Walden v. Fiore | I. Glenn Cohen | November 19, 2013

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Walden v. Fiore

Walden v. Fiore, 134 S.Ct. 1115 (2014)

 In 2014, the Supreme Court decided Walden v. Fiore, which addressed Calder's second prong for finding minimum contacts, whether the act was aimed at the forum state. 

Summary of Facts and Procedural HistoryPlaintiffs are professional gamblers from Las Vegas. On a return trip from a gambling trip to Puerto Rico, they had $97,000 in cash on them. When the Plaintiffs changed planes in Atlanta, they were met Atlanta police who worked with the DEA. After a drug-sniffing dog reacted positively to one of their carry-ons, the Plaintiffs were told that law enforcement officials would seize their carry-on bags and allow them to proceed to the flight without their things. The agents told them that if they eventually provided sufficient paperwork to establish that their funds were legitimate, the money would be returned to them.

Once in Nevada, Plaintiffs sent appropriate paperwork documenting their winnings, itinerary, and their status as professional gamblers. Instead of returning the funds, however, the agents allegedly filed a false affidavit with the U.S. Attorney in Atlanta in an effort to provide probable cause for the government to seize the funds and initiate a forfeiture action against the Plaintiffs. The Atlanta Assistant U.S. Attorney concluded that there was no basis for a forfeiture action and that the funds should be returned to them. Nearly seven months later, the funds were sent back to them.

Plaintiffs sued the agents in federal district court in Nevada. A federal district judge in Nevada dismissed the lawsuit on the ground that there was no personal jurisdiction, finding that the seizure of funds and search of bags took place in and was aimed at Georgia, and that these details deprived the Nevada court of personal jurisdiction.

Plaintiffs appealed to the Ninth Circuit, which applied Calder’s three-part test. The court found that that (1) the agent’s intentional act was submitting an allegedly false affidavit. (2), the act was clearly targeted outside Georgia because the agent knew that Plaintiffs were merely changing planes and they told him that they resided in Nevada. Moreover, Plaintiffs sent the agent documentation from Nevada before he filed his affidavit. Finally, (3) the harm would occur in Nevada because the agent knew that was where the Plaintiffs were being deprived of the funds. Thus, the Ninth Circuit concluded that the plaintiffs had "expressly aimed" the false assertions in the affidavit at plaintiffs, knowing of their "significant connection" to Nevada.

(adapted from Stephen Wermiel, SCOTUS for law students (sponsored by Bloomberg Law): Gambling on personal jurisdictionSCOTUSblog (Nov. 1, 2013, 11:41 AM))

Rule. The Supreme Court unanimously reversed. Justice Thomas, writing for the Court, presented two grounds for the reversal:

1. First, the relationship [between the Defendant and the forum state] must arise out of contacts that the “defendant himself ” creates with the forum State. Burger King Corp. v. Rudzewicz, 471 U.S. 462, 475 (1985). . . . We have consistently rejected attempts to satisfy the defendant-focused “minimum contacts” inquiry by demonstrating contacts between the plaintiff (or third parties) and the forum State. See Helicopteros Nacionales de Colombia, S.A. v. Hall, 466 U.S. 408 (1984) (“[The] unilateral activity of another party or a third person is not an appropriate consideration when determining whether a defendant has sufficient contacts with a forum State to justify an assertion of jurisdiction”).

2. Second, our “minimum contacts” analysis looks to the defendant's contacts with the forum State itself, not the defendant's contacts with persons who reside there. See, e.g., International Shoe, supra, at 319 . . . ; Hanson, supra, at 251 . . . .

Accordingly, we have upheld the assertion of jurisdiction over defendants who have purposefully “reach[ed] out beyond” their State and into another by, for example, entering a contractual relationship that “envisioned continuing and wide-reaching contacts” in the forum State, or by circulating magazines to “deliberately exploi[t]” a market in the forum State.

And although physical presence in the forum is not a prerequisite to jurisdiction, physical entry into the State—either by the defendant in person or through an agent, goods, mail, or some other means—is certainly a relevant contact. See, e.g., Keeton, supra, at 773–774, 104 S.Ct. 1473. . . .

To be sure, a defendant's contacts with the forum State may be intertwined with his transactions or interactions with the plaintiff or other parties. But a defendant's relationship with a plaintiff or third party, standing alone, is an insufficient basis for jurisdiction. . . . Due process requires that a defendant be haled into court in a forum State based on his own affiliation with the State, not based on the “random, fortuitous, or attenuated” contacts he makes by interacting with other persons affiliated with the State. . . .

Holding. Applying the foregoing principles, we conclude that petitioner lacks the “minimal contacts” with Nevada that are a prerequisite to the exercise of jurisdiction over him. It is undisputed that no part of petitioner's course of conduct occurred in Nevada. Petitioner approached, questioned, and searched respondents, and seized the cash at issue, in the Atlanta airport. It is alleged that petitioner later helped draft a “false probable cause affidavit” in Georgia and forwarded that affidavit to a United States Attorney's Office in Georgia to support a potential action for forfeiture of the seized funds. Petitioner never traveled to, conducted activities within, contacted anyone in, or sent anything or anyone to Nevada. In short, when viewed through the proper lens—whether the defendant's actions connect him to the forum [not whether it connected him to the Plaintiffs]—petitioner formed no jurisdictionally relevant contacts with Nevada. 

Walden v. Fiore, 134 S. Ct. 1115, 1122-24 (2014) (some citations omitted and emphasis added).

The court was careful, though, to emphasize that this was not an internet jurisdiction case, writing:

In any event, this case does not present the very different questions whether and how a defendant's virtual "presence" and conduct translate into "contacts" with a particular State. To the contrary, there is no question where the conduct giving rise to this litigation took place: Petitioner seized physical cash from respondents in the Atlanta airport, and he later drafted and forwarded an affidavit in Georgia. We leave questions about virtual contacts for another day.

Id. at n.9.

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