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N.T. v. F.F.

Superior Court of Pennsylvania

June 15, 2015

N.T., AND ON BEHALF OF MINOR CHILDREN K.R.T. AND J.A.T., Appellee
v.
F.F., Appellant

Argued March 4, 2015

Appeal from the Order of the Court of Common Pleas of Centre County, Civil Division, at No(s): 14-0607. Before RUEST, J.

Laura K. Robbins, State College, for appellant.

Douglas L. Hearn, State College, for appellee.

BEFORE: SHOGAN, WECHT, and STRASSBURGER,[*] JJ.

OPINION

STRASSBURGER, J.

F.F. appeals from the order entered June 6, 2014, which overruled his preliminary objections to a petition for protection from abuse (PFA petition) filed by N.T.[1],[2] F.F. based his preliminary objections on improper service and lack of personal jurisdiction. Upon review, we reverse the trial court's order overruling F.F.'s preliminary objection based on lack of personal jurisdiction, vacate the temporary PFA order, and dismiss N.T.'s PFA petition.

We have pieced together the background of this case by reviewing the certified record, which includes, inter alia, N.T.'s PFA petition, F.F.'s preliminary objections, and the exhibits to those preliminary objections which include several orders and filings from the child custody action in California. F.F. and N.T. are the parents of one minor child, J.C., born in June 2012. Request for Order and Supporting Declaration, 11/30/2012. N.T. and F.F. lived together in California with J.C. and the other two children from February 2011 through October 4, 2012. Id. On October 4, 2012, N.T., without notice, removed all three children to Pennsylvania. Id. On November 30, 2012, F.F. instituted an action in California seeking to establish his paternity of J.C. and to obtain custody, visitation, and the return of J.C. to California.[3] Id. On April 21, 2013, N.T. filed a response requesting genetic testing to determine whether F.F. is the biological father of J.C. Response to Petition to Establish Paternal Relationship, 4/21/2013. N.T. also requested mediation. Responsive Declaration to Request for Order, 4/21/2013. On May 22, 2013, the California court held a hearing and entered an order setting forth, inter alia, a shared custody arrangement for J.C. Court Order Re: Custody and Visitation After Hearing, 5/22/2013.

Because N.T. was not complying with the May 22, 2013 order, on June 17, 2013, F.F. applied in California for an emergency transfer of physical and legal custody of J.C. to him pending further order of court. F.F. alleged that he was to have visitation with J.C. on June 15-16, 2013, but instead, N.T. told F.F. on the morning of June 15 that she was leaving J.C. with him and going back to Pennsylvania with her other children on June 16.[4] Declaration of F.F., 6/17/2013, at 2. Although F.F. did not agree, N.T. left J.C. with him anyway and did not return for J.C. on June 16. Id. On Monday, June 17, 2013, F.F. went to " the self-help center" to obtain court assistance. Id. To his surprise, he saw N.T. there filling out forms. Id. F.F. told N.T. that he would be seeking an emergency change in custody and order of the court so J.C. could permanently stay with F.F. Id. at 2-3. At some point thereafter, N.T. and the other two children went to Pennsylvania.

A hearing on F.F.'s request for change of custody was scheduled for July 2, 2013. Following the hearing, at which N.T. did not appear, an order was issued finding that N.T., without cause, abandoned J.C. to F.F. Findings and Order After Hearing, 7/2/2013. The order awarded sole legal and physical custody of J.C. to F.F. and scheduled the matter for trial on all issues on September 23, 2013. Id. On September 23, 2013, the California trial court awarded F.F. full legal and physical custody. Notice of Entry of Judgment, 9/23/2013. The California court found N.T. failed to (1) comply with the May 22, 2013 order; (2) appear at the hearing held on July 2, 2013, despite proper notice; and (3) comply with numerous prior orders issued by the court. Id.

On February 19, 2014, N.T. filed the instant PFA petition in the Court of Common Pleas of Centre County, Pennsylvania. Therein, she alleged multiple instances of abuse by F.F. throughout the course of their relationship. PFA Petition, 2/19/2014. Notably, N.T. alleged that the most recent instance of abuse occurred on June 15, 2013. Id. N.T. alleged that, on that date, F.F. pinned her against her car stating that, if she interfered with his attempt to gain full custody of J.C., he would have her killed. Id. According to N.T., she came back to Pennsylvania the next day. Id.

F.F. filed preliminary objections to the PFA petition on March 10, 2014, and a hearing on the preliminary objections was held on April 15, 2014. At the hearing, F.F.'s counsel presented argument with regard to F.F.'s lack of minimum contacts with Pennsylvania and submitted into evidence a " Declaration/Affidavit of [F.F.]," wherein F.F. represented, in part, as follows:

I do not have and never have had any connection whatsoever with Pennsylvania. I have never been to Pennsylvania, neither lived nor visited there. I have no friends or relatives in Pennsylvania. I have never conducted business in Pennsylvania. I have no colleagues in Pennsylvania. My sole involvement with Pennsylvania was to serve [N.T.] in Pennsylvania with process ordering her to appear for custody proceedings in California after she ...

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