On June 27, 2023, the United States Supreme Court decided Mallory v. Norfolk Southern Railway Co., 2023 WL 4187749, 600 U.S. ___ (June 27, 2023), a decision that likely will reinvigorate forum-shopping efforts by plaintiffs in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and possibly elsewhere. The decision—supported by a plurality of Justices and the concurrence of Justice Alito—upholds a Pennsylvania law that requires out-of-state corporations registering to do business in Pennsylvania to consent to general personal jurisdiction within the Commonwealth. Overlooking decades of personal jurisdiction jurisprudence, Mallory reinstates a form of personal jurisdiction previously cast by many courts as a dead letter: general jurisdiction by statutory “consent.”
The United States Supreme Court will soon consider whether the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment prohibits a state from requiring that a corporation consent to personal jurisdiction in order to conduct business there.
The question arises from a Pennsylvania Supreme Court case, Mallory v. Norfolk Southern Railroad Co., 266 A.3d 542 (Pa. 2021), which we wrote about here. In Mallory, plaintiff Robert Mallory attempted to hold the Norfolk Southern Railway Co. liable for the colon cancer he allegedly developed after being exposed to chemicals during the two decades that he worked for the railroad in Virginia and Ohio.
A recent Pennsylvania Supreme Court opinion provides out-of-state corporations more protection from litigation tourists, bringing the state’s general personal jurisdiction rules in line with U.S. Supreme Court precedent. In Mallory v. Norfolk Southern Railway Co., a unanimous court invalidated part of Pennsylvania’s corporate registration statute, holding that corporations that are not incorporated and do not have a principal place of business in Pennsylvania cannot be subject to general personal jurisdiction simply because they have registered to conduct business in the Commonwealth.
Patterson v. Chiappa Firearms, USA, LTD, No. 1:20-cv-01430-JPH-MG, 2021 WL 4287431 (S.D. Ind. Sept. 21, 2021).
- First Indiana case to apply the “relate to” standard articulated in Ford Motor Co. v. Mont. Eighth Jud. Dist. Ct., 141 S. Ct. 1017 (2021).
- Rejects a broad, unlimited stream of commerce theory for establishing personal jurisdiction.
- Denied plaintiff jurisdictional discovery, noting that foreign nationals should not be subjected to extensive discovery in order to determine whether personal jurisdiction over them exists.
In Patterson v. Chiappa Firearms, the plaintiff, an Indiana citizen, bought a handgun from an online gun seller in Kentucky and had it delivered to Indy Arms Company in Indianapolis. The gun subsequently exploded in Indiana when the plaintiff test-fired it, fracturing the plaintiff’s finger. The gun was manufactured by Chiappa Italy and distributed by Chiappa USA.
On March 25, the U.S. Supreme Court decided Ford Motor Co. v. Montana Eighth Judicial District Court, revisiting the issue of due process limitations on the exercise of personal jurisdiction, most recently addressed by the Court in 2017 in Bristol-Myers Squibb v. Superior Court, 137 S. Ct. 1783 (2017) (“BMS”). A unanimous Court (8-0, with Justice Barrett not participating) held in Ford Motor that courts in Montana and Minnesota could hear claims by residents of those states alleging injuries sustained in accidents that occurred there involving Ford vehicles. Relying on Ford’s extensive contacts with those states, which consisted of efforts to create and serve local sales and service and repair markets for the same kinds of vehicles, the Court concluded these plaintiffs’ claims were sufficiently “related to” Ford’s local contacts, even though the actual vehicles in the accidents were designed, manufactured and initially sold in other states. (We commented here on the state court decisions in these cases before Ford sought certiorari.)