Nineteenth Century Personal Jurisdiction Doctrine in a Twenty-First Century World

62 Pages Posted: 13 Feb 2012 Last revised: 25 May 2016

Date Written: February 10, 2012


The initial twenty-first century personal jurisdiction decisions from the Supreme Court reveal that personal jurisdiction doctrine has not changed much since the nineteenth century. The nomenclature has changed, realism has replaced formalism, some fictions purportedly have been discarded, and the adjudicatory reach of courts has somewhat expanded, but the doctrine retains the same conceptual core - the social contract philosophical tradition limiting the scope of governmental authority to those establishing the requisite relationship with the sovereign.

I first overview jurisdictional doctrine from the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. This revisionist account illustrates that International Shoe - especially considered in light of its progeny - is not as revolutionary as often claimed. I next analyze the opinions in Nicastro and Goodyear to demonstrate their connections to - and departures from - pre-International Shoe doctrine and theory. The plurality and concurring opinions in Nicastro share unfortunate similarities to Pennoyer, embracing a rigid formalism rather than a policy-driven approach to minimum contacts that considers the extent to which the defendant’s forum activities implicate state sovereign interests and indicate amenability will not be an undue burden. Goodyear, on the other hand, is more analogous to Shaffer, restricting a fictional basis for state court jurisdiction that should only exist in the rare circumstances where the defendant’s activities or property in the forum establish that it is acting similarly to a local domiciliary.

Due to the limitations imposed by both cases, I finally consider the constitutionality of a potential federal legislative scheme requiring foreign manufacturers to appoint an agent for service of process for claims related to imported products. I demonstrate that service on an agent is a constitutional basis for personal jurisdiction when the claims are tangentially related to the defendant’s forum activities, even though the defendant should not be amenable for unrelated causes of action. Such a legislative solution is necessary when the Court is unable to fashion a coherent jurisdictional approach in a modern, interconnected world.

Keywords: personal jurisdiction, minimum contacts, purposeful availment, consent, registered agent

JEL Classification: K40, K41

Suggested Citation

Rhodes, Charles W. (Rocky), Nineteenth Century Personal Jurisdiction Doctrine in a Twenty-First Century World (February 10, 2012). Florida Law Review, Vol. 64, No. 2, 2012, Available at SSRN:

Charles W. (Rocky) Rhodes (Contact Author)

South Texas College of Law ( email )

1303 San Jacinto Street
Houston, TX 77002
United States
713-646-2918 (Phone)

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