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. The student wanted to know whether minimum contacts and long-arm statutes are different. They are related but different.
Here is a short answer: In a civil litigation, a court in one state can assert personal jurisdiction over a defendant who resides in another state if the out-of-state defendant has sufficient minimum contacts with the state in which the court is located (the forum state). A court in California can assert personal jurisdiction over a defendant who lives in New York, so long as the defendant’s contacts with California make it fair for the California court to force him to appear in court.
Long-arm statutes tell us the maximum range that courts in a forum state will reach to assert jurisdiction over an out-of state defendant. But that might be confusing so let’s start with a simple story:
A teacher decides her class is so well-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 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.”
The defendant does not have to live in the state where he is being sued, but he must have enough contacts – – minimum contacts – – such that it would be fair for the court to assert personal jurisdiction over him.
Minimum contacts tells us that a court in one 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 personal jurisdiction. And that maximum range is as far as the 14th Amendment’s Due Process Clause will allow. Yes, a court in one state can assert personal jurisdiction over a defendant from another state. But not if asserting personal jurisdiction would be so unfair as to violate the Constitution.
Long Arm Statutes
Long arm statutes = parents’ notes
After International Shoe, states created statutes explaining how far they would extend personal jurisdiction over out-of-state defendants. Some states decided 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 over the out-of-state defendant.
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 may 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 will 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, or that for another reason it would be unfair to force the defendant to appear in the forum state’s court, then the defendant can successfully move the Court to dismiss him from the case.
Comparing Long Arm Statutes
Courts in one state cannot assert personal jurisdiction over defendants beyond their borders in another state if it would violate due process or fair play. Without minimum contacts, there can be no personal jurisdiction over out of state defendants.
In a long-arm statute the state defines how far it will extend personal jurisdiction over out of state defendants. If a state wants to extend long-arm personal jurisdiction to the maximum extent allowed by the Constitution, the statute will read something like: “A court in this state may assert jurisdiction over any defendant so long as jurisdiction is consistent with the Constitution of the United States.” In the picture to the right, State 1’s long-arm statute reaches the maximum extent that the Constitution’s Due Process Clause allows.
However, many states have narrower long-arm statutes that may not reach as far as the maximum allowed. For example, let’s say State 2’s long-arm statute reads, “A court in this State may assert personal jurisdiction over any defendant who commits a tortious act within this State”. State 2’s long-arm statute as written does not extend as far as the Constitution might allow it to reach.