Friday, April 16, 2021

U.S. Supreme Court Latest Pronouncement on Personal Jurisdiction Over Out-of-State Defendants In a Products Liability Case



The United States Supreme Court recently issued a notable decision in the case of Ford Motor Co. v. Montana Eighth Judicial District Court, No. 19-368 (U.S. March 25, 2021), in which the Court affirmed a decision finding the existence of personal jurisdiction over products liability claims by an in-state plaintiff for in-state injuries against an out-of-state defendant.

Defendant Ford had sought to extend the Supreme Court’s decision in Bristol-Myers Squibb Co. v. Superior Court, 137 S. Ct. 1773 (2017), which rejected personal jurisdiction over claims by out-of-state plaintiffs against out-of-state defendants for out-of-state injuries.

Ford asserted that, under the Bristol-Myers analysis, specific jurisdiction requiresd a “causal link” between the defendant’s forum contacts and the plaintiff’s claims, which was not present in this Ford case because the cars involved in the accidents were not designed, manufactured, or first sold in-state.

The five-justice majority disagreed.  The majority rejected a strict causal link standard and distinguishing the forum-shopping circumstances of Bristol-Myers from the claims in Ford by in-state plaintiffs for in-state injuries. The majority held that the Court’s specific jurisdiction standard includes suits that sufficiently “relate to” a defendant’s forum contacts, even in the absence of a causal link.

Applying this standard to the two cases before it, the majority held that Ford’s activities in Montana and Minnesota, including marketing, selling, and servicing the same models of cars at issue in the cases, enticed residents to purchase Ford cars and, as such, were sufficiently related to the plaintiffs’ claims to create specific jurisdiction over their suits. The Court held: “Ford had systematically served a market in Montana and Minnesota for the very vehicles that the plaintiffs allege malfunctioned and injured them in those States. So there is a strong ‘relationship among the defendant, the forum, and the litigation,’—the ‘essential foundation’ of specific jurisdiction.”

Commentators have noted that now, following the Ford decision, it appears that a defendant’s showing that a plaintiff’s claim does not arise out of or is not causally linked to the defendant’s conduct in the forum state may not be enough to prevail on a defense argument that a court lacks personal jurisdiction if a plaintiff can show that the claim sufficiently “relates to” the defendant’s conduct in the state.

Commentators have also noted that the Bristol-Myers analysis still also stands.  Those commentators have asserted that the Ford decision does not disturb the U.S. Supreme Court’s previous rejection in Bristol-Myers of specific jurisdiction over claims by non-resident plaintiffs against a non-resident company whose product allegedly injured the plaintiffs. 

Anyone wishing to review this decision may click this LINK.

I send thanks to Attorney Dale Larrimore of the Philadelphia law firm of Larrimore & Farnish, LLP for bringing this decision to my attention.

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