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Adjudicative Power: Personal Jurisdiction

Imagine that you were whiling away some free time one Saturday afternoon this semester surfing the Internet on your home computer. During your cyberspace travels, you happened upon an interesting web site that offered you the opportunity to obtain a free, fully functional version of a well known financial planning and check writing program. You were not required to fill out any annoying application form or in any way to identify yourself or your location in order to obtain the file. You simply had to click an icon on the screen and the sponsor of the web site would automatically deliver a file to your computer containing this financial program. You decided to take advantage of the offer and downloaded the program onto the hard drive of your computer. For several days thereafter, you utilized the program without incident until you discovered that the program contained a “virus” that wiped out all of the data contained on the hard drive of your computer, including all of your confidential financial information, irretrievable personal and business correspondence, as well as the class notes, case briefs, and outlines from all of your current law school classes.

Assume further that you decided to file suit against both the web site sponsor and the software manufacturer instead of seeking redress through some non-litigative mechanism such as arbitration or mediation. Where would you like to file the suit? Do you have any reason to believe that there is or should be any limit on the courts in which you could pursue this action? For example, could you bring suit in a federal and/or a state court? And within either of these judicial systems, would any court be at your disposal or would (should) there be additional limits on forum availability? Intuitively, you sense that you are not likely to be able to proceed with this action in a traffic court, a bankruptcy court, or a juvenile court. But why is that intuition correct? What does this suggest about the extent of a court’s adjudicative power other than that it is limited in some way?

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