What Personal Jurisdiction Doctrine Does - And What it Should Do
66 Pages Posted: 17 Jul 2017 Last revised: 24 Aug 2017
Date Written: July 10, 2017
Commentators have routinely noted the complexity, opacity, and multiple functions of U.S. personal jurisdiction doctrine. Yet underlying this comparative chaos are two important concerns. Both commentary and Supreme Court cases have long recognized that a court’s assertion of power over a particular defendant and case may have two undesirable consequences. First, the burden on the defendant of having to appear before a certain type of court or in a particular location may be unacceptably high. Second, a court’s jurisdictional overreaching may encroach upon the sovereignty of other states or nations and in so doing, may foster uncertainty about which sovereign’s substantive standards apply to particular conduct. Personal jurisdiction, to some extent, addresses both these issues. But with respect to both goals, it has competition. Multiple protections, including venue and forum non conveniens, help to ensure that defendants are not unfairly burdened by litigation. An even greater variety of doctrines, such as dormant Commerce Clause protections, choice-of-law restrictions, and limits on punitive damages, re-strict the ability of states to regulate distant conduct and thereby exceed their sovereign boundaries. In light of these additional protections, this Article suggests reorienting personal jurisdiction toward functions not well served by other doctrines, and proposes three possible goals that meet this standard: providing redundant protections to foreign defendants, screening out cases likely to create difficult questions of choice-of-law constitutionality, and adding the factor of purposeful availment to the analysis of defendant fairness. Surveying the four personal jurisdiction cases the Court has recently decided, this Article finds that they have addressed the first of these goals to some extent, but have slighted the second and third.
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation