The U.S. Supreme Court No Longer Requires a Strict Causal Connection to Establish Specific Personal Jurisdiction

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Schnader Harrison Segal & Lewis LLPThe United States Supreme Court recently issued an opinion, Ford Motor Company v. Montana Eighth Judicial District Court, which already has had far-reaching impact in redefining the criteria for establishing specific personal jurisdiction. In Ford, the Court rejected the defendant’s argument that specific personal jurisdiction exists only where the plaintiff can establish that the particular car involved in an accident was manufactured, designed or sold in the forum state. Instead, the Court concluded that if a defendant purposely avails itself of a market and cultivates or serves a market for a product in the forum State, and the product malfunctions and causes harm to a forum resident in the forum State, then the manufacturer likely is subject to specific jurisdiction in the forum. Thus, advertising, selling and servicing allegedly defective vehicle models in the forum constituted sufficient contacts with the forum state for specific personal jurisdiction to attach.

In Godfried v. Ford Motor Co., 2021 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 87012 (D. Me. May 6, 2021), the District of Maine also concluded that a plaintiff need not prove the sale of the exact model causing injury in the forum state; rather the defendant’s marketing and sales of rear mowers generally was enough for specific personal jurisdiction to attach. In rejecting the defendant’s contention that it was subject to personal jurisdiction in states only where the plaintiff could establish it designed, manufactured or sold the particular type of rear mower at issue, the Court sought to prevent a situation where a defendant could potentially control where it is sued solely based on which records it decided to keep.

In Rickman v. BMW of N. Am. LLC, 2021 U.S Dist. LEXIS 904 (D.N.J. May 11, 2021), a New Jersey federal court addressed a putative class action by consumers who asserted various consumer protection and fraud claims arising from alleged misrepresentations regarding BMW emissions. One of the Defendants, BMW AG, a German company, argued that Plaintiffs could not show any of the particular statements they relied on in deciding to purchase vehicles that were made by BMW AG, as opposed to its wholly owned subsidiary distributor, the New
Jersey-based BMW NA. In applying Ford’s holding, the court held that BMW AG (the parent) purposefully availed itself of BMW NA’s forum, and Plaintiffs’ reliance was sufficiently related to the claims, even though they had not located the precise source of the particular statements on which they relied.

Finally, in Shelter Mut. Ins. v. Bissell Home Care Inc., 2021 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 81340 (M.D. Tenn. Apr. 28, 2021), the court held that marketing and distribution of a defective battery by LG Chem America did not create specific jurisdiction over its parent, LG Chem Ltd, the South Korean company that manufactured the battery that overheated and caused a fire. The court rejected the plaintiff’s contention that the sale of the battery and the resulting fire in Tennessee
established specific jurisdiction, finding that those facts focused solely on the subsidiary’s conduct and did not prove that the defendant parent company took actions to avail itself of the benefits and protections of Tennessee law. The court also was not persuaded that appointing an agent for service of process within the forum established specific jurisdiction. Ford Motor Company v. Montana Eighth Judicial District Court, 141 S. Ct. 1017 (2021)

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