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Case-Linked Jurisdiction and Busybody States

By Howard M. Erichson, John C.P. Goldberg, and Benjamin C. Zipursky. Full Text.


Beginning with Justice Ginsburg’s 2011 opinion in the Goodyear case—and echoed in Justice Thomas’s 2014 opinion in Walden v. Fiore and Justice Alito’s 2017 opinion in Bristol-Myers Squibb v. Superior Court—the Supreme Court has suggested that the distinctiveness of specific personal jurisdiction (in contrast to general jurisdiction) resides in its being “case-linked.” However, to date, the Justices have not spelled out what it takes for a defendant’s contacts with a forum to be case-linked, although they now have an opportunity to do so in a pair of personal injury cases brought against Ford Motor Company. This article aims to provide the missing account of case-linkage, explaining along the way how it applies to the Court’s pending cases.

Our method is constructive and interpretive: we take as our starting point the Court’s precedents and its reasoning about two pillars of personal jurisdiction: state sovereignty and defendants’ due process rights. After an introduction, Part I re-examines the Court’s personal jurisdiction cases from International Shoe to the present with the goal of understanding the concept of case-linkage as it has played out in these decisions. Part II describes the Ford cases presently before the Court, explaining why they invite consideration of an aspect of specific jurisdiction that it has yet to address adequately.

We put forward our theory of case-linked jurisdiction in Part III. Case-linkage, we argue, can only be understood within a framework that isolates two concepts that are critical for due process analysis: one concerning the scope of the defendant’s submission to state authority, and one concerning the scope of the forum state’s legitimate interests. We explain the latter in terms of the principle that a state’s courts ought not meddle in affairs beyond the state’s legitimate reach (labeled “the Anti-Busybody Principle”). By explaining case-linkage in terms of both the scope of a defendant’s submission to state power and the scope of a state’s legitimate interests, we offer a way to bring together the process and sovereignty concerns that underlie the law of personal jurisdiction.

With our own affirmative account in place, Part IV shows why the “causation” approaches to case-linkage advocated by Ford and by some lower courts are indefensible, even if the more expansive “relatedness” tests of other courts are also not up to the task at hand. We also show that the intuitively right answer to the Ford cases—that a state court has jurisdiction to hear tort claims brought by state residents injured in-state by the defendant’s product (when the defendant has extensively sold the product-line in that state)—not only meshes with all relevant Supreme Court precedents, but also points to the best path forward for understanding, defining, and demarcating case-linked jurisdiction.