Ford Motor Company is a global auto company, incorporated in Delaware and headquartered in Michigan. Ford markets, sells, and services its products across the United States and overseas. The company also encourages a resale market for its vehicles. In each of two cases, a State Court exercised jurisdiction over Ford in a products-liability suit stemming from a car accident that injured a resident in the state. The first suit alleged that a Ford Explorer had malfunctioned, killing Markkaya Gullett near her home in Montana. In the second, Adam Bandemer claimed that he was injured in a collision on a Minnesota road involving a defective Crown Vic. Ford moved to dismiss both suits for lack of personal jurisdiction. It argued that each state court had jurisdiction only if the company’s conduct in the State had given rise to the plaintiff’s claims. And that causal link existed, according to Ford, only if the company had designed, manufactured, or sold in the State the particular vehicle involved in the accident. In neither suit could the plaintiff make that showing. The vehicles were designed and manufactured elsewhere, and the company had originally sold the cars at issue outside the forum State. Only later re-sales and/or re-locations by consumers had brought the vehicles to Montana and Minnesota.
Both States’ Supreme Courts rejected Ford’s argument, and the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed:
“None of our precedents has suggested that only a strict causal relationship between the defendant’s in-state activity and the litigation will do. As just noted, our most common formulation of the rule demands that the suit arise out of or relate to the defendant’s contacts with the forum. The first half of that standard asks about causation; but the back half, after the ‘or’, contemplates that some relationships will support jurisdiction without a causal showing.”
Justice Gorsuch, concurring, observes that:
“The parties have not pointed to anything in the Constitution’s original meaning or its history that might allow Ford to evade answering the plaintiffs’ claims in Montana or Minnesota courts. No one seriously questions that the company, seeking to do business, entered those jurisdictions through the front door. And I cannot see why, when faced with the process server, it should be allowed to escape out the back. The real struggle here isn’t with settling on the right outcome in these cases, but with making sense of our personal jurisdiction jurisprudence.”
Ford v. Montana Eighth Juridical District Court, No.19-368, 2021 WL 1132515 (March 25, 2021).
See also, e.g., Stephen J. Herman, “The Long Arc of Justice” Louisiana Advocates, Vol.XXX, No.8 (Aug. 2015) (“Like many of you, I suspect, I began law school with something called Pennoyer v. Neff, followed shortly thereafter by something called a ‘progeny’. Because I wasn’t a lawyer at the time, the whole thing made very little sense to me. While it seemed logical to ask whether the parties or events had a sufficient connection to a state before its courts could exercise jurisdiction over the controversy, why would that matter when you were talking about the jurisdiction of a federal court? Wouldn’t the question be whether the parties or events had a sufficient connection to the United States? The whole concept seemed extremely outdated. If we still lived in the horse-and-buggy days, I could see the unfairness of forcing a dairy farmer in Wisconsin to defend himself or herself in the faraway and foreign lands of Georgia. But now we have airplanes and telephones and fax machines. (And, as a practical matter, the typical defendant is generally insured by a relatively small group of companies, which is usually located in a different state or even a different country, and will hire a local lawyer wherever the case is filed who will assume primary responsibility for the defense.) Is it really still such a burden? In the twenty-or-so years that I have been in practice, the world has gotten only smaller. The economy has gotten more global. Law firms have merged and expanded. Digital networks have connected us. And, most importantly for these purposes, the adoption of electronic filing systems has effectively allowed a case to be litigated from anywhere by anyone who has access to the Internet. Yet, curiously, the personal jurisdiction inquiry has not relaxed as one might have expected. If anything, it has become more restrictive. We lawyers, of course, tend to look at these types of things differently. But does it really make sense to ask whether a foreign company that profits by shipping its products to the United States specifically directed its marketing or promotional efforts to the residents of a particular state? Does it really make sense to insulate multi-national conglomerates from suit in a particular jurisdiction because the company does most of its business through a series of wholly owned subsidiaries?”)