A Tale of Two Jurisdictions

47 Pages Posted: 2 Apr 2014 Last revised: 20 Sep 2014

See all articles by Alan M. Trammell

Alan M. Trammell

University of Arkansas - School of Law

Date Written: March 27, 2014


This Article argues that the Supreme Court has recently clarified one corner of personal jurisdiction — a court’s power to hale a defendant into court — and pointed the way toward a coherent theory of the entire doctrine. For nearly seventy years, the Court has embraced two theories of when jurisdiction over a defendant is permissible. The traditional theory, general jurisdiction, authorizes jurisdiction when there is a tight connection between the defendant and the forum. The modern theory, specific jurisdiction, allows jurisdiction where a lawsuit is centered. Although the two should have developed in tandem, the doctrine has become a morass, and a disjunction between general and specific jurisdiction has developed.

This Article makes three contributions. First, from a doctrinal perspective, it demonstrates that the Court has severely constrained the reach of general jurisdiction in a way that would have been surprising just three years ago. In all likelihood, a corporation is subject to general jurisdiction only in its state of incorporation and where it maintains its principal place of business. Second, the Article argues that the doctrinal development sensibly has restricted general jurisdiction to what I call the saturation point — the place (or very limited number of places) where a defendant cannot have more significant contacts anywhere else. Third, it posits that the concept of a saturation point for general jurisdiction logically suggests a saturation point for specific jurisdiction — that is, a place where the lawsuit itself could not have more significant ties to any other forum. The latter saturation point winds up being more of a thought experiment, but one that bookends a coherent vision of the entire doctrine. The constitutional test for the exercise of jurisdiction at either saturation point is exceedingly demanding, but personal jurisdiction can exist along a continuum. Between the two saturation points, when a particular forum has some connection to both the defendant and also the lawsuit, the constitutional test is quite lax. In other words, the notion of saturation points and the continuum between them can sensibly integrate the two forms of personal jurisdiction, which until now have had an uneasy relationship.

Keywords: personal jurisdiction, general jurisdiction, specific jurisdiction, Goodyear Dunlop Tires, S.A. v. Brown, Daimler AG v. Bauman, sliding scale, vanishing point, minimum contacts, at home

Suggested Citation

Trammell, Alan M., A Tale of Two Jurisdictions (March 27, 2014). Vanderbilt Law Review, Vol. 68, 2015, Forthcoming; Brooklyn Law School, Legal Studies Paper No. 376. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2417040

Alan M. Trammell (Contact Author)

University of Arkansas - School of Law ( email )

260 Waterman Hall
Fayetteville, AR 72701
United States
479-575-2655 (Phone)

HOME PAGE: https://law.uark.edu/directory/directory-profile.php?Uid=amtramme

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