SCOTUS to Rule on Jurisdiction After State Courts Ignore Guidance

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ATRA urges SCOTUS to push back the on overly expansive approaches to jurisdiction shown by courts in Minnesota and Montana.

Tomorrow, Ford Motor Co. will make its case before the U.S. Supreme Court regarding jurisdiction in two product liability cases it faces in Montana and Minnesota. SCOTUS will determine whether the lawsuits brought against Ford were appropriately filed in the two states, though the products were neither designed, manufactured nor sold in either state. The two cases were consolidated into one for the purposes of the hearing before SCOTUS.

The American Tort Reform Association (ATRA) filed an amicus brief with SCOTUS in the combined case and stated that overly expansive approaches to jurisdiction impose greater uncertainty and an undue burden on businesses. In its brief, ATRA goes on to say also that permitting specific jurisdiction without a substantial connection between the forum state and the claim would intrude on other states’ sovereignty. 

SCOTUS plainly instructed in 2016 that, in order for a state court to consider a lawsuit against an out-of-state business, the lawsuit must arise out of or relate to the business’s contacts with that state. Allowing the exercise of specific personal jurisdiction when a defendant’s activities in the state have no causal connection to a plaintiff’s claim make both Montana and Minnesota outliers. If SCOTUS rules that manufacturers can be sued anywhere, businesses will face lawsuits all across the country in state courts they have little to no connection with them, thereby creating a far less predictable business climate.  

“The repercussions of this potential ‘jurisdictional free-for-all’ on our civil justice system are highly significant,” ATRA President Tiger Joyce said. “We urge the Supreme Court to restore order among these state courts that failed to follow its precedent and conclude that these states do not have jurisdiction over these cases.”

Minnesota’s Supreme Court and Twin Cities were ranked the No. 9 Judicial Hellholes in the American Tort Reform Foundation’s 2019-2020 report due in part to the outlier decision by the  Minnesota Supreme Court allowing the Bandemer v. Ford Motor Co. case to move forward in Minnesota, disregarding jurisdiction. Montana’s Supreme Court was also included in the Judicial Hellholes Watch List due to its penchant for expanding liability and disregarding SCOTUS precedent. 

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