Tuesday, September 25, 2012
When certiorari was granted in J. McIntyre Machinery, Ltd. v. Nicastro, 131 S. Ct. 2780 (2011), many hoped that the Supreme Court would provide much-needed clarification to the area of personal jurisdiction. It didn’t. The Court failed to generate a majority opinion, splitting into Justice Kennedy’s four-Justice plurality, Justice Breyer’s two-Justice concurrence, and Justice Ginsburg’s three-Justice dissent.
This essay – for the Southwestern Journal of International Law’s 2012 symposium “Our Courts and the World: Transnational Litigation and Procedure” – examines how state and federal courts have been using the McIntyre decision. Some lower court opinions have mistakenly interpreted McIntyre as establishing new constitutional restraints on state court exercises of personal jurisdiction, or as resolving previously open questions in favor of a more restrictive approach. These opinions misread the Justices’ opinions in McIntyre. In particular, there has been confusion about Justice Breyer’s concurrence, which explicitly disagreed with Justice Kennedy’s reasoning and was premised on a narrow understanding of the factual record in McIntyre. Many lower court decisions, however, correctly recognize that the fractured McIntyre decision does not mandate new constitutional restrictions on personal jurisdiction.
Here are some of the things lower courts have been up to since McIntyre came down:
(1) addressing the extent to which McIntyre has any binding
holding at all, either via the Marks rule (under which “the holding of the
Court may be viewed as that position taken by those Members who concurred in
the judgments on the narrowest grounds”), or by attempting to aggregate the
views of enough Justices to reach a majority on certain issues;
(2) embracing controversial aspects of Justice Kennedy’s plurality opinion that are in significant tension with earlier Supreme Court majority decisions;
(3) reading McIntyre as calling into question the “reasonableness” prong of the prevailing two-step jurisdictional framework;
(4) assessing McIntyre’s impact on the role that foreseeability plays in determining jurisdiction over defendants whose products reach a state through the “stream of commerce”; and
(5) discussing whether McIntyre has declared a winner in the disagreement between Justice O'Connor and Justice Brennan in Asahi Metal Industry Co. v. Superior Court, 480 U.S. 102 (1987).
Many thanks to everyone at Southwestern for doing such a great job with the symposium. I was glad to be a part of it.