J. McIntyre Mach., Ltd. v. Nicastro

Decision Date27 June 2011
Docket NumberNo. 09–1343.,09–1343.
Citation564 U.S. 873,131 S.Ct. 2780,180 L.Ed.2d 765
Parties J. McINTYRE MACHINERY, LTD., Petitioner, v. Robert NICASTRO, Individually and as Administrator of the Estate of Roseanne Nicastro.
CourtU.S. Supreme Court

Arthur F. Fergenson, Ellicott City, MD, for Petitioner.

Alexander W. Ross, Jr., Marlton, NJ, for Respondents.

Steven F. Gooby, Robert A. Assuncao, James S. Coons, Ansa Assuncao, LLP, East Brunswick, NJ, Arthur F. Fergenson, Ansa Assuncao, LLP, Ellicott City, MD, Jeffrey W. Green, Sarah O'Rourke Schrup, Chicago, IL, for Petitioner.

John Vail, Andre M. Mura, Valerie M. Nannery, Washington, DC, Alexander W. Ross, Jr., Janice L. Heinold, Rakoski & Ross, P.C., Marlton, NJ, for Respondents.

Justice KENNEDY announced the judgment of the Court and delivered an opinion, in which THE CHIEF JUSTICE, Justice SCALIA, and Justice THOMAS join.

Whether a person or entity is subject to the jurisdiction of a state court despite not having been present in the State either at the time of suit or at the time of the alleged injury, and despite not having consented to the exercise of jurisdiction, is a question that arises with great frequency in the routine course of litigation. The rules and standards for determining when a State does or does not have jurisdiction over an absent party have been unclear because of decades-old questions left open in Asahi Metal Industry Co. v. Superior Court of Cal., Solano Cty., 480 U.S. 102, 107 S.Ct. 1026, 94 L.Ed.2d 92 (1987).

Here, the Supreme Court of New Jersey, relying in part on Asahi, held that New Jersey's courts can exercise jurisdiction over a foreign manufacturer of a product so long as the manufacturer "knows or reasonably should know that its products are distributed through a nationwide distribution system that might lead to those products being sold in any of the fifty states." Nicastro v. McIntyre Machinery America, Ltd., 201 N.J. 48, 76, 77, 987 A.2d 575, 591, 592 (2010). Applying that test, the court concluded that a British manufacturer of scrap metal machines was subject to jurisdiction in New Jersey, even though at no time had it advertised in, sent goods to, or in any relevant sense targeted the State.

That decision cannot be sustained. Although the New Jersey Supreme Court issued an extensive opinion with careful attention to this Court's cases and to its own precedent, the "stream of commerce" metaphor carried the decision far afield. Due process protects the defendant's right not to be coerced except by lawful judicial power. As a general rule, the exercise of judicial power is not lawful unless the defendant "purposefully avails itself of the privilege of conducting activities within the forum State, thus invoking the benefits and protections of its laws." Hanson v. Denckla, 357 U.S. 235, 253, 78 S.Ct. 1228, 2 L.Ed.2d 1283 (1958). There may be exceptions, say, for instance, in cases involving an intentional tort. But the general rule is applicable in this products-liability case, and the so-called "stream-of-commerce" doctrine cannot displace it.

I

This case arises from a products-liability suit filed in New Jersey state court. Robert Nicastro seriously injured his hand while using a metal-shearing machine manufactured by J. McIntyre Machinery, Ltd. (J. McIntyre). The accident occurred in New Jersey, but the machine was manufactured in England, where J. McIntyre is incorporated and operates. The question here is whether the New Jersey courts have jurisdiction over J. McIntyre, notwithstanding the fact that the company at no time either marketed goods in the State or shipped them there. Nicastro was a plaintiff in the New Jersey trial court and is the respondent here; J. McIntyre was a defendant and is now the petitioner.

At oral argument in this Court, Nicastro's counsel stressed three primary facts in defense of New Jersey's assertion of jurisdiction over J. McIntyre. See Tr. of Oral Arg. 29–30.

First, an independent company agreed to sell J. McIntyre's machines in the United States. J. McIntyre itself did not sell its machines to buyers in this country beyond the U.S. distributor, and there is no allegation that the distributor was under J. McIntyre's control.

Second, J. McIntyre officials attended annual conventions for the scrap recycling industry to advertise J. McIntyre's machines alongside the distributor. The conventions took place in various States, but never in New Jersey.

Third, no more than four machines (the record suggests only one, see App. to Pet. for Cert. 130a), including the machine that caused the injuries that are the basis for this suit, ended up in New Jersey.

In addition to these facts emphasized by respondent, the New Jersey Supreme Court noted that J. McIntyre held both United States and European patents on its recycling technology.

