An LLM student asked a very good question after reading the International Shoe case. The case concerns when a state can assert personal jurisdiction over a defendant who resides in another state – – an out-of-state defendant.
Here is a short answer: Minimum contacts gives us the maximum range that a long arm statute can reach. But that might be confusing so let’s start with a simple story:
A teacher decides her class is so we’ll-behaved that each student can get a reward. The teacher sends a note to each child’s parent saying, “Your student may have three candies as a reward for his good behavior. I will bring in a variety of candies but no candies with peanuts. Let me know if there is a problem.”
Each parent sends a note back to the teacher. Some parents say, “Sure! Let my child have the maximum number of candies (i.e. 3).” Other parents write back saying, “My child should only have two candies.” The parents also provide specific instructions regarding the candies. “My child can have chocolate candies, however, no candies with toffee.”
In our story, no parent can allow a child to have four candies because our teacher told us that the maximum is three. Also, no parent can demand candies with peanuts because our teacher told us those are not available.
Minimum contacts = the teacher’s note
In International Shoe, the Supreme Court stated that if a state court wants to assert personal jurisdiction over an out-of-state defendant, the defendant must have enough contact with the state so that it would be fair for the court to assert jurisdiction over the defendant. More specifically, the Court said that there must be enough contact such that jurisdiction would not violate the Due Process Clause of the 14th Amendment. We call this “minimum contacts.”
Minimum contacts tells us that a state cannot assert jurisdiction over a defendant who lives in another state if personal jurisdiction would “offend due process” and our “notions of fair play.” According to the Supreme Court, If defendant David from New York has no contact with California, it would be unfair (and unconstitutional) to make David appear in court in California.
International Shoe provides us with the maximum range of a state’s long arm personal jurisdiction.
Long Arm Statutes
Long arm statutes = parents’ notes
States created statutes explaining how far they would extend personal jurisdiction over out-of-state defendants. Some states say they will extend jurisdiction as far as the Supreme Court allows. That is, as long as a defendant has minimum contacts with the state such that it would be fair – – the maximum range allowed – – the state will assert personal jurisdiction.
Some states do not go as far as the Supreme Court allows, Their long-arm statutes do not reach as far as other states’ long arm statutes. That’s not a problem. Just as a parent in our story could choose to allow her child to have fewer than three candies.
In their long arm statutes states also define more specifically what type of behavior will enable the states to assert jurisdiction over an out of state defendant. For example, a state might provide that if a defendant signs a contract to perform work within the state, then the state may assert personal jurisdiction over the defendant.
However, no state can assert personal jurisdiction if the defendant lacks minimum contacts – – if jurisdiction would violate due process.
Remember how parents in our story could tell the teacher that the (i) child could have fewer than three candies and (ii) only eat certain types of candies? That was fine. However, no parent could authorize the child to have more candies than authorized by the teacher. And no parent could demand peanut candies because the teacher prohibited those.
Similarly, International Shoe tells us how far a long arm statute can reach. If a state asserts personal jurisdiction over a defendant and a court decides that there were no minimum contacts between the defendant and the state, then the defendant must be dismissed from the case.