ATTORNEY FOR APPELLANT|
Joe Keith Lewis
ATTORNEY FOR APPELLEE|
James T. Beaman
) ROCKY STIDHAM, ) ) Appellant (Respondent below ), ) Indiana Supreme Court ) Cause No. 27S02-9808-JV-451 v. ) ) KATHY (STEPHENS ) WHELCHEL, ) ) Indiana Court of Appeals Appellee (Petitioner below ). ) Cause No. 27A02-9704-JV-211 )
the Indiana court under Trial Rule 60(B)(6) to set aside the default judgment as void for
lack of personal jurisdiction. The Indiana trial court noted that under Trial Rule 60(B)(6)
a motion for relief must be filed within a reasonable time, and denied Stidham's motion
on the ground that the seventeen year delay in filing the motion was not reasonable.
Stidham was ordered to pay $18,440 in back support and attorney fees.
Stidham appealed, contending that the 1978 Indiana judgment was void for lack of personal jurisdiction over him. The Court of Appeals agreed with Stidham that a void judgment is a legal nullity and therefore could be overturned at any time under Person v. Person, 563 N.E.2d 161, 163 (Ind. Ct. App. 1990). However, the Court of Appeals concluded that because Stidham received constitutionally adequate service of process, any lack of personal jurisdiction would render the judgment against him merely voidable, not void. Stidham v. Whelchel, 684 N.E.2d 548, 552 (Ind. Ct. App. 1997). Because the judgment was voidable it was subject to the reasonable time limitation of Trial Rule 60(B), and seventeen years was too late to attack the judgment.
Stidham petitions for transfer. We grant transfer, reverse the trial court, and remand for further proceedings.
sufficient contact to support a paternity order under Trial Rule 4.4. Neill v. Ridner, 153
Ind. App. 149, 286 N.E.2d 427 (1972). However, he maintains that at the time of the
action he had never been in Indiana and that he never had sex with Whelchel in this State
Stidham is correct that a default judgment that is rendered without minimum contacts violates the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution and is void. In holding that a default judgment rendered without minimum contacts is voidable not void, the Court of Appeals stands in direct conflict with World-Wide Volkswagen Corp. v. Woodson, 444 U.S. 286, 100 S. Ct. 559, 62 L. Ed. 2d 490 (1980) and International Shoe Co. v. Washington, 326 U.S. 310, 66 S. Ct. 154, 90 L. Ed. 95 (1945). As the Supreme Court held in World-Wide Volkswagen,
[t]he Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment limits the power of a state court to render a valid personal judgment against a nonresident defendant. A judgment rendered in violation of due process is void in the rendering State and not entitled to full faith and credit elsewhere. Due process requires that the defendant be given adequate notice of the suit and be subject to the personal jurisdiction of the court.
444 U.S. at 291 (citations omitted). And as firmly established by International Shoe, the Due Process Clause does not contemplate that a state may make binding a judgment in personam against an individual or corporate defendant with which the state has no contacts, ties, or relations. 326 U.S. at 319. Under this clear precedent, a judgment entered without minimum contacts violates due process and a judgment that violates due process is void not voidable. See also Burnham v. Superior Court of California, County
of Marin, 495 U.S. 604, 608, 110 S. Ct. 2105, 109 L. Ed. 2d 631 (1990) (The
proposition that the judgment of a court lacking [personal] jurisdiction is void traces back
to the English Year Books . . . .) (citations omitted).See footnote 2
The distinction between a void and voidable judgment is no mere semantic quibble. A void judgment is one that, from its inception, is a complete nullity and without legal effect . . . . 46 Am. Jur. 2d Judgments § 31 (1994). By contrast, a voidable judgment is not a nullity, and is capable of confirmation or ratification. Until superseded, reversed, or vacated it is binding, enforceable, and has all the ordinary attributes and consequences of a valid judgment. 46 Am. Jur. 2d Judgments § 30 (1994). A judgment rendered by a State without the necessary contacts with an indispensable party (in this case the only party) is void because it would offend traditional notions of fair play and substantial justice, International Shoe, 326 U.S. at 316 (internal quotation marks omitted), if it were merely voidable. A plaintiff would be able to obtain a default judgment after serving process upon any party, no matter how remote, and place the burden on that party to seek to eradicate the record within a reasonable time or run the risk that a valid judgment may be outstanding in the
plaintiff's choice of forum where it may become quite important at some indeterminate
time in the future even if insignificant today. This result would invite courts to rule on
suits against anyone. A court simply has no power over persons who have no contact
with their territory, unless and until there is a response or an appearance and the lack of
personal jurisdiction is not protested. Accordingly, if Stidham is correct that no minimum
contacts existed, then the Indiana trial court did not have personal jurisdiction over him
and its effort to exercise that power was a nullity.
In the present case, the Court of Appeals cited Lucas v. Estate of Stavos, 609 N.E.2d 1114, 1117 (Ind. Ct. App. 1993) for the proposition that judgments rendered where personal jurisdiction may be lacking are not void but voidable because the defect may be cured or waived.See footnote 3 3 Stidham, 684 N.E.2d at 552. A handful of other cases have used similar language. See Trook v. Lafayette Bank & Trust Co., 581 N.E.2d 941, 944- 46 (Ind. Ct. App. 1991); see also K.S. v. R.S., 669 N.E.2d 399, 404-05 (Ind. 1996); Chapin v. Hulse, 599 N.E.2d 217, 220-21 (Ind. Ct. App. 1992). However, unlike the current case, these cases are not personal jurisdiction cases and the proposition cited is not essential to their results. For example, in Lucas the defendants in a wrongful death action attempted to deny that the decedent had a surviving minor child by challenging the prior determination by a Louisiana court that the decedent was the father of the child.
