July 12, 2018

So a Funny Thing Did Happen on the Way to the Forum : The Directions for Personal Jurisdiction Challenges Just Got Easier

By Roy Alan Cohen, Diane Fleming Averell, and Michelle Molinaro Burke

The concept of “minimum contacts” has been at the heart of any substantive personal jurisdiction–related analysis or discussion for more than 70 years.1 Considered black letter law by students and lawyers alike, the rules of the road were relatively straightforward. While case- and defendant-specific facts were necessary for the analysis, the path to an appropriate forum was historically straight and narrow. However, the signs along the path began to change after the U.S. Supreme Court seemed to deviate from what was the jurisdictional norm.2 By the early 1990s, decisions followed in various venues that obscured the jurisdictional path.3 The procedural cloud created by these decisions also led to an opportunity for plaintiffs to do battle over personal jurisdiction and identify certain courts that are favorably disposed to look expansively at and deny personal jurisdiction challenges, regardless of the forum’s contacts with the parties or the connection to the underlying subject matter of the claims. More often, the cases or claims involve multiparty products liability or toxic tort cases that complicate the issues of exposure and jurisdiction. With that said, the trend has been changing with two recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions, Bristol-Myers Squibb Co. v. Superior Court4 and Daimler AG v. Bauman,5 combining to restore direction to the analysis of jurisdictional challenges and police forum shopping efforts in a meaningful way. The national impact of these decisions is playing out in real time across the country, with federal and state courts redefining the approach and often granting defendants’ motions to dismiss6 or for mistrials and reversing jury verdicts.

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