McIntyre Machinery, Ltd. v. Nicastro, 131 S.Ct. 2789 (2011), the Supreme Court held that the state of New Jersey did not have personal jurisdiction over a foreign manufacturer where the manufacturer did not engage in conduct purposefully directed at New Jersey.  In a four-justice plurality opinion written by Justice Kennedy, the Court declined to find personal jurisdiction over British manufacturer J. McIntyre Machinery based solely on the foreseeability of its products entering into New Jersey.  Justice Breyer, joined by Justice Alito, concurred in the result, but declined to fashion any broad jurisdictional rules based upon the facts before the Court.  Three (3) justices, led by Justice Ginsburg, dissented.  While the Court failed to reach a five-justice majority that would have definitively cleared up the ambiguity left by the plurality opinions of Justices O’Connor and Brennan in Asahi Metal Industry Co. v. Superior Court of California, Solano County, 480 U.S. 102 (1987), six (6) justices declined to find personal jurisdiction over the British manufacturer based on “foreseeability” alone.  In so doing, the Court may have implicitly rejected Justice Brennan’s “foreseeability” test in Asahi, preferring Justice O’Connor’s “stream of commerce plus” test.

In McIntyre, Robert Nicastro (“Respondent”) injured his hand while using a metal shearer made by the British manufacturer J. McIntyre Machinery (“Petitioner”).  Respondent filed a products liability suit in New Jersey.  Though Petitioner was a foreign manufacturer, Respondent argued that New Jersey had personal jurisdiction over Petitioner because it sold its goods to a United States distributor, attended trade shows in the United States, and four of Petitioner’s machines ended up in New Jersey.  Petitioner moved to dismiss, arguing that the state of New Jersey did not have personal jurisdiction.  The New Jersey Supreme Court found that the state did have personal jurisdiction over Petitioner because the manufacturer knew or reasonably should have known that its products were distributed through a nationwide distribution system.  The manufacturer petitioned for certiorari, which the Supreme Court granted.

In a four-justice plurality opinion, Justice Kennedy held that New Jersey did not have personal jurisdiction over Petitioner because it did not engage in conduct purposefully directed at New Jersey.  Justice Kennedy found that a state only has personal jurisdiction over a party where that party’s activities “manifest an intention to submit to the power of a sovereign.”  McIntyre, 131 S.Ct. at 2788.  The plurality explained that a party demonstrates an intention to submit to the power of a sovereign by purposefully directing its actions at the forum market.   In this case, Petitioner demonstrated no just purposeful intention to sell its products in New Jersey.  Therefore, the state did not have personal jurisdiction over Petitioner.  The plurality’s decision embraced Justice O’Connor’s plurality opinion in Asahi, which provided that a state only has personal jurisdiction over a party where the party both placed its product in the stream of commerce and indicated an intent or purpose to serve the forum market.  Asahi, 480 U.S. at 112.  Conversely, the Kennedy plurality rejected Justice Brennan’s plurality opinion in Asahi, which found that a state had personal jurisdiction over a foreign party where the party’s product could have forseeably reached the forum market.  Id. at 104. 

Justices Breyer and Alito concurred in the judgment.  Justice Breyer relied upon the Court’s precedents, in which the Court never found personal jurisdiction based upon one sale.  Justice Breyer also noted that Petitioner’s actions failed to meet the threshold requirements of Justice O’Connor’s “stream of commerce plus” test.  Three justices—Justices Ginsberg, Sotomayor, and Kagan—dissented.  Writing for the dissenters, Justice Ginsberg argued that foreesability alone should constitute personal jurisdiction; where a manufacturer purposefully avails itself of that national market, it also targets individual states.  Therefore, by selling its products nationally in the United States, the dissent argued that New Jersey had personal jurisdiction over Petitioner.

Supreme Court Takes One Step Closer to Rejecting “Foreseeability” Test for Personal Jurisdiction Over a Foreign Corporation

Submitted by Marisa A. Trasatti and Wayne C. Heavener of Semmes, Bowen & Semmes