Registration Statutes, General Jurisdiction, and the Fallacy of Consent
73 Pages Posted: 30 Apr 2015
Date Written: April 27, 2015
In early 2014, the Supreme Court issued a game-changing decision that will likely put corporate registration as a basis for personal jurisdiction center stage in the years to come. In Daimler AG v. Bauman, the Court dramatically reined in general jurisdiction for corporations. The Court in Daimler held that a corporation is subject to general jurisdiction only in situations where it has continuous and systematic general business contacts with the forum such that it is “at home” there. Except in rare circumstances, a corporation is “at home” only in its state of incorporation and the state of its principal place of business. Plaintiffs who are foreclosed by Daimler from arguing continuous and systematic contacts with the forum as a basis for jurisdiction will now look to registration statutes to provide the relevant hook to ground personal jurisdiction over corporations.
Each of the fifty states has a registration statute that requires a corporation doing business in the state to register with the state and appoint an agent for service of process. A considerable number of states interpret their registration statutes as conferring general, or all-purpose, jurisdiction over any corporation that has registered to do business under the state statute. Those states that regard registration as permitting the exercise of general jurisdiction usually justify the assertion of jurisdiction on the basis of consent. That is, by knowingly and voluntarily registering to do business in a state, a corporation has consented to the exercise of all-purpose jurisdiction over it.
Registration to do business as a basis for general jurisdiction, however, rests on dubious constitutional footing. Commentators have approached the analysis from a variety of perspectives over the years. The analysis tends to focus on how courts have misread historical precedent and failed to account for the modernization of jurisdictional theory post-International Shoe Co. v. Washington. Largely unexplored, however, is the premise underlying registration-based general jurisdiction: that registration equals consent. In this Article, I argue that general jurisdiction based on registration to do business violates the Due Process Clause because such registration does not actually amount to “consent” as that term is understood in personal jurisdiction jurisprudence. I comprehensively explore why it is that registration cannot fairly be regarded as express (or even implied) consent to personal jurisdiction. First, I look at other forms of consent in the jurisdictional context — forum selection clauses and submission — and analyze the salient differences between these and registration. Second, I examine the nature of the consent that is said to form the basis for general jurisdiction and argue that it is essentially coercive or extorted. Coerced consent, an oxymoron, cannot legitimately form the basis for the assertion of general jurisdiction over a corporation. From there, I situate registration statutes in a larger conversation about general jurisdiction. I maintain that registration-based jurisdiction does not fit well into the landscape of general jurisdiction: it could eliminate the need for minimum contacts altogether; it results in universal and exorbitant jurisdiction; it is conceptually misaligned with doing business as a ground for jurisdiction; and it promotes forum shopping.
Keywords: personal jurisdiction, registration statutes, general jurisdiction, consent, foreign corporations, Daimler AG v. Bauman 134 S Ct. 746 (2014), doing business, registering to do business, corporate registration, due process
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