Introduction to Personal Jurisdiction
Learn about the requirements that must be met for a court to exercise power over a particular party.
Welcome to personal jurisdiction! A court may not hear any case it chooses. For a court to hear a case, it must have jurisdiction over the particular defendant (i.e. personal jurisdiction); jurisdiction over the type of claim on which the lawsuit is based (i.e. subject-matter jurisdiction); and the court must be geographically located in the proper place in light of where the facts of the case occurred and where the defendant resides (i.e. venue). In this tutorial, we focus on the first of these three restrictions on a court’s power to hear a case: personal jurisdiction. Without personal jurisdiction, a court will not have the power to adjudicate a plaintiff’s action against a defendant. Indeed, a defendant can move to dismiss a plaintiff’s case for lack of personal jurisdiction under Fed. R. Civ. P 12(b)(2).
Personal jurisdiction is the power of a court to exercise control over a particular person or item of property. There are three types: in personam, in rem, and quasi in rem. In personam jurisdiction involves jurisdiction over a defendant by virtue of her relationship with the forum state. In contrast, in rem and quasi in rem involve jurisdiction over a defendant because the defendant owns property in the forum state. Each of the three types of personal jurisdiction has both statutory and constitutional limitations. The constitutional limitations on personal jurisdiction originate from the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, which provides that a state "shall [not] deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law." The Supreme Court held in International Shoe Co. v. Washington, 326 U.S. 310 (1945), that, in order for a court to exercise personal jurisdiction over a defendant in a manner consistent with the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, the defendant must have minimum contacts with the forum state such that it would be fair to force the defendant to defend a lawsuit there. This standard has become known as the minimum contacts test. If a plaintiff cannot demonstrate that the minimum contacts test is satisfied, then the court may not exercise personal jurisdiction and therefore may not hear the case. Statutory limitations also apply to personal jurisdiction. A court will not be able to exercise personal jurisdiction over a defendant unless a statute exists in the forum state that explicitly authorizes the court to exercise personal jurisdiction over the particular defendant. Therefore, analyzing personal jurisdiction problems is a two-step dance. First, we ask: is there a statutory basis for personal jurisdiction in the forum state; then, we ask: would it be constitutional for the court to exercise personal jurisdiction over the defendant (or equivalently, does the defendant have minimum contacts with the forum state)?
In this tutorial, you will learn about the constitutional and statutory limitations on a court’s power to exercise personal jurisdiction over a defendant. By the end of this tutorial, you will be able to recognize when a court has personal jurisdiction and when it does not. Now that we have introduced some key concepts, let’s take a brief quiz.