Personal Jurisdiction and In Personam Jurisdiction

Personal jurisdiction, or in personam jurisdiction, refers to the power of a court to enter a binding judgment against a person or other legal entity. A court must be able to exercise personal jurisdiction over a party in order for that party to be bound by an order of the court.

The Fourteenth Amendment grants the right to not be compelled to defend a lawsuit in a remote jurisdiction unless a party’s actions have made it fair to hale that party into court. A court’s exercise of jurisdiction over a party must “not offend traditional notions of fair play and substantial justice.” The court asks whether a party reasonably should have anticipated that his actions might result in the forum state exercising personal jurisdiction over him in order to adjudicate disputes arising from those actions. In addition, due process requires that process be served upon a party before that party can be subject to personal jurisdiction.

The court may consider a number of factors in such a determination. Purposeful acts of the defendant need not take place within the forum state, provided that those acts create a substantial relationship with the forum state. In order for personal jurisdiction to be valid, however, the state must have a suitable long arm statute and the party must be given notice.

Minimum Contacts

Asahi Metal Industry Co. v. Superior Court: Asahi Metal was a Japanese company that manufactured a defective tire valve assembly involved in a motorcycle accident in California. The company sold valve assemblies to a Taiwanese company that used them to manufacture motorcycle tires. It did not conduct business in California or ship products there. The Court held that there was no personal jurisdiction over the company – merely knowing that a product may reach a remote jurisdiction in the stream of commerce is not enough to establish minimum contacts.

Hanson v. Denckla (U.S. Supreme Court): Donner created a trust in Delaware and was a resident of Florida when she died. Two lawsuits were filed regarding the distribution of the balance of the trust fund, one in Florida and the other in Delaware. The Florida court held that the balance of the trust belonged to the estate. The Delaware court held that the Florida court did not have personal jurisdiction over the defendant, and that that court’s disposition was therefore not res judicata with respect to the Delaware proceeding, and that the trust was valid. The Supreme Court held that the Florida court did not have jurisdiction and that the Delaware judgment was valid. A party must have minimum contacts with a state that are purposeful and deliberate in order for the courts of that state to be able to exercise jurisdiction over that party.

Helicopteros Nacionales de Colombia, S.A. v. Hall (U.S. Supreme Court): Hall brought a wrongful death suit against Helicopteros in Texas state court in connection with a helicopter accident in Colombia. Defendant moved to quash service of process for lack of personal jurisdiction on the grounds that it had not had sufficient minimum contacts with the forum state. The court held in favor of defendant. In order to exercise general in personam jurisdiction over a party, the party’s contacts with the forum state must be of a “continuous and systematic” nature.

International Shoe Co. v. Washington (U.S. Supreme Court): Washington State sued for unpaid contributions to the State’s unemployment compensation fund. International Shoe alleged that the court lacked personal jurisdiction over it. The Supreme Court held that an exercise of personal jurisdiction over a party can be premised on minimum contacts with the forum state.

Shaffer v. Heitner (U.S. Supreme Court): Heitner brought a shareholder derivative suit against directors and officers of Greyhound. Heitner sought to establish quasi-in-rem jurisdiction by filing a motion for sequestration of stock owned by the defendants. Defendants challenged the court’s exercise of personal jurisdiction over them. The Court found in favor of the defendants. A court cannot obtain personal jurisdiction over a party based merely on that party’s ownership of property in the forum state. Quasi in rem jurisdiction is subject to the constitutional due process requirements of minimum contacts.

World-Wide Volkswagen Corp. v. Woodson (U.S. Supreme Court): The Robinsons brought a products liability suit against World-Wide Volkswagen, a corporation based in New York, in Oklahoma state court in connection with a car accident in Oklahoma. Defendant claimed that the Oklahoma court could not exercise personal jurisdiction over it. The Supreme Court entered judgment for defendant. The party’s contacts with the forum state must be such that maintenance of suit does not offend traditional notions of fair play and substantial justice. The relationship between the party and the forum state must be such that it is reasonable to require the party to defend the particular suit which is brought there.


