I have been following two U.S. Supreme Court cases, since they are tangentially related to a project of mine. Earlier blogging is here.
Both these cases have made it up to the Supreme Court because they involve jurisdiction over a foreign (non U.S.) defendant under a “stream of commerce” theory. In J. McIntyre v. Nicastro, a piece of manufacturing equipment sliced off fingers from a worker who was operating the machinery in New Jersey. The equipment manufacturer was in England, and the question was whether New Jersey was the appropriate place for the tort to be brought. (Could the manufacturer have foreseen that its equipment would be used in New Jersey and that there was some likelihood they would be haled into court there?)
The other case involves Goodyear Tires that were allegedly defective. Goodyear is an American-based company, but the tires were made in Turkey (I think) and distributed in France by Goodyear Luxembourg, S.A. An accident in France killed two teenage boys from North Carolina, and their estates (their parents who survived them) brought suit in North Carolina. The argument was that Goodyear sells tires in North Carolina, and so it should not matter that the defective tires weren’t made in North Carolina, nor necessarily intended to be sold in North Carolina.
What is noteworthy is that both these cases come from state supreme courts–not federal. So the justices, in earlier oral argument, focused a bit on what power a state might have, under the various long-arm theories, to hale someone from outside their state into the state’s court system.
The point that most interests me are the Washington Shoe “minimum contacts”. While the cases do not go to minimum contacts as a foundation of modern jurisdiction–and nobody expects a rewrite of the law tomorrow–the cases will probably clarify what minimum contacts are necessary in stream of commerce jurisdiction.
If either original plaintiff loses, I suspect what the court is going to say is that state courts were not open to the international element of the suit, but that federal court is. Therefore, some rule to the effect that if a foreign party (including the foreign affiliate of a U.S. company) could be expected to be sued in any American jurisdiction, then federal jurisdiction is appropriate in the stream of commerce-type case.
I am not a scholar of the court by any means, but from reading the oral argument and the background about the cases, it seems like this is the direction that the court is going to go.
[Update: The Goodyear opinion is here. Unanimous reversal. The Court pointed out that the respondents (the parents) did not raise the unitary enterprise theory of jurisdiction in the lower court, and so the Supreme Court did not address it.
The McIntyre opinion is here. It is 6-3, reversing the New Jersey Supreme Court; but only four justices signed on to the main opinion, so it is a plurality case. (Meaning, it does not put forth a new rule, binding on the lower courts.)
The plurality opinion does mention what I had suggested in my blog post, above. This is, where state jurisdiction may not be present under an International Shoe analysis, federal jurisdiction in the territory of the same state may be present. This is noted in the opinion as an aside, and the dissent also says just a few things about the notion.]