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Where A Corporation Must Litigate At Issue In Supreme Court Case

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October 22, 2020

Venue is often a key factor in deciding whether to pursue litigation, and it is the issue in the Supreme Court’s consideration of Ford Motor Co. v. Montana Eighth Judicial District (consolidated with Ford Motor Co. v. Bandemer). The question is whether state courts in Montana and Minnesota have “personal jurisdiction” over two lawsuits against Ford, which sells cars in both states but manufactured and sold the cars at issue out-of-state. The court rescheduled this case from last term and held telephonic argument on Oct 7. Writing in Scotusblog, Howard M. Wasserman explains that to be subject to jurisdiction in a state consistent with due process, a defendant must have “certain minimum contacts with it such that maintenance of the suit does not offend traditional notions of fair play and substantial justice.” The court distinguishes general personal jurisdiction from specific personal jurisdiction; general jurisdiction means a defendant is subject to suit in a state for all claims, while specific jurisdiction means a defendant is subject to suits that bear some connection to the defendant’s contacts with the state. The touchstone for general jurisdiction is where the defendant is “at home.” For a corporation, home is its principal place of business and state of incorporation, neither Montana nor Minnesota for Ford. Therefore, the plaintiffs must establish specific jurisdiction over Ford, which involves a three-step inquiry: Ford must have contacts with the forum state, such as by selling, marketing, advertising or otherwise providing services; Those contacts must “give rise or relate to” the claim; it must not be unreasonable to require Ford to litigate there. The dispute in this case is about the second prong of the inquiry: When do a defendant’s contacts give rise or relate to the claim? The case has drawn interest from a broad range of amici, many asserting unexpected positions.

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