U.S. Supreme Court Amicus Brief of Civil Procedure Professors in Support of Respondents, Ford Motor Co. v. Montana Eighth Judicial District Court, Nos. 19-368 & 19-369
37 Pages Posted: 4 May 2020
Date Written: April 6, 2020
Petitioner Ford Motor Company argues that specific personal jurisdiction “[r]equir[es] that the defendant’s contacts with the forum State have caused the plaintiff’s claims.” This has never been the law, nor should it be. While general jurisdiction may be amenable to narrowly defined categories, specific jurisdiction is not. Ever since this Court’s pathmarking decision in International Shoe Co. v. Washington, specific jurisdiction has been a far more flexible inquiry into the relationship among the forum, the defendant, and the dispute. This is as it should be. Due process does not require that specific jurisdiction rest on a strict causal link between the defendant’s forum-state contacts and the plaintiff’s claims, and inventing such a requirement provides no new benefits, whether in terms of fairness or federalism. It would, however, generate needless inefficiencies, jeopardize states’ well-accepted regulatory interests, and possibly result in claims that cannot be brought in any U.S. state.
This Court should decline to adopt Petitioner’s proposal for three reasons. First, this Court has never relied on a causation requirement to endorse — or reject — a state’s exercise of personal jurisdiction over a defendant. In fact, doing so now would be inconsistent with this Court’s most relevant precedent, Bristol-Myers Squibb v. Superior Court of California, which supports finding specific jurisdiction to adjudicate these claims by forum-state residents arising out of an occurrence in the forum state.
Second, changing course now by adopting a causation requirement would lead to disruptive and inefficient results in both simple and complex litigation. A causal test would break up single disputes, like that arising out of Adam Bandemer’s car accident, across multiple state courts. It would make it harder for defendants to implead additional parties, for example, if Bandemer had sued the other driver, and he, in turn, wanted to bring in Ford as a third-party defendant. And it could result in no state having jurisdiction over foreign defendants like Honda that extensively market and sell products nationwide, even if the claim arises from an in-state injury.
A causation rule would also misallocate jurisdiction across the states. It would prevent states with core regulatory interests — over injuries to state residents occurring within the state and over products sold widely in the state’s market — from adjudicating those claims while forcing such litigation into state courts that have professed little interest in them. Both Delaware and Michigan courts, for example, have dismissed similar cases for forum non conveniens, and both have expressed concern about such general jurisdiction cases clogging their dockets.
These problems would follow from any causation rule, but they would be needlessly compounded if the Court adopted Petitioner’s preferred proximate-cause rule. Indeed, it is not clear that under Petitioner’s proximate-cause rule, the plaintiffs could have brought their lawsuits in their home jurisdictions even if the cars involved had been purchased within the state.
This Court need not take these risks in order to promote fairness and federalism values. Petitioner has not even argued that Minnesota or Montana is an unfair place to litigate. To the extent that Petitioner’s concern is being haled into an inconvenient or unpredictable forum, those concerns are already addressed by this Court’s requirements that the defendant make purposeful contacts with the forum and that any exercise of personal jurisdiction be reasonable.
Third and finally, Petitioner’s call for a supposedly bright-line rule is inconsistent with this Court’s tried and true path of developing the law of specific jurisdiction cautiously on a case-by-case basis. While bright lines might make sense for subject-matter jurisdiction or general jurisdiction, they are a bad fit for the constitutional law of specific jurisdiction. And the supposedly bright-line rule proposed here is even worse, as it undermines the very values of fairness and federalism it purports to protect. Introducing a causation requirement into the specific jurisdiction analysis would not just flout a century of constitutional law — it would draw lines in all the wrong places.
Keywords: personal jurisdiction, due process, civil procedure, products liability
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