect that, if they assault someone on their travels, they may have to answer for their conduct in the state’s courts. Indeed, Damron was criminally prosecuted in California for the same conduct.”

Burns rebuffed Damron’s contention that California’s exercise of jurisdiction in a case involving two domiciliaries of Georgia would be unreasonable, saying that “California’s interest in regulating tortious conduct in California” is “beyond dispute,” adding:

“Constitutional limits on jurisdiction do not grant a free pass to tourists and business travelers—millions of whom visit California each year—to abuse their spouses or assault other visitors without fear of civil liability in the state.”

Damron also argued that California is an inconvenient forum, noting that he had up to 20 witnesses in Georgia as to the plaintiff’s “erratic behavior and her jealous rages” that would bear upon the issues. Burns rejected the contention, pointing out that the ex-wife “has identified at least nine witnesses in California who allegedly have relevant information about the assault in Riverside, including hotel employees who called the police for her, a medical responder, a treating physician who examined her for sexual assault, and a police detective, investigator, and two officers.”

The action was brought in Napa Superior Court (and was dismissed by Judge Victoria Wood). Although the allegations center on Damron’s conduct in Riverside County, the opinion relates that the couple came to California a second time “to attend a conference in Anaheim and to vacation in northern California,” relating that “Doe alleges that, during this trip, Damron grabbed her, shoved her to the floor, strangled her, and bruised her neck.”

The case is Doe v. Damron, 2021 S.O.S. 5831.


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