201 N.J., at 55, 987 A.2d, at 579. It also noted that the U.S. distributor "structured [its] advertising and sales efforts in accordance with" J. McIntyre's "direction and guidance whenever possible," and that "at least some of the machines were sold on consignment to" the distributor. Id., at 55, 56, 987 A.2d, at 579 (internal quotation marks omitted).

In light of these facts, the New Jersey Supreme Court concluded that New Jersey courts could exercise jurisdiction over petitioner without contravention of the Due Process Clause. Jurisdiction was proper, in that court's view, because the injury occurred in New Jersey; because petitioner knew or reasonably should have known "that its products are distributed through a nationwide distribution system that might lead to those products being sold in any of the fifty states"; and because petitioner failed to "take some reasonable step to prevent the distribution of its products in this State." Id., at 77, 987 A.2d, at 592.

Both the New Jersey Supreme Court's holding and its account of what it called "[t]he stream-of-commerce doctrine of jurisdiction," id., at 80, 987 A.2d, at 594, were incorrect, however. This Court's Asahi decision may be responsible in part for that court's error regarding the stream of commerce, and this case presents an opportunity to provide greater clarity.

II

The Due Process Clause protects an individual's right to be deprived of life, liberty, or property only by the exercise of lawful power. Cf. Giaccio v. Pennsylvania, 382 U.S. 399, 403, 86 S.Ct. 518, 15 L.Ed.2d 447 (1966) (The Clause "protect[s] a person against having the Government impose burdens upon him except in accordance with the valid laws of the land"). This is no less true with respect to the power of a sovereign to resolve disputes through judicial process than with respect to the power of a sovereign to prescribe rules of conduct for those within its sphere. See Steel Co. v. Citizens for Better Environment, 523 U.S. 83, 94, 118 S.Ct. 1003, 140 L.Ed.2d 210 (1998) ("Jurisdiction is power to declare the law"). As a general rule, neither statute nor judicial decree may bind strangers to the State. Cf. Burnham v. Superior Court of Cal., County of Marin, 495 U.S. 604, 608–609, 110 S.Ct. 2105, 109 L.Ed.2d 631 (1990) (opinion of SCALIA, J.) (invoking "the phrase coram non judice, ‘before a person not a judge’—meaning, in effect, that the proceeding in question was not a judicial proceeding because lawful judicial authority was not present, and could therefore not yield a judgment ")

A court may subject a defendant to judgment only when the defendant has sufficient contacts with the sovereign "such that the maintenance of the suit does not offend ‘traditional notions of fair play and substantial justice.’ " International Shoe Co. v. Washington, 326 U.S. 310, 316, 66 S.Ct. 154, 90 L.Ed. 95 (1945) (quoting Milliken v. Meyer, 311 U.S. 457, 463, 61 S.Ct. 339, 85 L.Ed. 278 (1940) ). Freeform notions of fundamental fairness divorced from traditional practice cannot transform a judgment rendered in the absence of authority into law. As a general rule, the sovereign's exercise of power requires some act by which the defendant "purposefully avails itself of the privilege of conducting activities within the forum State, thus invoking the benefits and protections of its laws," Hanson, 357 U.S., at 253, 78 S.Ct. 1228, though in some cases, as with an intentional tort, the defendant might well fall within the State's authority by reason of his attempt to obstruct its laws. In products-liability cases like this one, it is the defendant's purposeful availment that makes jurisdiction consistent with "traditional notions of fair play and substantial justice."

A person may submit to a State's authority in a number of ways. There is, of course, explicit consent. E.g., Insurance Corp. of Ireland v. Compagnie des Bauxites de Guinee, 456 U.S. 694, 703, 102 S.Ct. 2099, 72 L.Ed.2d 492 (1982). Presence within a State at the time suit commences through service of process is another example. See Burnham, supra . Citizenship or domicile—or, by analogy, incorporation or principal place of business for corporations—also indicates general submission to a State's powers. Goodyear Dunlop Tires Operations, S.A. v. Brown, post,

p. 2854. Each of these examples reveals circumstances, or a course of conduct, from which it is proper to infer an intention to benefit from and thus an intention to submit to the laws of the forum State. Cf. Burger King Corp. v. Rudzewicz, 471 U.S. 462, 476, 105 S.Ct. 2174, 85 L.Ed.2d 528 (1985). These examples support exercise of the general jurisdiction of the State's courts and allow the State to resolve both matters that originate within the State and those based on activities and events elsewhere. Helicopteros Nacionales de Colombia, S.A. v. Hall, 466 U.S. 408, 414, and n. 9, 104 S.Ct. 1868, 80 L.Ed.2d 404 (1984). By contrast, those who live or operate primarily outside a State have a due process right not to be subjected to judgment in its courts as a general matter.

There is also a more limited form of submission to a State's authority for disputes...

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