The United States Supreme Court in an unanimous decision addressed the minimum contacts necessary to create specific (or case-linked) jurisdiction over a non-resident defendant by the state. Walden v. Fiore, 571 U.S. ____(February 25, 2014). Specific jurisdiction depends on an “affiliation between the forum and the underlying controversy” (i.e. an “activity or occurrence that takes place in the forum state and is therefore subject to the State’s regulation”). Walden v. Fiore, 571 U.S. ___, citing, Goodyear Dunlop Tires Operations, S.A. v. Brown, 564 U.S. ___, ___ (2011) (slip op., at 2). While the facts of Walden are unusual, the Supreme Court provides a detailed analysis of the what should be considered for a state to exercise specific jurisdiction consistent with due process.
Now a thumbnail of the facts. Walden, a police officer working as a DEA agent, searched Gina Fiore and her friend at the San Juan airport and found $97,000 allegedly won at a San Juan Casino. Fiore claimed she was a professional gambler and had residences in Nevada and California. Walden called ahead to the Atlanta airport and when Fiore and her friend landed they were again questioned and the money seized. After the fact, Walden helped draft a probable cause affidavit to justify the forfeiture of the money and forwarded the affidavit to the United States Attorney’s office. Fiore and her friend alleged that the affidavit was false and omitted a number of facts. Ultimately, no forfeiture action was filed and the funds were eventually returned to Fiore and her friend. Fiore then filed suit seeking monetary damages in the U.S. District Court in Nevada for the tortious actions of Walden and the other agents. The basis for jurisdiction was that Walden caused harm to Fiore in Nevada knowing that Fiore lived in Nevada.
The District Court dismissed the lawsuit for lack of jurisdiction based on the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Calder v. Jones, 465 U.S. 783 (1984). On appeal, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit reversed and held that while the seizure portion of the facts did not confer jurisdiction, the District Court could exercise jurisdiction based on the filing of the false probable cause affidavit aspect of the case. The Ninth Circuit reasoned that Walden expressly aimed his submission of the false affidavit with knowledge that it would affect persons with a “significant connection” to Nevada. Further, the delay in returning the funds caused foreseeable harm and the exercise of personal jurisdiction was otherwise reasonable. Walden v. Fiore, 571 U.S. ___(2014), citing, Fiore v. Walden, 688 F.3d 558, 577, 582, 585 (9th Cir. 2011). From these facts, and the apparent expansion of personal jurisdiction by the Ninth Circuit, the U.S. Supreme Court granted certiorari.
In reversing the Ninth Circuit, the U.S. Supreme Court (opinion by Justice Thomas) held that a defendant’s suit-related conduct must create a substantial connection with the forum state. First, the relationship must arise out of contacts that the defendant himself created within the forum state. Walden v. Fiore, 571 U.S. ___(2014), citing, Burger King Corp. v. Rudzewicz, 471 U.S. 462, 475 (1985). Justice Thomas further opined that “Due process limits on state adjudicative authority principally protect the liberty of the nonresident defendant-not the convenience of the plaintiffs or third parties.” The opinion also reiterated the Supreme Court’s repeated rejection of attempts to satisfy defendant’s “minimum contacts” inquiry by demonstrating contacts between the plaintiff (or third parties) and the forum state. Reciting a litany of prior U.S. Supreme Court decisions dealing with specific jurisdiction, Justice Thomas bluntly stated that “Put simply, however significant the plaintiff’s contacts with the forum may be, these contacts cannot be decisive in determining whether the defendant’s due process rights are violated. Walden v. Fiore, 571 U.S. ___(2014).
Justice Thomas also set out a second consideration. The minimum contacts analysis must look to defendant’s contacts with the forum state itself, not the defendant’s contacts with persons who reside there. While acknowledging that physical entry into the state is a relevant contact, it is not a prerequisite to jurisdiction. However, the plaintiff cannot be the only link between the defendant and the forum. It is the defendant’s conduct that must form the necessary connection with the forum state that is the basis for jurisdiction over the defendant. Citing to International Shoe, Justice Thomas held that the requirement must be met for each defendant over whom a state exercises jurisdiction. Due process requires that a defendant be haled into court based on his own affiliation with the state and not “random, fortuitous or attenuated contacts” he makes by interacting with others affiliated with the state. Moreover, these same principles apply when intentional torts are involved. A forum state’s exercise over an intentional tortfeasor must be based on intentional conduct by the defendant that creates the necessary contacts with the forum. The minimum contacts inquiry in intentional tort cases is the “relationship among the defendant, the forum and the litigation.” It is the defendant and not the plaintiff or third parties who must create contacts with the forum state. The fact that Walden’s conduct in Georgia affected Fiore with connections to the forum state was not sufficient to confer jurisdiction. Walden v. Fiore, 571 U.S. ___(2014).
The Supreme Court’s opinion provides good guidance on what to look at when challenging specific jurisdiction and should be reviewed, if for nothing else, the detailed listing of cases cited to support the opinion and its holding. The opinions in this blog are solely the author’s and any comments, suggestions and replies can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.