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Where Can You Sue or Be Sued?

Posted by Attorney Stephen Hance | Feb 25, 2014 | 0 Comments

If someone from Texas or Florida rips you off, do you have to go down to their state to sue them? Depends on where personal jurisdiction exists.

“Jurisdiction” is a word in law that refers to the geographic area where the courts have legal authority to hear and determine a legal claim. In today's world, where it is common to do business with people from other states or even countries, the question of jurisdiction can often be critical.

Traditionally, the only courts that had personal jurisdiction over a person or company, were the courts located nearest the defendant residence. So you could only sue a Texas resident - in Texas.

Nowadays, though, through a combination of more recent laws and judicial decisions, a state may have jurisdiction over someone from another state in other circumstances as well, such as when the defendant transacts business in the forum state, commits a tort within the forum state, commits a tort that causes injury within the forum state, or owns property within the forum state. No matter what though, any exercise of personal jurisdiction must satisfy constitutional due process requirements as articulated by the United States Supreme Court.

The U.S. Supreme Court has stated that to establish personal jurisdiction, the non-resident defendant must have certain minimum contacts with [the forum state] such that the suit does not offend “traditional notions of fair play and substantial justice.” Int'l Shoe Co. v. Washington, 326 U.S. 310, 316, 66 S.Ct. 154, 158, 90 L.Ed. 95 (1945).

In determining what constitutes minimum contacts, a district court must focus on “the relationship among the defendant, the forum, and the litigation.” Calder v. Jones, 465 U.S. 783, 788, 104 S.Ct. 1482, 1486, 79 L.Ed.2d 804 (1984). “This relationship is defined by the defendant's contacts with the forum state, not with its residents.” Larson v. Dunn, 449 N.W.2d 751, 759 (Minn. App. 1990), aff'd, 460 N.W.2d 39 (Minn. 1990).

Courts may use one of two different analyses to determine whether a defendant's contacts with the forum state establish personal jurisdiction. Epps v. Stewart Info. Servs. Corp., 327 F.3d 142, 648 (8th Cir. 2003). In a general jurisdiction case, a defendant maintains such “continuous and systematic” contacts with a state that it becomes subject to the jurisdiction of that state's courts for any purpose. Morris v. Barkbuster, Inc., 923 F.2d 1277, 1281 (8th Cir. 1991). Specific jurisdiction, on the other hand, requires that the defendant has “purposely directed” its activities at residents of the forum and that the litigation results from alleged injuries that “arise out of or relate to” those activities. Wessels, Arnold & Henderson v. Nat'l Med. Waste, Inc. 65 F.3d 1427, 1431 (8th Cir. 1995).

Traditionally, personal jurisdiction issues were decided by determining where the defendant lives or conducts business, whether they own any property in the forum state, whether they specifically conducted sales or transitions there, or had employees located in the forum state. Now, with the advent of the internet, the considerations are often more tenuous.

So for example, a 2001 Minnesota Supreme Court decision upheld an Alabama decision against a Minnesota resident in a defamation case involving internet postings. There, the defendant did not live or do business in Alabama, but where the defendant knew the effects of her intentional conduct would likely be felt by the plaintiff in her forum state jurisdiction was upheld. Griffis v. Luban, 633 N.W.2d 548, 552-553 (Minn. App. 2001).

Clearly, terms like “minimum contacts”, “continuous and systematic”, and “purposefully directed” reflect some degree of subjectiveness in the personal jurisdiction issue. Moreover, each case is decided on its own unique facts. For these reasons, if you are involved in a case where jurisdiction may be an issue, you should consult a lawyer right away to make sure you carefully evaluate the issue before taking action that could result in a waiver.

Contact Hance Law Firm, centrally located in Wayzata, Minnesota and serving clients throughout Minneapolis, St. Paul and the greater Twin Cities Areas, to schedule a free consultation.

About the Author

Attorney Stephen Hance

Steve represents and advises clients that are dealing with business and real estate disputes. Steve is an investor and business owner, and his approach is unique from other attorneys.

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