From 1990 until 2010, the Supreme Court decided no cases about personal jurisdiction, the legal doctrine controlling when a defendant can be made to litigate within a state. For perspective, Justice David Souter joined the court in fall 1990 and retired in summer 2009 without hearing one personal-jurisdiction case. Since 2010, however, personal jurisdiction has become a hot issue on the court’s docket. The latest case, Ford Motor Co. v. Montana Eighth Judicial District (consolidated with Ford Motor Co. v. Bandemer), considers whether state courts in Montana and Minnesota have personal jurisdiction over two lawsuits against Ford, which sells cars in both states but manufactured and sold the specific cars at issue out-of-state. The court rescheduled this case from last term and will hold telephonic argument on Wednesday.
Ford Motor Co. is headquartered in Michigan and incorporated in Delaware. It designs and manufactures automobiles, which it sells to independently owned-and-operated dealers throughout the country.
Montana Eighth Judicial District arose from a 2015 accident in Montana involving a 1996 Ford Explorer that killed driver Markkaya Jean Gullet. Her estate sued Ford in state court in Montana, alleging design defect, failure to warn and negligence. Gullett’s car was assembled in Kentucky, sold to a dealership in Washington and originally sold to a consumer in Oregon. It went through numerous sales before reaching Gullett in Montana.
Bandemer arose from a 2015 accident in Minnesota involving a 1994 Ford Crown Victoria that injured passenger Adam Bandemer. Bandemer sued Ford in state court in Minnesota, asserting claims for products liability, negligence and breach of warranty. The car involved in the accident was designed in Michigan, assembled in Ontario, Canada, and sold to a dealership in North Dakota. The vehicle was with its fifth owner when registered in Minnesota in 2013.