Introduction to Personal Jurisdiction Cheat Sheet

Personal jurisdiction (“PJ”), like venue and SMJ can be thought of as playing two roles in our course. First, their absence (lack of SMJ, lack of PJ, lack of Venue) can be thought of as defenses a defendant might assert to an action to get it thrown out, for example as FRCP 12(b)(1)-(3) defenses. The second perspective is that they tell you, as a Pl’s lawyer, which court you can file your case in. Remember our discussion of the three rings of jurisdiction. Think of our inquiry as narrowing the courts that can hear a case down. SMJ tells us which system, federal or state, can hear the case – only that with SMJ over the case or controversy. Personal jurisdiction will tell us the courts of which state within a system, can hear a case – only those with personal jurisdiction over the defendant (we don’t care about the Pl, she can take care of herself by deciding where to bring the action). Venue will tell us which court within a state.

As with SMJ, there is both a constitutional power (this time the Constitution, in the form of the Due Process Clause of the 5th and 14th amendments, acts as a limiting principle over the court in which state can assert jurisdiction over the defendant) and a statutory grant (here it is in the form of state long-arm statutes, or FRCP 4(k) in the federal system). We also have variability between the states as we will see. Some “long arm” statutes go to the constitutional limits, other states have chosen to have more limited statutes. It is also possible that a state’s long-arm statute purports to reach a case beyond the constitutional limit, you need to watch out for this. When the two conflict, the constitution wins, because of the Supremacy Clause.

We will start with what are known as traditional bases of jurisdiction. For these it is understood that the state has personal jurisdiction in these cases. It is also understood that the assertion of jurisdiction here will satisfy Due Process. So if a traditional basis of jurisdiction applies it is easy.

All this yields a general three-part approach to these kinds of questions on an exam and in real life: (1) Does a traditional basis of jurisdiction apply? If yes, you are done, there is personal jurisdiction. (2) If no, does the state’s long arm statute purport to reach the defendant in this case? If no, you are done, there is NO personal jurisdiction. (3) If the long arm does apply, is the assertion of personal jurisdiction constitutional in that case?

When discussing the constitutional limits (i.e., question 3), we will divide matters between “general” and “specific” personal jurisdiction. “Specific” is when the court has personal jurisdiction over the defendant connected to its in-state activities that form the basis for the claim. “General”, which is rare, and almost always for corporations, is when the defendants’ contacts with the state are so pervasive that it has jurisdiction over the defendant in an all-purpose sort of way. We’ll talk more about this later.

In Personam, In Rem, Quasi In Rem

We’ll spend 95% of our time discussing PJ, talking about jurisdiction over the person, known as in personam jurisdiction. At the very end we’ll divert our attention to jurisdiction over property, known as in rem and quasi in rem. That said, it is useful for you to understand what these are because it helps in understanding Pennoyer v. Neff:

In Personam Jurisdiction: This is jurisdiction over the person. In the old days, the idea was that we sort of seize the person by serving them process. Suppose I sue you for contract breach and win and get judgment of $100,000. That is an in personam case. In Personam cases create obligations under the full faith and credit clause, Article IV § 1 of the Constitution. Even if the breach of contract action is adjudicated in Mass, I can seek to enforce the judgment against you, living in Kansas. So where possible, as a Pl, you want to get in personam jurisdiction over the Def.

But you can’t always get in personam jurisdiction (for example, the long arm statute might not let you), so sometimes you have to settle for 2nd best – in rem or quasi in rem jurisdiction. This is jurisdiction over the “res”, the property (can be something other than real property). So suppose you have property in my state but I can’t get in personam jurisdiction over your person, I can begin the suit in rem by suing your property, a legal fiction. This kind of jurisdiction comes in two flavors:

In Rem jurisdiction: very rare, always disputes about the ownership of a particular property, and purports to resolve the legal question against any possible owner in existence. E.g., seizure of a ship in admiralty law. Court seizes the ship (sheriff basically posts a sign on property giving notice it is under the court’s authority) and adjudicates ownership for all actors. You know it is an In Rem case because the res is actually named in the caption in the case. So “In Re 45 Hectares of Land.”

Quasi In Rem cases: two sub-types: (a) Cases just like the in rem case, about ownership or title to property, but these do not purport to determine ownership as to any possible person. (b) Cases that are not about ownership of the property, it is clear that defendant owns it. Rather this is a case that is really an in personam case in disguise. If I could get in personam jurisdiction over you, I would, but I can’t, so instead I am going to get at you through your property. It is kind of metaphysical but the idea is that you are your property.

