Letting the Perfect Become the Enemy of the Good: The Relatedness Problem in Personal Jurisdiction
38 Pages Posted: 16 Jun 2012 Last revised: 9 Aug 2012
Date Written: June 15, 2012
The Supreme Court’s recent decision in J. McIntyre Machinery v. Nicastro had the potential to resolve nearly two decades of confusion in personal jurisdiction doctrine. Confronted with the earlier Asahi plurality opinions, which had established competing “stream of commerce” theories, the Court produced a fractured 4-2-3 opinion that resolved little beyond holding that the New Jersey courts could not exercise personal jurisdiction over the defendant in the instant case.
In this Article, written for a paper Symposium, I consider one dimension the doctrinal deadlock that the Supreme Court produced in Nicastro: the concept of specific jurisdiction itself. In recent cases, most notably in Nicastro, the Court has become obsessed with the general and abstract contours of the relationship between a defendant and the forum state. However, one of the most important aspects of the distinction between general and specific jurisdiction is the relatedness between the lawsuit and the forum state. In conceptualizing relatedness at the highest level of generality, the Supreme Court has characterized the relatedness problem in a way that is nearly impossible to answer in any concrete case that comes before it. In other words, the Supreme Court has let the perfect become the enemy of the good. Instead of producing a flexible, workable, if not entirely global or perfect rule, the Court has given the lower courts hardly any rule at all.
This Article suggests that in order to break the stream of commerce stalemate, the Supreme Court should refocus specific jurisdiction doctrine so that it produces concrete answers to the two dimensions of the relatedness problem. It further argues that Justice Brennan’s stream of commerce position from Asahi remains the most viable path for specific jurisdiction analysis. The expansive scope of the Brennan position fits well with modern understandings of commerce and the domestic and international sale and distribution of goods. Moreover, in tandem with a robust fairness analysis, the stream of commerce position will allow courts to examine the two dimensions of relatedness in a useful, concrete, and doctrinally consistent manner.
Keywords: civil procedure, personal jurisdiction, specific jurisdiction, joinder of parties, J. McIntyre Machinery v. Nicastro, Goodyear v. Brown, Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, due process, relatedness, commonalities
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