The recent Supreme Court opinion in Ford Motor Company v. Montana Eighth Judicial District, 141 S. Ct. 1017 (March 25, 2021), could have far-reaching implications for the application by courts of a specific personal jurisdiction.
In Montana Eighth, several plaintiffs sued a national automaker, alleging defects in their vehicle models caused injuries, in one case fatal, in Montana and Minnesota. Montana Eighth, 141 S. Ct. At 1019. However, in the two underlying cases, the defendant did not design or manufacture the vehicles in Montana or Minnesota, and did not sell the vehicles in question to a dealership in these states. Username. The vehicles involved in the two underlying crashes had traveled to Montana and Minnesota through subsequent sales, resales and relocations by various consumers, including the plaintiffs, none of which involved the defendant. Username.
The defendant automaker sought dismissal for lack of specific personal competence, arguing that the standard requiring that plaintiffs’ claims “arise out of or relate to” a defendant’s contacts with the forum was a causal standard. Username. to 1026 (“[Defendant’s] is rather that these activities are not sufficiently linked to the prosecution, even though the resident-plaintiffs allege that [Defendant’s] cars malfunctioned in forum states. In [Defendant’s] view, the necessary link must be causal in nature. . . ” Username.). Respondent read conjunctively the phrase “arise from or relate to” to require a causal relationship between a respondent’s contacts with the forum and the plaintiff’s injuries or claims. As the Supreme Court itself has stated: “there must be” an affiliation between the forum and the underlying controversy, primarily, [an] activity or event that takes place in the forum State and is therefore subject to state regulation. Username. at 1025 (citation omitted). Thus, the defendant automaker argued that these standards required that the defendant’s contacts be causally related to the plaintiffs’ injuries.
The plaintiffs focused on the automaker’s other contacts with Montana and Minnesota and on the “relate to” language present in the standard. The Court noted that the automaker’s contacts met the standard of “intentional availability” in the two forum states because “[b]y any medium imaginable, including billboards, television and radio spots, print advertisements and direct mail.[defendant] urges Montanais and Minnesotans to buy its vehicles [including the models in the underlying litigation]. ” Username. Here, the automaker sold cars in Montana and Minnesota, had dealerships that maintained and repaired the automaker’s vehicles in the states, and distributed aftermarket parts to its dealers in those states. Username. The plaintiffs argued that these contacts, while technically unrelated to the two particular vehicles in issue, provided a sufficient “relationship” between the plaintiffs’ injuries and claims and the automaker’s contacts because these contacts illustrate that the automaker had deliberately cultivated a market in Montana and Minnesota for its vehicles – including the vehicle models involved. Username. at 1028-29.
The Supreme Court eventually sided with the plaintiffs, citing several of its own precedents such as World-Wide Volkswagen Corp. vs. Woodson, 444 US 286, 100 S.Ct. 580, 62 L.Ed.2d 490 (1980) and Bristol-Myers Squibb Co. v. California Superior Court, San Francisco Cty., 582 United States ––––, 137 S.Ct. 1773, 198 L.Ed.2d 395 (2017)). The Supreme Court ruled that the previous precedent did not create a requirement for a causal relationship. Username. to 1026 (“But [defendants’] The causal link approach has no basis in this Court’s requirement of a “nexus” between the pursuit of a plaintiff and the activities of a defendant. . . None of our precedents have suggested that only a strict causal relationship between the defendant’s activity in the state and the litigation would suffice. (Internal citations omitted)). In doing so, the Court explicitly stated its decision to read the norm “result from or relate to” disjunctively, as two distinct norms by which a defendant may be summoned to a given forum depending on the prejudices suffered by plaintiffs in it. forum. Username. (“As we have just noted, our most common formulation of the rule requires that the costume” derive from or relate to the defendant’s contacts with the forum. . . the first half of this standard asks about causation; but the back half, after the “or”, envisions that some relationship will support the competence without showing causation. (Emphasis in original)). So, because the automaker has cultivated a market for its vehicles, including the affected vehicle models, in Montana and Minnesota through dealerships, advertisements, repair services, etc. injuries and purports to confer jurisdiction. Username. at 1032 (“Here, the resident plaintiffs allege that they suffered harm in the State due to defective products which [defendant] widely promoted, sold and serviced in Montana and Minnesota. For all the reasons we have given, the link between the claimants’ claims and [defendant’s] activities in these states. . . is close enough to support a specific jurisdiction. “).
The Supreme Court’s decision in Montana Eighth could have far-reaching implications for the development of a specific personal skill set in a way that claimants and defendants, in particular claimants and potential product liability defendants, should take into account. For example, consider the precedents of the Supreme Court in Volkswagen in the world, 444 US 286 and Bristol Myers Squibb, 137 S.Ct. 1773. In Volkswagen in the world, the Supreme Court ruled that an automaker could not be arraigned in an Oklahoma court when it sold a car in another state and that car subsequently caught fire in Oklahoma. 444 US 286, 312. Although the automaker in this case had no contact with Oklahoma, and in this case, the automaker admittedly had important contacts in Montana and Minnesota, Bristol Myers Squibb the Supreme Court rejected a “sliding scale approach” to specific personal jurisdiction as inconsistent with its own precedents. 137 S.Ct. 1773, 1781 (“For this reason, the sliding ladder approach of the California Supreme Court is difficult to reconcile with our precedents. According to the California approach, the strength of the link required between the forum and the specific claims in cause is relaxed if the defendant has extensive contact with the forum unrelated to those claims. ”). The decision in Montana Eighth, however, seems to implicitly invite such a “sliding scale” approach to assess a respondent’s overall contacts with the forum. If not, how can litigants determine how many “related” contacts are sufficient to justify the exercise of jurisdiction over a defendant? How “related” is it?
Thus, the Supreme Court requested the interpretation of lower courts and litigants as to the limits of personal jurisdiction. (Username. at 1039 (Alito, J., agree: “The real struggle here is not to settle the right outcome in these cases, but to make sense of our jurisprudence of personal jurisdiction and International shoeis an increasingly dubious dichotomy. On these points, I readily admit that I end this business with even more questions than I had at the beginning. Hopefully future litigants and lower courts will help us deal with these tangles. . . ”)). A particular implication to note is that the Supreme Court has, for the moment, effectively written the language“ resulting from ”from the expression“ resulting from or relating to. ”If this expression is truly disjunctive , as the Court explained, then the “relate to” standard should apparently always be broader and more inclusive than the “arise from” standard, making the language “arise from” redundant.
In view of the exploration of the upcoming contact “relationship”, parties, especially defendants, are likely to be required to conduct in-depth analyzes of all of a defendant’s contacts in a given forum to prepare arguments regarding personal competence – even contacts which at first glance do not appear to be directly related to a claimant’s complaints. Only time will tell how the reasoning of the Court in Montana Eighth will affect specific personal jurisdiction, but litigants can expect this case to be included in briefs and arguments “early and often”, as personal jurisdiction affects all cases in the United States.
 For other reactions to the Montana Eighth decision that highlights its potentially powerful reasoning and outcome, see https://www.abajournal.com/columns/article/chemerinsky-despite-scotus-ruling-questions-of-personal-jurisdiction-remain-unsettled; https://law.emory.edu/news-and-events/releases/2021/04/scouts-analysis-ford-motor-company-v.-montana-eighth-judicial-district-court.html; and https://www.mondaq.com/unitedstates/trials-appeals-compensation/1077856/supreme-court39s-decision-in-ford-motor-co-makes-it-easier-for-states-to-exercise personal-jurisdiction -on-large-companies.