Academic highlight: Symposium on Goodyear and Nicastro
For all those mystified by the Supreme Court’s personal jurisdiction jurisprudence, I recommend checking out the South Carolina Law Review’s symposium on the Court’s recent decisions in Goodyear Dunlop Tires v. Brown and J. McIntyre Machinery, Ltd. v. Nicastro. The symposium features an all-star list of academics who have devoted their careers to teaching and writing in this area, and thus are well equipped to explain these decisions to the rest of us.
Happily, the Goodyear decision is fairly straightforward. In a unanimous opinion, the Court held that a defendant is not subject to general jurisdiction unless its contacts with the forum are so extensive as to render it “essentially at home” in that forum — the result that most expected. (Quick civil procedure refresher: A court has general jurisdiction over a defendant when it may hear and decide any claim against that defendant, including claims that did not arise out of the defendant’s contacts with the forum.) Nonetheless, there are some lingering questions about what exactly it means for a corporation to be “at home,” which Allan Stein addresses in his symposium article, available here.
Nicastro is far less clear. The Court granted cert. to resolve the long-standing confusion about the scope of personal jurisdiction over defendants who inject their products into the “stream of commerce.” It is an open question whether a court has personal jurisdiction over a manufacturer whose product caused injury in the forum if the manufacturer did not deliver the product into that forum, even if the manufacturer knew and benefited from its products’ distribution throughout the United States. The subject has bewildered practitioners, lower courts, and first-year law students, who found little guidance in the Court’s fractured opinion on that question in Asahi Metal Industry Co. v. Superior Court of California (1987). Unfortunately, however, the Court was once again unable to muster five votes for any rationale in Nicastro, leaving the law in the same state of flux.
So we are lucky to have the symposium participants’ views on these cases. Their articles summarize the opinions, flesh out the implications of these decisions, and — refreshingly — acknowledge that lots of important questions remain unanswered. Sometimes the legal expert’s most valuable service is to confirm that the law is far from clear.