Burger King Corp. v. Rudzewicz (U.S. Supreme Court): Plaintiff entered into a franchise contract that included a choice of law clause that provided that the contract was to be construed under Florida law. Plaintiff sued defendant in Florida court and the defendant challenged the court’s exercise of personal jurisdiction over him. The Court ruled in favor of Burger King and held that the court’s exercise of jurisdiction was proper in view of Florida’s long arm statute. In a jurisdictional analysis, the following factors are balanced: (1) the extent of a defendant’s purposeful interjection in the forum state; (2) the burden on the defendant in defending in the forum; (3) the extent of conflict with the sovereignty of the defendant’s state; (4) the forum state’s interest in adjudicating the dispute; (5) the most efficient judicial resolution of the controversy; (6) the importance of the forum to the plaintiff’s interest in convenient and effective relief; and (7) the existence of an alternative forum.

National Equipment Rental, Ltd. v. Szukhent (U.S. Supreme Court): Defendant leased farm equipment from plaintiff. The lease designated a third party as agent for service of process upon the defendant in New York. Plaintiff served the agent with process and defendant argued that service upon an agent designated by contract was invalid. The Court found in favor of plaintiff and held that private parties may contract to authorize a third person to serve as agent for service of process. Process will be valid provided that the agent promptly transmits notice to the defendant.

Transient or Tag Jurisdiction

Burnham v. Superior Court of California (U.S. Supreme Court): Burnham was served with divorce papers while on a trip to California for business and to see his children. Physical presence within the forum state is sufficient for an exercise of personal jurisdiction over a party, provided the party’s presence is voluntary.

Physical Presence

Harkness v. Hyde (U.S. Supreme Court): Congress passed legislation through which the Shoshone reservation was not to be included within the boundaries of the Territory of Idaho until the reservation assented to its inclusion. Harkness, a resident of the reservation, was served with process. The Court held that the service of process was invalid because it was made outside the limits of the district court’s jurisdiction.

Harris v. Balk (U.S. Supreme Court): Harris owed money to Balk, and Balk owed money to Epstein. Epstein served Harris with attachment papers while Harris was in Maryland and Harris paid Epstein the money he owed to Balk. Balk later sued Harris to recover the debt and Harris argued that the action in Maryland was a bar to recovery. The Court ruled in favor of Harris. Quasi in rem jurisdiction can be exercised upon debt and other intangible property.

Pennoyer v. Neff (U.S. Supreme Court): Mitchell won a default judgment against Neff and had Neff’s land seized for sale at a sheriff’s auction to satisfy the judgment. Title passed to Pennoyer and Neff sued Pennoyer to recover the land on the grounds that the earlier adjudication was invalid because the court lacked personal jurisdiction over him. The Court held in favor of Neff. A court may exercise personal jurisdiction over a non-resident party only if that party is personally served with process while within the state, or has property within the state, and that property is attached before litigation begins (i.e. quasi in rem jurisdiction).

State ex rel. Sivnksty v. Duffield (Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia): Sivnksty struck two children while driving in West Virginia and was placed in jail for reckless driving. While in jail he was served with process for a personal injury suit stemming from the accident. The Court held that process may be served upon a nonresident while confined to jail for a crime arising from the same acts, provided the defendant was in the jurisdiction voluntarily at the time of arrest.

Service of Process

Hanna v. Plumer (U.S. Supreme Court): Hanna was involved in an automobile accident with Osgood and sued Plumer, the executor of Osgood’s estate. Service of process would have been effective if the Massachusetts rules of civil procedure applied, but would not have been valid if the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure applied. The Supreme Court held that the Erie doctrine does not apply to rules of procedure dealing merely with procedural matters rather than matters of substantive law.

Service of Process Procured by Fraud

Tickle v. Barton (Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia): Tickle’s lawyer lured Barton into West Virginia under false pretenses in order to serve process upon him in a suit for personal injuries. The Court held that a person may not be induced by false representation to enter the jurisdiction of the court for the purpose of service of process.

Wyman v. Newhouse (2d Circuit): Wyman lured Newhouse to Florida in order to have him served with process in a suit to recover for loaned money and seduction under the promise of marriage. The Court held that a judgment against a party based on service of process that is obtained through fraud is invalid.

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