The defendants were not a party to the Louisiana proceeding and were not served. The
Court of Appeals affirmed the Indiana trial court's determination that the Louisiana
proceeding was entitled to full faith and credit. Although a part of the Court of Appeals'
opinion discusses the void/voidable distinction, and includes the statement that judgment
rendered without personal jurisdiction is voidable not void because it is curable, the case
does not stand for that general proposition. Rather, on these facts, as the Court of
Appeals held, although the wrongful death defendants had the ability to intervene as a
necessary party in the Louisiana paternity case, under Louisiana law the defendants
were not indispensable parties to the Louisiana proceeding. Lucas, 609 N.E.2d at 1117.
Accordingly, the judgment was not void for absence of an indispensable party. K.S. v.
R.S., 669 N.E.2d 399, 404-05 (Ind. 1996), which held that failure to join the child in a
paternity proceeding rendered the judgment in that proceeding voidable not void, is to the
same effect. In contrast to these cases, Stidham as the only defendant was essential to the
adjudication of the 1978 Indiana case.
For its dictum that lack of personal jurisdiction renders a judgment voidable but not void Lucas cited only Trook, 581 N.E.2d at 944-45. Trook, however, also involved a collateral attack on an adjudication (in that case an appointment of a guardian) by a party who was not served in the original proceeding. Although the court used the void/voidable language, it like Lucas holds no more than that the original proceeding is binding only as to the parties who were before it. Unlike the Court of Appeals' opinion in this case, it does not suggest that all failures of personal jurisdiction may be cured after the fact.
Trook took the view that this Court's opinion in Shotwell v. Cliff Hagan Ribeye Franchise,Inc., 572 N.E.2d 487 (Ind. 1991), although stating that lack of service rendered a judgment void, actually treated the judgment as voidable. The Trook court drew this conclusion from the fact that in Shotwell the Court observed that the flaw in service was properly preserved by the defendants who asserted it as a defense to a proceeding to enforce the default judgment. By this observation the Shotwell opinion merely noted that the defendants had not waived the lack of personal jurisdiction because they raised it at the enforcement proceeding. A claim of lack of personal jurisdiction may of course be waived or, as the Trook court put it, is susceptible to cure or waiver. This is a far cry from holding that because it may be waived it is always waived. Rather, waiver must be by the person holding the rights (in this case a defendant with a right not to be sued in a court with no jurisdiction). A cure must be within the power of the party asserting jurisdiction (e.g., where a defective mode of service of process has been used but the defendant is subject to personal jurisdiction and can be served a second time in a proper manner). Neither doctrine means that any party that has the power to waive a defense will be found to have done so.
It is a bold move, but an option available to a nonresident to ignore a pending proceeding and take the risk that a subsequent challenge to personal jurisdiction will prevail. Insurance Corp. of Ireland, Ltd. v. Compagnie des Bauxites de Guinea, 456 U.S. 694, 706, 102 S. Ct. 2099, 72 L. Ed. 2d 492 (1982) (A defendant is always free to ignore the judicial proceedings, risk a default judgment, and then challenge that judgment on
jurisdictional grounds in a collateral proceeding.). This is the course Stidham chose.
Stidham has correctly characterized his challenge to the default judgment as void for lack
of personal jurisdiction under Trial Rule 60(B)(6). We agree with the Court of Appeals
that a judgment that is void for lack of personal jurisdiction may be collaterally attacked
at any time and that the reasonable time limitation under Rule 60(B)(6) means no time
limit. Person v. Person, 563 N.E.2d 161, 163 (Ind. Ct. App. 1990). Accordingly, as a
matter of law the trial court erred in finding Stidham's motion barred because it was not
filed within a reasonable time.
testimony as hearsay and not to the Kentucky court's order. She contended that the
testimony was inadmissible hearsay under Evidence Rule 804(b)(1) and did not address
Stidham's claim, also phrased to apply to the entire exhibit, that the exhibit was an
admissible public record under Evidence Rule 803(8).
The trial court correctly sustained Whelchel's objection to the transcript of the Kentucky hearing. One condition for the admissibility of prior testimony under Evidence Rule 804(b)(1) is a showing that the declarant is unavailable as a witness. The burden rests with the proponent of the evidence. Cf. United States v. Pelton, 578 F.2d 701, 709 (8th Cir. 1978); 13 Robert Lowell Miller, Jr., Indiana Practice § 804.100, at 707 (2d ed. 1995). Stidham has not shown or attempted to show that his testimony was unavailable and accordingly the trial court did not err by excluding his prior testimony.
It is unclear whether the trial court intended to exclude the Kentucky court's order or only the testimony included as part of the offered Kentucky court file. In its Findings and Recommendations on [Stidham's] Motion the trial court found that [Stidham] has tendered an exhibit of his testimony in the [Kentucky] Court, and [Whelchel] has objected to the admission of [Stidham's] exhibit. The court then granted Whelchel's objection without mention of the Kentucky order. In the trial court and on appeal Whelchel did not directly address the admissibility of the order or address the merits of the public records exception. In any event, the order, but not the testimony, is properly
before the Indiana courts as a certified copy of a court of a sister state.See footnote 4
Rule 902(1); Ind. Trial Rule 44(A)(1).
court ruled on the basis of timeliness of Stidham's motion, we are presented with no clear
record and no argument of the parties as to whether the hearing remained open or
Stidham simply failed to carry his burden to establish the claimed jurisdictional flaw in
the prior proceeding.
SHEPARD, C.J., and DICKSON, SULLIVAN and SELBY, JJ., concur.
Converted by Andrew Scriven