Personal jurisdiction (United States)

Personal jurisdiction (United States)

Personal jurisdiction in United States law refers to a court's power over a particular defendant ("in personam" jurisdiction) or an item of property ("in rem" jurisdiction). If a court does not have personal jurisdiction over a defendant or property, then the court cannot bind the defendant to an obligation or adjudicate any rights over the property. Personal jurisdiction is to be distinguished from subject-matter jurisdiction, which is the power of a court to render a judgment concerning a certain subject matter, or territorial jurisdiction, which is the power of a court to render a judgment concerning events that occurred within a territory. Unlike subject-matter jurisdiction, personal jurisdiction may be waived, even unintentionally, by a defendant. Personal jurisdiction, territorial jurisdiction, subject-matter jurisdiction, and proper notice to the defendant are the most fundamental constitutional prerequisites for a valid judgment.

The expansion of personal jurisdiction in the 20th century

Traditionally, in civil proceedings in the United States, the defendant or land in dispute was required to be physically served with process in the state where the court sits. This is commonly referred to as "tag" jurisdiction. The most famous statement of this principle arose in the Supreme Court's 1877 constitutional ruling in "Pennoyer v. Neff". Over the years, the reach of personal jurisdiction has been expanded by judicial interpretations and legislative enactments. In the landmark 1945 case "International Shoe Co. v. Washington", the United States Supreme Court greatly expanded the constitutional boundaries of personal jurisdiction, well beyond its traditional physical presence basis. Following "International Shoe", states in the United States enacted so-called long-arm statutes, by which courts in a state can exercise jurisdiction over a party located outside the state, if the party has sufficient contacts within the state..

Constitutional limits

The Supreme Court of the United States has held that constitutional requirements of due process limit the exercise of personal jurisdiction over nonresidents. The same outer constitutional boundaries for personal jurisdiction apply in both state courts and federal courts. Moreover, because of Rule 4 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure (FRCP 4), a federal court ordinarily applies the personal jurisdiction statutes (e.g., long-arm statutes) of the state in which it sits, even when the state has not extended personal jurisdiction to its constitutional limits. (Some states, such as California, have long-arm statutes that give their courts personal jurisdiction to the extent constitutionally permitted.) In some exceptional circumstances, FRCP 4 grants a federal court personal jurisdiction when the law of the state in which it sits would not.

In general, to be subject to personal jurisdiction, a defendant that was not personally served with process within the state must have a sufficient level of personal or business contacts with the state in which the court sits that the defendant could reasonably expect to be sued there. These contacts are generally referred to by the term of art minimum contacts. Generally speaking, a party is subject to personal jurisdiction in a state if the party has "purposely availed" itself of the resources of protection of the state, and if the exercise of jurisdiction does not offend "traditional notions of fair play and substantial justice". "See" "International Shoe v. Washington". Leading cases finding minimum contacts sufficient for personal jurisdiction are "International Shoe" and "Burger King v. Rudzewicz". Leading cases finding insufficient contacts for personal jurisdiction are "World-Wide Volkswagen Corp. v. Woodson" and "Kulko v. Superior Court".

Personal jurisdiction problems are acute in cases involving business transactions conducted across state lines, where the defendant may not have set foot in the other state, but still conducted affairs with the other state's residents through correspondence, the shipment of goods, or indirect agents. Even more difficult, and more unsettled, personal jurisdiction issues arise in "stream of commerce" cases. In the quintessential stream of commerce case, a defendant in one state sells a widget to a manufacturer in the same state, which incorporates the widget into a retail product and sells it to a consumer in another state, who then sues claiming injury from the widget. The leading Supreme Court stream of commerce case, "Asahi Metal Industry Co. v. Superior Court", resulted in a split, failing to clarify the issue.

Internet cases raise several troublesome personal jurisdiction problems. For example, a website may be viewed anywhere in the United States, though it is hosted in California and operated by a California citizen. Courts must decide in which locations, under what circumstances, the exercise of personal jurisdiction over the citizen for claims arising from the website comports with traditional notions of fair play and substantial justice. For more, see Personal jurisdiction in internet cases.

General versus specific jurisdiction

Personal jurisdiction based on state long-arm statutes--that is, jurisdiction not based on presence within the state--is divided, for constitutional analysis purposes, into two categories: general and specific jurisdiction. "General jurisdiction" exists when an out-of-state party has extensive, "systematic and continuous" dealings with the state in which the court sits. When a court has general jurisdiction over a party, the court has personal jurisdiction over any dispute involving the party. Thus, a court's general jurisdiction power is equivalent to its power based on presence within the state. As an example, a corporation may advertise and sell so many products for such a long time within a state that it is subject to personal jurisdiction for any claim against it, even if the claim involves activity that occurred only outside the state. A leading Supreme Court case denying general jurisdiction over a defendant is "Helicopteros Nacionales de Colombia v. Hall". ["Helicopteros Nacionales de Colombia v. Hall", 466 US 408 (1984).] Conversely, a court's "specific jurisdiction" power over a party, when the party does not have systematic and continuous contacts with the state, is specific to cases that have a substantial connection to the party's in-state activity.

Relationship to venue

Venue and personal jurisdiction are closely related for practical purposes. A lawyer should usually perform joint analysis of personal jurisdiction and venue issues. Personal jurisdiction is largely a constitutional requirement, though also shaped by state long-arm statutes and FRCP 4, while venue is purely statutory.

It is possible for either venue or personal jurisdiction to be the exclusive factor prohibiting a court from hearing a case. Consider these examples:

* "Personal jurisdiction is the limiting factor". In "World-Wide Volkswagen Corp. v. Woodson", plaintiffs sued in Oklahoma state court an automobile dealership based in New York for damages from an explosion that occurred as they drove the car through Oklahoma. Had the plaintiffs sued in U.S. federal court sited in Oklahoma, venue would have been proper under 28 USC § 1391, the general federal venue statute, because Oklahoma was a state "in which a substantial part of the events or omissions giving rise to the claim occurred". However, the United States Supreme Court found that the defendants (World-Wide Volkswagen Corp.) did not have the minimum contacts with Oklahoma necessary to create personal jurisdiction there. [World-Wide Volkswagen was one of the "defendants"; the case cited is WWV Corp (original defendant) v. Woodson (the Oklahoma state judge) ]

* "Venue is the limiting factor". Suppose Jerry resides in California. Tom from Nevada wants to sue Jerry for battery which Jerry committed against Tom in California. Tom knows Jerry is going to a week-long conference in South Carolina. Tom realizes that Jerry would settle a suit that would take place in South Carolina, because it would be too expensive to defend. So, during Jerry's trip, Tom serves Jerry with process for an action filed in South Carolina federal court. The federal court has personal jurisdiction, based on Jerry's presence in South Carolina at the time process was served (transient service of process). "See" "Burnham v. Superior Court'. However, venue is improper under § 1391.

ee also

* Personal jurisdiction in internet cases


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