Jurisdiction may be defined as the power of a gov-ernment to create legal interests, and the Court has long held that the Due Process Clause limits the abilities of states to exercise this power.899 In the famous case of Pennoyer v. Neff,900 the Court enunciated two principles of jurisdiction respecting the states in a federal system901 : first, “every State possesses exclusive jurisdiction and sovereignty over persons and property within its territory,” and second, “no State can exercise direct jurisdiction and authority over persons or property without its territory.”902 Over a long period of time, however, the mobility of American society and the increasing complexity of commerce led to attenuation of the second principle of Pennoyer, and consequently the Court established the modern standard of obtaining jurisdiction based upon the nature and the quality of contacts that individuals and corporations have with a state.903 This “minimum contacts” test, consequently, permits state courts to obtain power over out-of-state defendants.


Scott v. McNeal, 154 U.S. 34, 64 (1894). back
95 U.S. 714 (1878). back
Although these two principles were drawn from the writings of Joseph Story refining the theories of continental jurists, Hazard, A General Theory of State-Court Jurisdiction, 1965 SUP. CT. REV. 241, 252–62, the constitutional basis for them was deemed to be in the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Pennoyer v. Neff, 95 U.S. 714, 733–35 (1878). The Due Process Clause and the remainder of the Fourteenth Amendment had not been ratified at the time of the entry of the state-court judgment giving rise to the case. This inconvenient fact does not detract from the subsequent settled use of this constitutional foundation. Pennoyer denied full faith and credit to the judgment because the state lacked jurisdiction. back
95 U.S. at 722. The basis for the territorial concept of jurisdiction promulgated in Pennoyer and modified over the years is two-fold: a concern for “fair play and substantial justice” involved in requiring defendants to litigate cases against them far from their “home” or place of business. International Shoe Co. v. Washington, 326 U.S. 310, 316, 317 (1945); Travelers Health Ass’n v. Virginia ex rel. State Corp. Comm., 339 U.S. 643, 649 (1950); Shaffer v. Heitner, 433 U.S. 186, 204 (1977), and, more important, a concern for the preservation of federalism. International Shoe Co. v. Washington, 326 U.S. 310, 319 (1945); Hanson v. Denckla, 357 U.S. 235, 251 (1958). The Framers, the Court has asserted, while intending to tie the States together into a Nation, “also intended that the States retain many essential attributes of sovereignty, including, in particular, the sovereign power to try causes in their courts. The sovereignty of each State, in turn, implied a limitation on the sovereignty of all its sister States—a limitation express or implicit in both the original scheme of the Constitution and the Fourteenth Amendment.” World-Wide Volkswagen Corp. v. Woodson, 444 U.S. 286, 293 (1980). Thus, the federalism principle is preeminent. “[T]he Due Process Clause ‘does not contemplate that a state may make binding a judgment in personam against an individual or corporate defendant with which the state has no contacts, ties, or relations.’ . . . Even if the defendant would suffer minimal or no inconvenience from being forced to litigate before the tribunals of another State; even if the forum State has a strong interest in applying its law to the controversy; even if the forum State is the most convenient location for litigation, the Due Process Clause, acting as an instrument of interstate federalism, may sometimes act to divest the State of its power to render a valid judgment.” 444 U.S. at 294 (internal quotation from International Shoe Co. v. Washington, 326 U.S. 310, 319 (1945)). back
International Shoe Co. v. Washington, 326 U.S. 310 (1945)). As the Court explained in McGee v. International Life Ins. Co., 355 U.S. 220, 223 (1957), “[w]ith this increasing nationalization of commerce has come a great increase in the amount of business conducted by mail across state lines. At the same time modern transportation and communication have made it much less burdensome for a party sued to defend himself in a State where he engages in economic activity.” See World-Wide Volkswagen Corp. v. Woodson, 444 U.S. 286, 293 (1980)). The first principle, that a State may assert jurisdiction over anyone or anything physically within its borders, no matter how briefly there—the so-called “transient” rule of jurisdiction— McDonald v. Mabee, 243 U.S. 90, 91 (1917), remains valid, although in Shaffer v. Heitner, 433 U.S. 186, 204 (1977), the Court’s dicta appeared to assume it is not. back