SMU Law Review


The Supreme Court has returned to the issue of whether a “reasonableness” analysis or an “interstate federalism” focus underlies personal jurisdiction doctrine. It has, thus, renewed the debate regarding whether the so-called “forward-looking” or “backward-looking” face of International Shoe should control.

This Article explores two 2014 cases in which the Court took strides toward implementing a liberty interest, or reasonableness, view of personal jurisdiction. In the first case, Daimler AG v. Bauman, the Court introduced a new, narrower approach to general jurisdiction. Under Bauman’s more constrained analysis, general jurisdiction will be available primarily in an individual’s domicile and a corporation’s states of incorporation and principal place of business. It will not be available based on a defendant’s “continuous and systematic” forum contacts, absent exceptional circumstances. In dicta, the Bauman Court also suggested a correspondingly larger role for specific jurisdiction, in which a court would, first, determine if “the connection between the forum and the episode-in-suit could justify the exercise of jurisdiction,” and, if so, it would move to a second-step analysis of whether the exercise of jurisdiction is reasonable. Bauman would, thus, apply a reasonableness analysis to both general and specific jurisdiction.

In the second case, Walden v. Fiore, the Court applied a liberty interest approach, but one, it emphasized, that “principally protects the liberty of the nonresident defendant – not the convenience of the plaintiff or third parties.” The Walden Court ultimately reunited the antagonistic theories of reasonableness and protection of interstate federalism and limited the reach of specific jurisdiction on the facts of the Walden case.

The Court has entered a new era of constrained general jurisdiction. This Article concludes that the era should also be characterized by broader specific jurisdiction, and it advocates adoption of an approach similar to that suggested in dicta in Bauman. This approach would provide coherence to the Court’s personal jurisdiction doctrine and give legitimacy to its narrowing of general jurisdiction.

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