Cheat Sheet: Long Arms in Federal Court | I. Glenn Cohen | June 07, 2013


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Cheat Sheet: Long Arms in Federal Court


Just as in state court, there are both constitutional and statutory constraints on who may be subject to jurisdiction in federal court.

Constitutional Limits

In federal court, the Fifth Amendment—rather than the Fourteenth—provides the constitutional limits on personal jurisdiction.

Minimum Contacts Analysis

The prevailing view appears to be that a party need only have minimum contacts with the United States as a whole to be subject to personal jurisdiction under the Fifth Amendment.  As Justice Stewart explained:

[D]ue process requires only certain minimum contacts between the defendant and the sovereign that has created the court.  The issue is not whether it is unfair to require a defendant to assume the burden of litigating in an inconvenient forum, but rather whether the court of a particular sovereign has power to exercise personal jurisdiction over a named defendant.  The cases before us involve suits against residents of the United States in the courts of the United States.  No due process problem exists.

Stafford v. Briggs, 444 U.S. 527, 554 (1980) (Stewart, J., dissenting) (citation omitted); accord, e.g., Cent. States, Se. & Sw. Areas Pension Fund v. Reimer Express World Corp., 230 F.3d 934, 946 n.10 (7th Cir. 2000).

Fairness Considerations

Courts are divided as to whether to consider any additional “fairness” factors in evaluating personal jurisdiction under the Fifth Amendment.  Under the majority approach, a court ends it inquiry once it determines that the defendant has minimum contacts with the United States as a whole.  At least some courts, however, have endorsed the view that the convenience of litigating in the forum state plays a role.  For example, in Oxford First Corp. v. PNC Liquidating Corp., 372 F. Supp. 191 (E.D. Pa. 1974), the court examined:

  • the extent of the defendants contracts with the place where the action was brought;
  • the inconvenience to the defendant of having to defend in a jurisdiction other than that of his residence or place of business;
  • judicial economy;
  • the probable location of discovery and the extent to which the discovery proceedings would otherwise take place outside the state of defendant’s residence or place of business; and
  • the nature of the defendant’s regulated activity in question and the extent of impact that defendant’s activities have beyond the borders of his state of residence or business.

Id. at 203–04; see also Republic of Panama v. BCCI Holdings (Lux.) S.A., 119 F.3d 935, 945 (11th Cir. 1997) (We discern no reason why these constitutional notions of fairness’ and ‘reasonableness’ should be discarded completely when jurisdiction is asserted under a federal statute rather than a state long-arm statute.” (citation omitted)); Peay v. BellSouth Med. Assistance Plan, 205 F.3d 1206, 1212 (10th Cir. 2000) (same).

Statutory Limits

Strictly speaking, Rule 4 governs service of process.  With the exception of two subsections, “Rule 4 does not deal directly” with personal jurisdiction.  4 Charles Alan Wright & Arthur R. Miller, Federal Practice and Procedure § 1063 (3d ed. 2013).  Rather, “[t]he court's jurisdictional power comes from the legal sources that are incorporated by reference in Rule 4.”  Id.

That said, Rule 4 is commonly viewed as the “statutory” basis for personal jurisdiction in federal courts.  There are four relevant provisions: the general rule and three specific departures.

Rule 4(k)(1)(A).  The General Rule.  Under this rule, the federal district court will “pretend” that it is a state court of the state in which it is located for both the statutory and constitutional analysis.  It will use the long-arm statute of the forum state.

Rule 4(k)(1)(B).  Departure #1: The Bulge Rule.  Under this rule, the court may assert personal jurisdiction over a party joined under Rule 14 or Rule 19 (more on this later) if the party is served in the United States within 100 miles of the court seeking to assert jurisdiction.

Rule 4(k)(1)(C).  Departure #2: Congressional Statute.  Sometimes Congress authorizes a particular type of service by statute (e.g., the Anti-Terrorism Act and the RICO Act authorize nationwide service of process).

Rule 4(k)(2).  Departure #3: By Necessity.  When the case is a federal question case, and no state court would have jurisdiction, and jurisdiction does not violate the Constitution, a federal district court may assert personal jurisdiction.


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August 22, 2013

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