March 29, 2021

Another Roadside Attraction: The Supreme Court’s Latest Route Guidance on Personal Jurisdiction in Products Liability Cases

Faegre Drinker on Products Blog

On March 25, the U.S. Supreme Court decided Ford Motor Co. v. Montana Eighth Judicial District Court, revisiting the issue of due process limitations on the exercise of personal jurisdiction, most recently addressed by the Court in 2017 in Bristol-Myers Squibb v. Superior Court, 137 S. Ct. 1783 (2017) (“BMS”).  A unanimous Court (8-0, with Justice Barrett not participating) held in Ford Motor that courts in Montana and Minnesota could hear claims by residents of those states alleging injuries sustained in accidents that occurred there involving Ford vehicles.  Relying on Ford’s extensive contacts with those states, which consisted of efforts to create and serve local sales and service and repair markets for the same kinds of vehicles, the Court concluded these plaintiffs’ claims were sufficiently “related to” Ford’s local contacts, even though the actual vehicles in the accidents were designed, manufactured and initially sold in other states.  (We commented here on the state court decisions in these cases before Ford sought certiorari.)

Ford acknowledged that it “purposefully avail[ed] itself of the privilege of conducting activities” in both states, but argued that personal jurisdiction required a causal connection between Ford’s local contacts and the plaintiff’s injury – that Ford’s specific forum contacts must give rise to the claims.  Ford argued they did not because the vehicles were designed, manufactured and first sold elsewhere.  But the Court rejected the argument that due process requires a “strict causal relationship,” holding that the test is whether the claim “arise[s] out of or relate[s] to the defendant’s [forum] contacts,” and that the “relates to” half of the disjunctive phrase means that “some relationships will support jurisdiction without a causal showing.

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