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Editorial: Personal jurisdiction theories still evolving

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Federal Bar UpdateAs most litigators know, in Asahi Metal v. Superior Court of Cal., 480 U.S. 102 (1987), a plurality of the Supreme Court embraced the stream-of-commerce theory of personal jurisdiction, which generally holds that if a manufacturer or distributor has sufficient knowledge and control of its distribution system, it can be sued in a state in which its products cause injury. Since Asahi Metal, the theory has evolved somewhat in federal and state appellate courts but had not been revisited by the Supreme Court.

At the end of its recent term, the Supreme Court decided J. McIntyre Machiner v. Nicastro, No. 09-1343 (June 27, 2011), and by a 6-3 vote the court held that personal jurisdiction did not exist in this particular products-liability case. Unfortunately the court did not have a majority opinion on the applicable rule of law to be applied in these situations, with four justices proclaiming one rule, two another, and three yet another. What is certain is that for anyone with a personal jurisdiction battle, there is something for everyone in J. McIntyre, and the stream-of-commerce theory remains unsettled at best.

In the meantime, a brief summary follows. Plaintiff was injured in New Jersey using a metal-shearing machine manufactured by defendant in England, where the company is incorporated and based. Plaintiff sued in New Jersey, and the New Jersey Supreme Court held that personal jurisdiction existed under the Asahi stream-of-commerce concept.

The U.S. Supreme Court disagreed, reversing. Justice Anthony Kennedy, joined by the chief justice and Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas, concluded that because defendant never engaged in any activities in New Jersey that revealed an intent to invoke or benefit from New Jersey’s laws, New Jersey was without power to adjudge the company’s rights and liabilities. This foursome reasoned that Asahi and stream-of-commerce metaphors do not change fundamental 14th Amendment due process standards for personal jurisdiction. The principal inquiry, they proclaimed, is whether defendant’s activities manifest an intention to submit to the power of a sovereign.

Justices Stephen Breyer and Samuel Alito agreed in a concurrence that personal jurisdiction did not exist, but found it unwise to announce a rule of broad applicability given that the case did not present issues arising from recent advances in commerce and communications. In dissent, Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor, and Elena Kagan would affirm the New Jersey Supreme Court’s ruling that personal jurisdiction existed.

7th Circuit rule change

Effective May 1, 7th Circuit Rule 25 was added requiring all documents to be electronically filed. 7th Circuit Rule 27 was added to address emergency filings. Finally, Circuit Rule 31(e) was rescinded. All 7th Circuit rules are available at www.ca7.uscourts.gov.

Mark your calendars

The annual Federal Civil Practice Seminar will be held Friday, Dec. 16, in Indianapolis.

Special call-out to help a family of the Bar

Jay Ruckelshaus, son of John Ruckelshaus of Baker & Daniels and grandson of long-time attorney Jack Ruckelshaus of Ruckelshaus Kautzman Blackwell Bemis & Hasbrook, was seriously injured recently in a diving accident. He has a severe spinal cord injury and is being treated at Methodist Hospital in Indianapolis. Jay is a remarkable young man who recently graduated as valedictorian of Cathedral High and was on his way to Duke as an Honors admittee.

Jay will face a long road ahead with many challenges, and likely uncovered expenses for some adaptive equipment and rehabilitation. At the request of Jay’s fellow graduates, the Joseph Maley Foundation is honored to dedicate its upcoming annual golf outing, Aug. 10 in Indianapolis, to celebrate Jay’s many accomplishments and provide support for Jay. For information, please see www.josephmaley.org.•

__________

John Maley – jmaley@btlaw.com – is a partner with Barnes & Thornburg, practicing federal and state litigation, employment matters, and appeals. The opinions expressed are those of the author.
 

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  1. He called our nation a nation of cowards because we didn't want to talk about race. That was a cheap shot coming from the top cop. The man who decides who gets the federal government indicts. Wow. Not a gentleman if that is the measure. More importantly, this insult delivered as we all understand, to white people-- without him or anybody needing to explain that is precisely what he meant-- but this is an insult to timid white persons who fear the government and don't want to say anything about race for fear of being accused a racist. With all the legal heat that can come down on somebody if they say something which can be construed by a prosecutor like Mr Holder as racist, is it any wonder white people-- that's who he meant obviously-- is there any surprise that white people don't want to talk about race? And as lawyers we have even less freedom lest our remarks be considered violations of the rules. Mr Holder also demonstrated his bias by publically visiting with the family of the young man who was killed by a police offering in the line of duty, which was a very strong indicator of bias agains the offer who is under investigation, and was a failure to lead properly by letting his investigators do their job without him predetermining the proper outcome. He also has potentially biased the jury pool. All in all this worsens race relations by feeding into the perception shared by whites as well as blacks that justice will not be impartial. I will say this much, I do not blame Obama for all of HOlder's missteps. Obama has done a lot of things to stay above the fray and try and be a leader for all Americans. Maybe he should have reigned Holder in some but Obama's got his hands full with other problelms. Oh did I mention HOlder is a bank crony who will probably get a job in a silkstocking law firm working for millions of bucks a year defending bankers whom he didn't have the integrity or courage to hold to account for their acts of fraud on the United States, other financial institutions, and the people. His tenure will be regarded by history as a failure of leadership at one of the most important jobs in our nation. Finally and most importantly besides him insulting the public and letting off the big financial cheats, he has been at the forefront of over-prosecuting the secrecy laws to punish whistleblowers and chill free speech. What has Holder done to vindicate the rights of privacy of the American public against the illegal snooping of the NSA? He could have charged NSA personnel with violations of law for their warrantless wiretapping which has been done millions of times and instead he did not persecute a single soul. That is a defalcation of historical proportions and it signals to the public that the government DOJ under him was not willing to do a damn thing to protect the public against the rapid growth of the illegal surveillance state. Who else could have done this? Nobody. And for that omission Obama deserves the blame too. Here were are sliding into a police state and Eric Holder made it go all the faster.

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  4. I grew up on a farm and live in the county and it's interesting that the big industrial farmers like Jeff Shoaf don't live next to their industrial operations...

  5. So that none are misinformed by my posting wihtout a non de plume here, please allow me to state that I am NOT an Indiana licensed attorney, although I am an Indiana resident approved to practice law and represent clients in Indiana's fed court of Nth Dist and before the 7th circuit. I remain licensed in KS, since 1996, no discipline. This must be clarified since the IN court records will reveal that I did sit for and pass the Indiana bar last February. Yet be not confused by the fact that I was so allowed to be tested .... I am not, to be clear in the service of my duty to be absolutely candid about this, I AM NOT a member of the Indiana bar, and might never be so licensed given my unrepented from errors of thought documented in this opinion, at fn2, which likely supports Mr Smith's initial post in this thread: http://caselaw.findlaw.com/us-7th-circuit/1592921.html

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