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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. You can put your photos anywhere you like... When someone steals it they know it doesn't belong to them. And, a man getting a divorce is automatically not a nice guy...? That's ridiculous. Since when is need of money a conflict of interest? That would mean that no one should have a job unless they are already financially solvent without a job... A photographer is also under no obligation to use a watermark (again, people know when a photo doesn't belong to them) or provide contact information. Hey, he didn't make it easy for me to pay him so I'll just take it! Well heck, might as well walk out of the grocery store with a cart full of food because the lines are too long and you don't find that convenient. "Only in Indiana." Oh, now you're passing judgement on an entire state... What state do you live in? I need to characterize everyone in your state as ignorant and opinionated. And the final bit of ignorance; assuming a photo anyone would want is lucky and then how much does your camera have to cost to make it a good photo, in your obviously relevant opinion?

  2. Seventh Circuit Court Judge Diane Wood has stated in “The Rule of Law in Times of Stress” (2003), “that neither laws nor the procedures used to create or implement them should be secret; and . . . the laws must not be arbitrary.” According to the American Bar Association, Wood’s quote drives home this point: The rule of law also requires that people can expect predictable results from the legal system; this is what Judge Wood implies when she says that “the laws must not be arbitrary.” Predictable results mean that people who act in the same way can expect the law to treat them in the same way. If similar actions do not produce similar legal outcomes, people cannot use the law to guide their actions, and a “rule of law” does not exist.

  3. Linda, I sure hope you are not seeking a law license, for such eighteenth century sentiments could result in your denial in some jurisdictions minting attorneys for our tolerant and inclusive profession.

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  5. My daughter was taken from my home at the end of June/2014. I said I would sign the safety plan but my husband would not. My husband said he would leave the house so my daughter could stay with me but the case worker said no her mind is made up she is taking my daughter. My daughter went to a friends and then the friend filed a restraining order which she was told by dcs if she did not then they would take my daughter away from her. The restraining order was not in effect until we were to go to court. Eventually it was dropped but for 2 months DCS refused to allow me to have any contact and was using the restraining order as the reason but it was not in effect. This was Dcs violating my rights. Please help me I don't have the money for an attorney. Can anyone take this case Pro Bono?

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