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Personal Jurisdiction in the Business Dispute

By Steven G. Ranum

In a vast majority of lawsuits filed, no question exists as to whether the forum state has jurisdiction over the defendant. The defendant is often the resident of the forum state, and even if not, the underlying cause of the lawsuit—be it the car accident that occurred in the forum or a title issue over real estate located in the forum—is such that the forum’s jurisdiction over the defendant is intuitive and never questioned.

But one area where personal jurisdiction questions often arise is a business dispute. If plaintiff is in State A, the defendant is in State B, and the contract called for the plaintiff to ship goods from State Y to State Z, deciding whether A, B, Y, or Z is an appropriate forum is not instinctual and needs to be thought through.

This article is meant to help you analyze the issue of whether personal jurisdiction exists in a business dispute. In addition to a refresher on the law of personal jurisdiction, this article will address some key points to help you think about the issue of personal jurisdiction with respect to your case. This article will also touch on the effect of a forum selection clause, an important but often glossed-over aspect of a contract.

Summary of Personal Jurisdiction

Personal jurisdiction is chockful of lawyerly jargon to the extent that the topic can seem quite dense, but personal jurisdiction is essentially a question of fairness: is it fair for the defendant to have to defend a lawsuit in the forum state? For jurisdiction to exist, the defendant must have 2 enough minimum contacts with the forum state so that the defendant could expect to be sued there.1 Personal jurisdiction exists in two forms: general or specific.2 A court has general jurisdiction over a defendant who has continuous and systematic contacts with a forum state even when the alleged injuries at issue did not arise out of defendant’s contacts with the forum.3 Specific jurisdiction exists when a plaintiff’s claim arises out of or relates to a defendant’s purposeful contacts with the forum, such that there is a substantial connection between the defendant’s contacts with the forum state and the operative facts of the litigation.4

You can find a very good, highly quotable summary of the law of personal jurisdiction in any of the several personal jurisdiction cases decided by our Nebraska appellate courts,5 and the law remains stable in this area.6 Given that the issue of personal jurisdiction depends on a defendant’s contacts with the forum state, the issue is highly factual in nature, and case specific. With that said, the following is a series of tips that may be helpful for you in thinking about your case and deciding how to proceed.

There are a vast amount of cases to cite as authority in your brief.

Nebraska law confers jurisdiction to the fullest extent permitted by the due process clause of the United States Constitution.7 This means that any case analyzing personal jurisdiction under the minimum contacts analysis established by the United States Supreme Court is authority worth citing, even if it is from another jurisdiction. In doing your research, you should go beyond researching just the black letter law and search in multiple jurisdictions (including federal courts) to find cases with similar factual patterns. While the ideal case to find is a case from Nebraska with similar facts (and Nebraska appellate courts have decided numerous personal jurisdiction cases), a case with a similar factual pattern from another jurisdiction that applies a minimum 3 contacts analysis is more persuasive authority than a case from Nebraska that states the black letter law but is not factually analogous.

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The content of this article is for informational purposes only. It is not legal advice, nor is it intended to create, and your receipt of it does not constitute, an attorney-client relationship. This article may only be reproduced in its entirety (without modification) for the individual reader’s personal and/or educational use and must include this notice. The content of this article is intended to be up-to-date, but may or may not reflect the most current legal developments. Croker Huck Law Firm assumes no liability or responsibility for any errors or omissions contained within this article. You should not act or refrain from acting based upon this article without seeking professional legal counsel. This article only provides a brief overview and an attorney should be consulted if you have questions regarding this topic in relation to your specific situation. To learn more contact a Croker Huck attorney at 888-900-1916 or through our website contact page.