Jurisdiction: Many Factors Determine Where You Can File Your Lawsuit

One of the first classes every law student takes is civil procedure.  One of the principal lessons of civil procedure is “Jurisdiction” or where suit should be filed.

General rules are you that file suit in the county where the incident occurred or in the county where the Defendant resides.  If an event occurred in one county, but a defendant resides in another county, you can sue in either county.  Simple example:  You are in Maricopa County and an accident is caused by a Maricopa County resident.  You live in Pima County.  Suit has to be brought in Maricopa County as that is the location of the accident, and the county of the defendant’s residence.

If you live in Pima County and a Maricopa county resident causes a collision, you can sue in Maricopa or Pima County.  Both jurisdictions are appropriate since the defendant “caused an event to occur” in Pima County, but resides in Maricopa County.

The language “caused an event to occur” became known as the “long arm jurisdiction” rule as the place of occurrence could “reach out with the long arm of the law” to bring a defendant to other than his home turf.  This became the rule way back in 1933 when the rules of civil procedure were being drafted.

It gets more complicated when corporations are involved.  Under “long arm jurisdiction” corporations could be sued anywhere they did business if the event complained of occurred in a State or County they did business in.  If we are talking about G.E or G.M, or Bristol-Myers, they do business in every state and in every county.  They regularly send their products there and have “minimum contacts” with the place where suit is brought.  The courts recognized that the consumer has little choice but to sue from “home.”  Corporations can defend themselves anywhere.

Well, not any longer.  The U.S Supreme Court has turned the clock back to 1932 when it comes to jurisdiction.  Three new rulings involving huge corporations (Daimler (Mercedes Benz), Bristol-Myers, and BNSF Railway) have held that if you sue a corporation, it matters not where you live or where the harm was done.  Now you have to sue the corporation in the State where they are incorporated in or in the State and County where the corporate headquarters are located or if there is a “substantial connection with the forum state to meet the minimum contacts test.”  Offering products for sale in a state is no longer sufficient. The corporation has to have some “substantial connection” with the state.  The test of what a “substantial connection” is has no definition but is based on “fair play and substantial justice.” (You have to ask, fair to whom?)

This is very bad news for persons injured by wrongdoings of corporations.  It is great news for corporations.  It will in essence stop millions of lawsuits as individual plaintiffs can’t afford to go to New York, Detroit, or Delaware to bring a lawsuit.

The pendulum has swung so far back that the clock has fallen over.  “Long Arm Jurisdiction” is essentially dead.  You have the wise jurists of the U.S. Supreme Court to thank for this.  So, the next time you don’t think a Supreme Court appointment won’t affect your life, think again.  It will.

Leighton Rockafellow Sr. won a pivotal jurisdiction case before the Supreme Court of Arizona in 1994 that expanded the “long arm jurisdiction rule” to overseas corporations who sold products in the United States but had no connection of any kind with the State of Arizona other than the fact that the product in question injured an Arizona resident.  Jurisdiction attached, and the overseas company had to defend the case in Arizona.

The latest triad of rulings from the U.S. Supreme Court has completely overruled that monumental and progressive decision that protected Arizona residents from harm.  Given the current make-up of the Court, this is only going to get worse as time goes on.  Eighty-Five years of judicial progress just disappeared in the blink of an eye.

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