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New Yorker concedes Md. court’s jurisdiction in seeking paternity test, appellate court holds

A New York man cannot say Maryland courts lack jurisdiction over him in a child-support proceeding after he sought a circuit court order for a paternity test, a Maryland appeals court has held.

Roger Hsia also sought a Prince George’s County Circuit Court order for information regarding the support request by the Maryland mother who claims he is her child’s father, according to the Court of Special Appeals.

Though Hsia claims to have never been in Maryland, the appellate panel found he essentially accepted the jurisdiction of Maryland courts under the Uniform Interstate Family Support Act when he filed his requests in the Upper Marlboro courthouse.

The appeals court also rejected Hsia’s argument that subjecting him to the Maryland court’s jurisdiction would violate his constitutional right to due process. Hsia’s affirmative involvement in the family-law proceeding gave him sufficient “minimum contacts” with the state to satisfy constitutional requirements for personal jurisdiction, the intermediate court said.

Hsia “cannot purposefully avail himself of the benefits of the state of Maryland by requesting the court to take action to favor his positions as to paternity, substantially litigate that issue through discovery, and then backpedal and revoke that submission to the court’s jurisdiction,” Judge Andrea M. Leahy wrote for the Court of Special Appeals. “We conclude that the circuit court’s exercise of jurisdiction over [Hsia] in Maryland under the facts presented in this case comports with traditional notions of fair play and substantial justice.”

Judge Andrea Leahy. (File)

Judge Andrea Leahy. (File)

The Court of Special Appeals’ reported 3-0 decision last week overturned the circuit court’s holding that it lacked jurisdiction over Hsia in the child support case brought by the mother, Claudia Friedetzky.

Friedetzky claims the child was conceived during a brief extramarital affair she had with Hsia in September 2005, when they were both living in New York. She gave birth to the child in June 2006, divorced her husband in 2010 and moved to Maryland with her son in 2011.

Hsia, who never spoke with or provided support for the child, remained in New York, according to the opinion.

In July 2013, Friedetzky filed a petition against Hsia in Prince George’s County Circuit Court, seeking “immediate and permanent sole physical and legal custody” of the child but did not request child support.

Hsia was served with the court papers in New York and filed an answer in January 2014 in which he requested a paternity test. He also served Friedetzky with requests for documents and interrogatories, including what Leahy’s opinion called “exhaustive requests for information about [Friedetzky’s] sexual partners.”

Friedetzky responded March 25, 2014, with a petition for child support, adding she did not oppose Hsia’s request for a paternity test.

The next day, Hsia filed a motion for the circuit court to dismiss the case for lack of personal jurisdiction, which Friedetzky opposed.

The circuit court awarded Friedetzky custody of the child but dismissed her claims for child support, saying it lacked personal jurisdiction over Hsia.

Friedetzky appealed, arguing the Uniform Interstate Family Support Act generally gives courts jurisdiction over out-of-state parents. Hsia countered that another law adopted by Maryland, the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act, provides him immunity from personal jurisdiction for participating in the custody proceeding.

The Court of Special Appeals sided with Friedetzky, saying Hsia did not merely participate in a custody proceeding.

“[Hsia] certainly anticipated receiving the benefits of the paternity testing if ordered by the circuit court and thus availed himself of the advantages and protections of Maryland,” Leahy wrote. “As the old adage goes, one cannot un-ring a bell: Once [Hsia] invoked the court’s jurisdiction by requesting paternity testing, he could not then retract it, deciding, instead, to move to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction.”

Neither Friedetzky’s attorney, Christopher J.  Gowen, nor Hsia’s lawyer, Randall S. Herriott, returned telephone and email messages seeking comment Wednesday. Gowen heads the Gowen Group Law Office PLLC in Washington, D.C.; Herriott is a name partner at Reinstein, Glackin, Patterson & Herriott LLC in Bowie.

Leahy was joined in the opinion by Judges Michele D. Hotten and Irma S. Raker, a retired jurist sitting by special assignment.

The case is Friedetzky v. Hsia, No. 1187, September Term 2014.