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Statutory Limits on Personal Jurisdiction


Statutory Limits on Personal Jurisdiction

The Reach and Grasp of the Long-Arm


As Chapter 1 explains, the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution imposes fundamental limitations on the power of state courts to exercise personal jurisdiction over defendants in civil suits. Under that clause states may only assert jurisdiction over defendants who have established a significant relationship to the forum state, such as domicile, in-state presence, continuous and substantial business within the state, consent to suit in that state, or minimum contacts with the state that gave rise to the claim in suit. If the defendant is not subject to personal jurisdiction within the forum state on one of these limited bases, the court will be unable to adjudicate the plaintiff’s claim.

However, even if it is constitutionally permissible for a court to exercise personal jurisdiction in a case, that court may still lack the power to call the defendant before it. The due process clause does not actually confer any jurisdiction on state courts; it only defines the outer bounds of permissible jurisdictional power. That is, it says to the state legislatures: “When you authorize your courts to exercise jurisdiction, you may not go any further than this.” It is up to the legislature of each state to actually grant the power to its courts to exercise personal jurisdiction, through jurisdictional statutes. Thus, every personal jurisdiction issue involves a two-step analysis. First, the court must ask whether there is a state statute that authorizes it to exercise personal jurisdiction under the circumstances of the case. Second, if there is, the court must ask whether it would be constitutional under the due process clause to do so.

State legislatures are free to grant their courts the power to exercise personal jurisdiction to the limits of the due process clause or to confer only part of the constitutionally permissible jurisdiction. In some states the legislature has granted the courts the full scope of personal jurisdiction permissible under the due process clause. California’s statute, for example, authorizes its courts to exercise jurisdiction “on any basis not inconsistent with the Constitution of this state or of the United States.” Cal. Civ. Proc. Code §410.10. In states with statutes like California’s, the two inquiries are collapsed into one: If the court has the constitutional power to assert jurisdiction, it automatically has the statutory power to do so as well. Visually the relationship may be (somewhat simplistically) portrayed in Figure 2-1. One advantage of such expansive provisions is that they are “self-adjusting”; that is, if the courts reinterpret the due process clause to allow the exercise of personal jurisdiction in additional circumstances, these statutes automatically authorize the courts of the state to exercise jurisdiction in such cases. See K. Beyler, The Illinois Long-Arm Statute: Background, Meaning and Needed Repairs, 12 S. Ill. L.J. 293, 319, 320 (1988).

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