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Szynalski v. Superior Court of Los Angeles County

March 13, 2009

ALEXANDER SZYNALSKI, PETITIONER,
v.
THE SUPERIOR COURT OF LOS ANGELES COUNTY, RESPONDENT, ROSENTHAL & COMPANY, LLC, REAL PARTY IN INTEREST.



ORIGINAL PROCEEDINGS in mandate. James R. Dunn, Judge. Petition denied. (Super. Ct. No. BC385654).

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Mosk, J.

CERTIFIED FOR PUBLICATION

OPINION

INTRODUCTION

Contending that the trial court lacked personal jurisdiction over him, defendant Alexander "Alex" Szynalski, pursuant to the writ of mandate procedure in Code of Civil Procedure section 418.10, subdivisions (a)(1), challenges the trial court‟s order denying his motion to quash service of a summons and complaint. Szynalski contested personal jurisdiction over him in another California case-a class action-but that issue was not decided because the case settled. As part of the court-approved settlement agreement in that case, a court-appointed administrator of the settlement was retained by the parties. Szynalski and his companies agreed to pay the expenses of the administrator and agreed that the California trial court would have continuing jurisdiction over the terms of the settlement agreement, including a dispute relating to the "administrator‟s ability and need to perform its duties." Respondent Los Angeles County Superior Court (respondent court), in approving the settlement, expressly retained jurisdiction "as to all matters relating to the administration . . . of the Settlement Agreement." The administrator has now brought an action against Szynalski for payment of its fees.

We issued an order to show cause to review respondent court‟s order denying Sznalski‟s motion. We hold that the respondent court has personal jurisdiction over Szynalski because he has submitted to that court‟s jurisdiction, and because he has the required minimum contacts with California. Accordingly, we deny the petition.

FACTS AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

Szynalski is a defendant in this action, entitled Rosenthal & Company LLC. v. Alexander "Alex" Szynalski aka Alexander "Alex" Goen, et al. case number BC385654, which case was filed in respondent court.This case arises from an underlying class action lawsuit, Belkins La Rosa v. Nutramerica Corp., et al. case number BC309427 (Belkinscase), which case was also filed in respondent court, and in which Szynalski is a named defendant.

Szynalski filed a motion to quash service of the summons and complaint in the Belkinscase on the ground that he was not subject to personal jurisdiction in the State of California. That case, however, settled prior to the hearing on Szynalski‟s motion to quash. The settlement agreement was among Belkins La Rosa, individually, and on behalf of the settlement class, on the one hand, and Nutramerica Corporation, Trimspa Corporation, Goen Technologies Corporation, and Szynalski, on the other hand. As part of the settlement agreement, the parties agreed to retain a "Settlement Administrator" to administer the settlement. The defendants in that case, including Szynalski, agreed to pay the settlement administrator‟s costs and fees associated with administering the settlement agreement.

The settlement agreement contains the following provisions: "All disputes relating to the Settlement Administrator‟s ability and need to perform its duties shall be referred to the Court, if necessary, which will have continuing jurisdiction over the terms and conditions of the Settlement Agreement, until all payments and obligations contemplated by the Settlement Agreement have been fully carried out." [¶] "The Parties acknowledge that Alex Szynalski, aka Alex Goen, has specially appeared in this action for sole purpose of contesting the assertion of jurisdiction over him by the Los Angeles County, California, Superior Court. Szynalski moved to quash plaintiff‟s service of summons on him on the grounds that he was not subject to the jurisdiction of Los Angeles County, California, Superior Court. The Parties and the Court subsequently agreed that the Court need not yet rule on that motion. Consequently, Szynalski has not generally appeared in this action nor has he submitted to the Los Angeles County, California, Superior Court‟s jurisdiction. In light of the foregoing, the Parties agree that Szynalski enters this Settlement Agreement in the State of New Jersey."

All parties to the Belkins case signed the settlement agreement, including Szynalski on his own behalf and on behalf of the other defendants, and it was submitted to respondent court for an order granting final approval of the agreement. As part of respondent court‟s order, real party in interest Rosenthal & Co. (Rosenthal) was confirmed as the settlement administrator, and jurisdiction was retained by respondent court "as to all matters relating [to] the administration, consummation, enforcement and interpretation of the Settlement Agreement."

Rosenthal undertook to administer the settlement agreement in compliance with respondent court‟s order. Rosenthal filed an action against Szynalski and the three companies of which Szynalski had been president for $700,870.15 for services in administering the settlement in the Belkinscase. The claims were based on theories of an oral agreement, implied agreement, and third party beneficiary contract. After Rosenthal filed its action, the defendants, including Szynalski, removed the action to the United States District Court based on diversity. The federal court remanded the action to respondent court on the ground that respondent court had retained jurisdiction over matters relating to the settlement agreement, including payment obligations to Rosenthal. Szynalski then brought a motion in respondent court to quash service of the summons and complaint. Szynalski asserted that he is a resident of New Jersey, and has never lived, voted or had any license in California. He had been president of companies that "potentially" did business in California, but he personally never did business in California. Szynalski further argued that neither the settlement agreement nor the court order approving it conferred jurisdiction over him. Respondent court denied Szynalski‟s motion. We issued an order to show cause. We received a return to the petition from Szynalski as real party in interest and his request for judicial notice.*fn1

BURDEN OF PROOF AND STANDARD OF REVIEW

When a nonresident defendant challenges personal jurisdiction, the plaintiff "has the initial burden of demonstrating facts justifying the exercise of jurisdiction." (Vons Companies, Inc. v. Seabest Foods, Inc. (1996)14 Cal.4th 434, 449 (Vons).) This burden applies to minimum contacts and consent for purposes of personal jurisdiction. (See Snowney v. Harrah's Entertainment, Inc. (2005) 35 Cal.4th 1054, 1062, 1063; Holland America Line v. Wärtsilä North Amer. (9th Cir. 2007) 485 F.3d 450, 455.) "If the plaintiff meets this initial burden, then the defendant has the burden of demonstrating "that the exercise of jurisdiction would be unreasonable.‟" (Pavlovich v. Superior Court (2002) 29 Cal.4th 262, 273; Snowney v. Harrah's Entertainment, Inc., supra, 35 Cal.4th at p. 1062.) "When no ...


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