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The Roman Catholic Bishop of San Bernardino v. Doe

Court of Appeals of Texas, Fourth District, San Antonio

July 24, 2019

THE ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP OF SAN BERNARDINO and Bishop Gerald R. Barnes, Appellants
v.
John DOE, Appellee

          From the 131st Judicial District Court, Bexar County, Texas Trial Court No. 2015-CI-08589 Honorable Antonia Arteaga, Judge Presiding.

          Sitting: Patricia O. Alvarez, Justice Luz Elena D. Chapa, Justice Beth Watkins, Justice.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          BETH WATKINS, JUSTICE.

         In this interlocutory appeal, we review the trial court's orders denying special appearances filed by the Roman Catholic Bishop of San Bernardino, a California non-profit corporation, also known as the Diocese of San Bernardino ("Diocese) and the Most Reverend Gerald R. Barnes, a California resident who serves as the chief officer and bishop of the Diocese (collectively referred to herein as "the California defendants"). To support Texas's specific jurisdiction over the California defendants, plaintiff John Doe alleged Jesus Armando Dominguez was employed by the Diocese and was under the supervision and control of the Diocese and Bishop Barnes's predecessors. The trial court concluded Texas has specific jurisdiction over the California defendants. We disagree. As a result, we reverse the orders denying the special appearances and render judgment dismissing the California defendants from the cause.

         Background

         According to Doe's live petition, in 1980, he was a minor living at an orphanage near Assumption Seminary in San Antonio, Texas when Dominguez, a student at the seminary, sexually abused him. In 2015, Doe filed the underlying lawsuit asserting claims arising out of that sexual abuse against the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of San Antonio, by and through the Apostolic Administrator and Archbishop Gustavo Garcia-Siller and Archbishop Emeritus Patrick Flores, their predecessors and successors, as Archbishop of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of San Antonio, Father Jesus Armando Dominguez, and Father Virgilio Elizondo. He later amended his lawsuit to include claims against Elizondo's estate and the California defendants.

         After being brought into the lawsuit, the California defendants filed special appearances which the trial court denied. The California defendants then filed this interlocutory appeal.

         Standard of Review

         Whether a Texas court may exercise personal jurisdiction over a nonresident defendant presents a question of law that we review de novo. Old Republic Nat'l Title Ins. Co. v. Bell, 549 S.W.3d 550, 558 (Tex. 2018); Searcy v. Parex Res., Inc., 496 S.W.3d 58, 66 (Tex. 2016). Where, as here, the trial court does not make findings of fact and conclusions of law, the reviewing court infers all facts necessary to support the judgment that are supported by the evidence. Old Republic Nat'l Title Ins. Co., 549 S.W.3d at 558; M & F Worldwide Corp. v. Pepsi-Cola Metro. Bottling Co., 512 S.W.3d 878, 885 (Tex. 2017).

         Personal Jurisdiction

         "Texas's long-arm statute extends Texas courts' personal jurisdiction as far as the federal constitutional requirements of due process will permit." M & F Worldwide Corp., 512 S.W.3d at 885 (internal quotation marks omitted). "A state's exercise of jurisdiction comports with federal due process if the nonresident defendant has 'minimum contacts' with the state and the exercise of jurisdiction does not offend 'traditional notions of fair play and substantial justice.'" Id. (internal quotation marks omitted).

         "A defendant establishes minimum contacts with a state when it purposefully avails itself of the privilege of conducting activities within the forum state, thus invoking the benefits and protections of its laws." Old Republic Nat'l Title Ins. Co., 549 S.W.3d at 559 (internal quotation marks omitted). "Three principles govern the purposeful-availment analysis: (1) only the defendant's contacts with the forum are relevant, not the unilateral activity of another party or third person; (2) the defendant's acts must be purposeful and not random, isolated, or fortuitous; and (3) the defendant must seek some benefit, advantage, or profit by availing itself of the jurisdiction such that it impliedly consents to suit there." M & F Worldwide Corp., 512 S.W.3d at 886 (internal quotation marks omitted).

         "A defendant's contacts may give rise to general or specific jurisdiction." Old Republic Nat'l Title Ins. Co., 549 S.W.3d at 559. In this case, Doe only asserted specific jurisdiction. "For a Texas court to exercise specific jurisdiction over a defendant, (1) the defendant's contact with Texas must be purposeful, and (2) the cause of action must arise from those contacts." Id. (internal quotation marks omitted). "Thus, when analyzing specific jurisdiction, we focus on the relationship between the forum, the defendant, and the litigation." Id. Stated differently, "[f]or a Texas court to exercise specific jurisdiction over a defendant, the defendant's purposeful contacts must be substantially connected to the operative facts of the litigation or form the basis of the cause of action." Id. at 559-60.

         Burd ...


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