Personal Jurisdiction and Choice of Law

The time has come for the Supreme Court to declare that a state may not apply its own law to a case unless it has the “minimum contacts” required by International Shoe for the exercise of specific personal jurisdiction over the defendant. Although the present state of the law is less than certain, the Supreme Court has not yet required that a state show it has minimum contacts with a defendant before applying its law. As a result, in some cases where a state has obtained personal jurisdiction because of a defendant’s contacts unrelated to the case – contacts such as transaction of substantial but unrelated business within the state, or incorporation or domicile within the state – the state may apply its own law even when in conflict with the law of a state that has much greater contact with both the defendant and the events giving rise to the case. The situation fairly cries out for a standard for the application of forum law on a basis that does not depend upon the vagaries of the defendant’s unrelated activities. With recent attention refocusing upon constitutional limitations on jurisdiction and choice of law, the time is ripe for examination of a “minimum contacts” limitation on choice of law. The potential rewards include greater fairness to litigants, healthier federalism, and improvements in judicial administration.