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Personal Jurisdiction: The Enigma of Minimum Contacts

    SOME GUIDELINES IN APPLYING MINIMUM CONTACTS

    Several important aspects of the minimum contacts test have been settled by cases since International Shoe. First, the minimum contacts test applies to individual as well as corporate defendants. See, e.g., Kulko v. Superior Court, 436 U.S. 84 (1978). This makes good sense, since individuals benefit from their voluntary in-state contacts just as corporations do and should likewise understand that those benefits may carry with them the burden of related litigation. Second, the limitations on personal jurisdiction found in long-arm statutes are distinct from the constitutional limit imposed by the minimum contacts test. See Chapter 2, which compares these two related concepts.

    Third, it is clear that a defendant may have sufficient contacts with a state to support minimum contacts jurisdiction there even though she did not act within the state. If a defendant commits an act outside the state that she knows will cause harmful effects within the state, she may be subject to minimum contacts jurisdiction there for claims arising out of that act. In Calder v. Jones, 465 U.S. 783 (1984), for example, the defendant was held subject to personal jurisdiction in California for an allegedly defamatory article written in Florida, since the article was to be circulated in California, the plaintiff lived there, and the plaintiff’s career was centered there. Similarly, if Healy, a Minnesota lawyer, calls a Missouri client on a regular basis to give her legal advice and bills the client for that advice, Healy derives benefits from conducting activities in Missouri. Even if she has never visited Missouri, she will have to answer there for a legal malpractice claim that arises from her deliberate business activity there.

    Fourth, minimum contacts analysis focuses on the time when the defendant acted, not the time of the lawsuit. Even if Healy stopped representing her Missouri client a year before being sued and now has no contacts with Missouri, Healy is subject to jurisdiction in Missouri for claims arising from these prior contacts. Minimum contacts jurisdiction is based on the premise that parties who conduct activities in a state accept the risk that those activities will give rise to suits and understand that they may have to return to the state where the activity was conducted to defend such suits. This rationale applies whether or not the defendant is still acting in the state at the time the suit is actually filed. Compare jurisdiction based on service of process on the defendant within the state, which was reaffirmed in Burnham v. Superior Court of California, 495 U.S. 604 (1990). Jurisdiction based on in-state service only requires that the defendant be present in the state at the time that the summons and complaint are served upon her. In such cases, the defendant need not have had any contact with the state at the time of the events giving rise to the suit.

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