January 22, 2020 - Product Liability

Start Your Engines: The U.S. Supreme Court Will Yet Again Review the Constitutional Limits of Personal Jurisdiction in a Pair of Cases Involving Ford Motor Company

Lower courts’ inability or refusal to confine cases to their proper fora compels the Supreme Court to spend precious docket space restating the rules governing personal jurisdiction.

The Due Process Clauses of the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments limit courts’ authority to exercise personal jurisdiction over defendants. Personal jurisdiction comes in two varieties: general and specific. A court with general jurisdiction over an out-of-state defendant can “hear any and all claims against” that defendant, but only if the defendant’s affiliations with the forum state “are so constant and pervasive as to render it essentially at home” there. Daimler AG v. Bauman, 134 S. Ct. 746, 751 (2014) (internal quotation marks and brackets omitted). On the other hand, a court may exercise specific jurisdiction over an out-of-state defendant only when the claims at issue “arise out of or relate to” the defendant’s in-state activities.  Burger King Corp. v. Rudzewicz, 471 U.S. 462, 472 (1985) (internal quotation marks omitted). While those standards might sound clear enough, state and lower federal courts have continued to reach conflicting results. And, in recent years, the Supreme Court has repeatedly found it necessary to intervene. See Bristol-Myers Squibb Co. v. Superior Court, 137 S. Ct. 1773 (2017); BNSF Railway Co. v. Tyrrell, 137 S. Ct. 1549 (2017); Walden v. Fiore, 134 S. Ct. 1115 (2014); Goodyear Dunlop Tires Operations, S.A. v.Brown, 564 U.S. 915 (2011); J. McIntyre Machinery, Ltd. v. Nicastro, 564 U.S. 873 (2011) (plurality opinion).

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