General Personal Jurisdiction after Goodyear Dunlop Tires Operations, S.A. v. Brown
67 Pages Posted: 30 Aug 2011
Date Written: August 29, 2011
In June 2011 the Supreme Court published its first major decisions on due process limits on personal jurisdiction in decades. Though the cases provided an opportunity to remove longstanding confusion, the decisions expose new divisions on the Court that give rise to new uncertainties.
This Article focuses on the less controversial case. Seeming to express an emerging consensus with respect to general jurisdiction, the unanimous opinion in Goodyear Dunlop Tires Operations S.A. v. Brown announces a new, restrictive formula for general jurisdiction: for a state to exercise general personal jurisdiction over a corporation, the corporation must be incorporated in the state, maintain its principal place of business in the state or have such continuous and systematic ties in a forum state that is “at home.”
Exploring the decision and its early reception by lower courts, this Article contends that the opinion is ambiguous. On the one hand, it can be read to support contacts-based general jurisdiction over foreign corporations that are sufficiently active in the state. On the other hand, it can be read to restrict general jurisdiction to those corporations that maintain a legal home in the state by incorporating under the laws of the state or by engaging in such a level of activity that the state becomes the equivalent of their principal place of business.
The different readings produce different results in many routine situations. In fact, the Article shows they produce different answers to the question posed during oral argument as to whether Goodyear USA (which operates a factory in North Carolina) would be subject to general jurisdiction in that state without its consent.
In addition to explaining divergent positions on the Court, the Article proposes a middle path, a fair reading of the opinion that avoids the most tendentious interpretations and that implements the Court’s shared commitment to eliminating general jurisdiction over a broad category of cases.
Finally, the Article identifies specific problem areas that the decision leaves for future judicial elaboration and examines early decisions by lower courts that have begun to grapple with these problems. The Article offers courts and litigants a useful resource for understanding and applying the new doctrine.
Keywords: Constitutional Law, Courts, Jurisdiction, Corporations
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