Academic highlight: Vanderbilt Law Review roundtable on DaimlerChrysler AG v. Bauman
on Oct 11, 2013 at 12:29 pm
Just two years after the Supreme Court addressed the scope of general personal jurisdiction in Goodyear Tires Dunlop S.A. v. Brown, the Court is revisiting that question in DaimlerChrysler AG v. Bauman. Vanderbilt Law Review’s En Banc Roundtable features analyses of that case by five civil procedure scholars. Although they have different takes on the matter, all believe that the Court is likely to reverse the Ninth Circuit and find that California lacks general personal jurisdiction over DaimlerChrysler.
The Argentinian plaintiffs sued DaimlerChrysler under the Alien Tort Statute, the Torture Victim Protection Act, and other state and local laws, asserting that its Argentinian subsidiary collaborated with Argentine security forces to torture and kill plaintiffs and their relatives as part of that country’s “dirty war” in the 1970s. Thus, DaimlerChrysler is a so-called “F-Cubed” case in which a foreign plaintiff sues a foreign defendant for acts that occurred in a foreign country, making it difficult for any U.S. court to claim personal jurisdiction over the defendant. Nonetheless, the plaintiffs (respondents in the Supreme Court) argue that activities of DaimlerChrysler’s subsidiary in northern California should be imputed to DaimlerChrysler, a German corporation, rendering the company “at home” in California such that it can be sued there for anything done anywhere in the world. The Ninth Circuit agreed.
In his contribution, Professor Donald Childress argues that the case is really about the growing phenomenon of transnational forum shopping, in which parties “shop for favorable law and courts transnationally in the same way that they would shop for any other goods or services.” Although Professor Howard Erichson thinks that this is an “easy case,” he hopes that the Court will use it as an opportunity to clarify its conclusion in Goodyear Tires that general jurisdiction is only permissible when a defendant is “essentially at home in the forum state.” Professor Burt Neuborne fears that the Court might “resurrect the nineteenth century’s metaphysical approach to ‘corporate separateness,’” and argues argues that in a “world where transnational corporations wield immense power, the rule of law itself is put at risk by a doctrine that permits transnational corporations to subdivide their activities into wholly owned-and-controlled, watertight legal boxes in order to . . . cabin liability for the unlawful acts of corporate agents.” Professor Suzanna Sherry views the plaintiffs’ decision to file in California as a “paradigmatic example of egregious forum shopping,” but she fears that this “bad case” will make “bad law,” and so she suggests that the Court duck the issue altogether. And Professor Linda Silberman provides a comparative perspective on the jurisdictional issues involved.
[Disclosure: The law firm of Goldstein & Russell, P.C., whose attorneys contribute to this blog in various capacities, is among the counsel to the respondents in the case. However, the author of this post is not affiliated with the law firm or involved in the case in any way.]