As all lawyers remember fondly from civil procedure, personal jurisdiction under the modern “minimum contacts” approach protects defendants from being haled into remote forums with which they have no substantial connection. It normally has no significance for plaintiffs. Plaintiffs, after all, consent to litigation in the forum by bringing suit there. But is that always true? In a fascinating recent article titled “Plaintiff Personal Jurisdiction and Venue Transfer” in the Michigan Law Review, my colleague Scott Dodson argues that it is not.
Professor Dodson points out that personal-jurisdiction questions may arise for plaintiffs in a number of important litigation contexts. In particular, if a federal district court transfers a suit’s venue to another district, plaintiffs may find themselves in a remote and inconvenient forum to whose jurisdiction they would not have consented. Likewise, in multidistrict litigation, plaintiffs may find their case consolidated with others in a different court for resolution of pretrial motions. The district court resolving such motions, which are often outcome-determinative, might well be in a forum with which the plaintiffs have no substantial connection.
Professor Dodson argues that plaintiffs should receive protection from the “minimum contacts” doctrine in these contexts, just as defendants do. He also elegantly rebuts a number of competing views.
Plaintiffs, for example, should not be understood to have consented to litigation of their claims in any district to which their case might be transferred. That view would extend the notion of consent well beyond its usual limits. Nor can Congress be understood to have authorized nationwide personal jurisdiction in federal courts in such litigation contexts. Congress generally must authorize such jurisdiction explicitly, something it has not done in venue-transfer and multidistrict-litigation statutes.
Professor Dodson, finally, offers thoughts on how courts should implement personal jurisdiction protections for plaintiffs. While it would not make sense to protect jurisdictional limits for plaintiffs by dismissing the plaintiffs’ own cases (the typical remedy for defendants), courts could enforce personal jurisdiction limits for plaintiffs by denying certain venue transfers and consolidations.
Professor Dodson’s article, like so much of his work, has illuminated a tricky civil-procedure problem hiding in plain sight. Scholars and litigants alike should be sure to read this latest contribution.