There are two disadvantages to In Rem and Quasi In Rem personal jurisdiction as opposed to getting PJ in personam. (1) Cases that are In Rem and Quasi in Rem do not get full faith and credit. That means courts in other states are not required to enforce a judgment based on the decision in a case where this is the basis of jurisdiction. (2) The extent of the court’s power extends only so far as the rem. So, suppose I sue Dorothy in Kansas for throwing water at me claiming it was a battery (tort) and sue for $500,000. If the basis of PJ is quasi-in-rem, and I am using Dorothy’s farm house as the property standing in for her, I can only enforce the judgment as against the farmhouse in Kansas, not as against other property she might have. That means if the farmhouse is only worth $100,000, I am out of luck for the rest of the money. The extent of the court’s power is limited by what it has jurisdiction over.

Our Plan of Attack

Here is our plan of attack for this section of the course.

(1) We’ll start by discussing the traditional bases of jurisdiction using Pennoyer v. Neff and Hess v. Pawloski.

They are:

(i) Presence

(ii) Domicile

(iii) Agency

(iv) Consent (express or implied).

We’ll then have a brief introduction to the modern idea of constitutional limits through International Shoe.

We’ll then turn to the above-mentioned state long arm statutes, and see what they are and how they work.

Next we’ll discuss the constitutional limits for in personam jurisdiction in more depth. First discussing the less common “general” in personam jurisdiction (through Goodyear) and then the more common “specific” in personam jurisdiction

I’ll give you some reading on how PJ works for in rem and quasi in rem jurisdiction (Shaffer).

We will briefly discuss some differences as to the way PJ and in particular long arms work in federal versus state courts.

Finally, we’ll look at the difficulties courts have had in trying to apply PJ in the internet age. 



  • What the hell happened in Pennoyer v. Neff, S. Ct. 1877?

Understanding the very complicated facts of Pennoyer is not essential. I did not understand it until years after I took Civ Pro. I will explain the take-aways for you in class. Still, it would be nice to understand it nonetheless, so here is what happened.

Facts: Mitchell is the plaintiff in this case. Who was Mitchell? Mitchell was Neff’s lawyer. Mitchell wants to be paid and to recover his lawyer’s fees. Mitchell sues Neff in State Court of Oregon in a contract case around 1866.

This is:

(1) Mitchell v. Neff, Oregon State Court, for Breach of Contract (relating to Attorney’s Fees)

Neff was not a citizen/resident of Oregon, nor was Neff present in Oregon at the time. He was instead living in California at the time. Mitchell does not serve him personally. Instead he does a constructive service by publication, which an Oregon statute lets him do. Neff does not show up to court, and a default judgment against him is entered for $300. So our first action ends with a win for Mitchell, and a Default against Neff.

What happens when you don’t pay what is owed? Same thing then as now, state can seize your property and sell it and use the proceeds to satisfy the judgment against you. The sheriff auctions off Neff’s tract of land in Oregon to satisfy the judgment Mitchell has against him, and who buys the land? Mitchell does! Mitchell buys the land for around $300, the same price as what is owed to him; apparently he was the only bidder at the auction. So he walks away with the land and has to pay nothing for it. Mitchell then goes ahead and sells the land 3 days later at a huge profit ito Pennoyer. Pennoyer lives on the land and improves it for a few years.

Several years later (the case ends up in S. Ct. in 1877) Neff comes back in the picture and is shocked to find Pennoyer living on his land. Neff sues Pennoyer in federal court to recover the land (the basis of SMJ is diversity). This action is:

(2) Neff v. Pennoyer, Federal Court, to recover the land.

Neff says, hey I have this original deed to the land in question I got the Oregon Donation Law, and says the sheriff’s deed (based on the default judgment against him in (1) above) purporting to transfer it to Mitchell was void, on the theory that if the deed transferring it to Mitchell is void, so is the later deed transferring that to Pennoyer. Whether the transfer of the deed was void in turn depends on whether the default judgment was itself valid in the Mitchell v. Neff suit. So this case is really about suit (1), since whether what happened in suit (1) was kosher will determine whether what should happen in suit (2).

The Circuit court agrees with Neff (this is actually the trial court, back then called “circuit courts”). The default judgment which started the ball rolling was problematic, because there were defects in the publication notice. The defect was that Oregon notice by publication law required a sworn statement (affidavit) by Mitchell, but it was inadequate.

Cert to U.S. S. Ct.

Holding: S Ct affirms for a TOTALLY different reason, as it is allowed to do (the rule, which I used often as a DOJ lawyer and a clerk is you can “affirm on any ground in the record”).

It says that the defects in affidavit of publication can only be challenged on direct appeal (i.e., appealing the (1) Mitchell v. Neff contract case) not “collaterally” through his action for ownership of the land. Instead they affirm on the basis that there was no personal jurisdiction in action (1).

The Actual holding is very narrow. The Mitchell v. Neff action is a quasi-in-rem action, and the court holds that in such an action the property has to be grabbed to begin with, since it is the basis for the jurisdiction. “The validity of every judgment depends on the jurisdiction of the court before it was rendered, not upon what may occur subsequently.”

Then there is a long discussion of the 14th Amendment and in personam jurisdiction which we will discuss in class.