U.S. Supreme Court
For the last two decades, the U.S. Supreme Court has consistently restricted the ability to sue out-of-state defendants without their consent. But in Ford Motor Co. v. Montana Eighth Judicial District, the court allowed an out-of-state company to be sued.
The decision, handed down in March, is important in clarifying the law of personal jurisdiction, but it also raises many questions that will confront lower state and federal courts and ultimately need Supreme Court resolution.
Every first-year law student in civil procedure reads the famous case of International Shoe v. State of Washington (1945). Before this case, the court long had ruled that due process limits the ability to sue an out-of-state defendant without its consent. In International Shoe, the Supreme Court held that unless the defendant consents to jurisdiction of the court, an out-of-state defendant can be sued only if it has “minimum contacts” with a state.
The court found that the activities of the sales personnel of an out-of-state shoe company—exhibiting samples of merchandise and soliciting orders from prospective buyers—were systematic and continuous and resulted in a large volume of interstate business. The court thus found personal jurisdiction and concluded that it is constitutionally permissible when a defendant has minimum contacts with the state where a lawsuit is brought such that notions of fair play and substantial justice would not be offended.