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Personal Jurisdiction

Personal jurisdiction means does a court have power over a particular defendant? Personal jurisdiction is usually not an issue where both the plaintiff and defendant reside in the same state. The problem becomes trickier, however, if the plaintiff and defendant are from different states. Is it reasonable to require a defendant to travel thousands of miles to defend a frivolous lawsuit in the plaintiff’s backyard? Conversely, is it reasonable for a defendant to rip-off people in another state, knowing that the plaintiff will not spend the money to travel to the defendant’s state to file a lawsuit? The law of personal jurisdiction addresses these issues.

A plaintiff can demonstrate personal jurisdiction in several ways. The plaintiff can physically serve the defendant with the lawsuit within the subject jurisdiction. The defendant can also “consent” to personal jurisdiction by: 1) answering the lawsuit (general appearance); 2) being incorporated or having a designated agent for receipt of service, in the subject state; 3) being a resident or being domiciled within the subject state; 4) agreeing to the subject jurisdiction in a written contract.

It is very important to examine the question of personal jurisdiction before doing anything else. Filing a lawsuit as the plaintiff, or answering one as the defendant may waive any claim you might have had that personal matter jurisdiction is not appropriate in your particular case. The first thing to do is to look at the law of the state in questions. These laws are called “Long Arm Statutes” and list the types of cases the state’s courts will allow a plaintiff to obtain personal jurisdiction over a defendant. Whether a state has a long arm statute or not, the plaintiff must demonstrate the non-consenting defendant has sufficient minimum contacts to comport with constitutional due process.

Once a plaintiff demonstrates sufficient minimum contacts, the plaintiff must prove that the defendant’s conduct and connection with a state are such that the defendant should have reasonably anticipated being haled into court in that state. The critical element is forseeability. Given defendant’s activities, would a finding of personal jurisdiction over defendant offend traditional notions of fairplay and justice. Should the defendant have objectively foreseen being haled into court in that state? The defendant’s subjective feelings are not at issue.

The question is “what would a typical person in defendant’s position have foreseen?” If a reasonable person in defendant’s position should have anticipated that its activities would give rise to a lawsuit in a particular state, then personal jurisdiction is likely proper.

Brett Trout

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