The Trilogy of Personal Jurisdiction and the Importance of Ford

, SMU Law Review, Volume 76 - Issue 4
January 2024

Jonathan M. Hoffman, MB Law Group LLP
Michaela Cloutier, Flaherty Sensabaugh Bonasso PLLC
Jason Proctor, Flaherty Sensabaugh Bonasso PLLC


Litigants and judges alike have struggled to understand and resolve the parameters of personal jurisdiction, particularly in product liability cases. This results in significant costs and time which is likely to be of little benefit to anyone.

Much of this confusion arises from two problems: (1) most of the early Supreme Court decisions on personal jurisdiction arose from contractual disputes; and (2) when the economy expanded after World War II, and new automobiles, commercial aircraft, appliances, and other complex products appeared, the Court’s attempts to resolve personal jurisdiction issues were unsuccessful. For over three decades, the Supreme Court failed to produce a clear majority opinion, while at the same time, these cases were becoming more common and complex.

In the past decade, however, the Court has quietly produced a trilogy of virtually unanimous opinions that offer pathways to resolve personal jurisdiction disputes. These decisions will be particularly useful in product liability cases of all kinds, which often involve suit-related events occurring across multiple jurisdictions. Once lawyers and judges understand this clarified framework, it should become easier for plaintiffs to make better decisions about where to bring their case and enable both plaintiffs and defendants to spend less time and expense litigating personal jurisdiction disputes.

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