More Than Another Alien Tort Statute Case: The Supreme Court May Limit Personal Jurisdiction

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On October 15, the Supreme Court heard oral argument in the first of two significant personal jurisdiction cases on the docket: DaimlerChrysler AG v. Bauman, No. 11-965 (cert. granted Apr. 22, 2013). At first glance, DaimlerChrysler may appear to be yet another Alien Tort Statute case. But DaimlerChrysler is poised to address far more than that — the issues in the case involve the standard for general personal jurisdiction based on imputing the contacts of in-forum subsidiaries to foreign parent corporations. The question presented is “whether it violates due process for a court to exercise general personal jurisdiction over a foreign corporation based solely on the fact that an indirect corporate subsidiary performs services on behalf of the defendant in the forum State.”

At argument, most Justices appeared highly skeptical of the Ninth Circuit ruling. But at least from the tenor of the argument, there was no obvious consensus on how to resolve the case. Some Justices expressed concern over the interplay between the California long-arm statute and California corporate law; other Justices questioned whether and to what extent certain jurisdictional arguments may not have been preserved below. Yet while it is never wise to predict an outcome from the oral argument, it seemed unlikely the Supreme Court believed that due process permitted a German corporation to be sued in California by Argentine citizens for events that occurred in Argentina, as the Ninth Circuit had allowed.

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