The Reasonableness of Asserting Personal Jurisdiction in Human Rights Cases

by Roger Alford

The Ninth Circuit last week argued that it did not have personal jurisdiction over DaimlerChrysler Corporation AG because it did not have continuous and systematic contacts with the forum. The case of Bauman v. DaimlerChrysler AG arose out of the alleged kidnapping, detention and torture of Argentinian citizens in Argentina by Argentinian state security forces acting at the direction of Mercedes Benz Argentina. The plaintiffs sued the parent company, DaimlerChrysler AG, and the Ninth Circuit concluded that it lacked personal jurisdiction. Given the facts, this is not particularly surprising.

But what was surprising was the dissent by Judge Reinhardt, arguing that promoting international human rights was a state interest that should factor into a finding of personal jurisdiction. Reinhardt first concluded that DaimlerChrysler AG had minimum contacts in the forum through its American subsidiary. He then examined whether it was reasonable to assert jurisdiction based on seven factors, including “the state’s interest in adjudicating the suit.” Here is the essence of Reinhardt’s conclusion:

[A]lthough the events at issue did not take place in California and although the plaintiffs are not California residents, the forum state does have a significant interest in adjudicating the suit. California partakes in “the shared interest of the several States in furthering fundamental substantive social policies….” World-Wide Volkswagen Corp. v. Woodson, 444 U.S. 286, 292 (1980). Here, as the claims are predicated upon the ATS and TVPA, that policy is providing a forum for redress of violations of international law by aliens outside our borders who have enough connections with the United States to be brought to trial on our shores “a small but important step in the fulfillment of the ageless dream to free all people from brutal violence.” Filartiga v. Pena-Irala, 630 F.2d 876, 890 (2d Cir.1980). American federal courts-be they in California or any other state-have a strong interest in adjudicating and redressing international human rights abuses. See, e.g., Wiwa v. Royal Dutch Petroleum Co., 226 F.3d 88, 106 (2d Cir.2000) (holding, in the context of forum non conveniens, that the TVPA “has … communicated a pol-icy that such suits should not be facilely dismissed on the assumption that the ostensibly foreign contro-versy is not our business.”). In light of that important interest, this factor weighs in favor of the reasonableness of exercising personal jurisdiction.

This seems to be an odd argument for the reasonableness of asserting personal jurisdiction. The cited cases, Filartiga and Wiwa, expressed the state interest in the context of forum non conveniens, where the court is determining whether a case is better suited for resolution in the United States or a foreign jurisdiction. Here, by contrast, the question is whether it is reasonable to assert personal jurisdiction over a defendant based, among other things, on the state’s interest. It seems attenuated to argue that this should be a factor in the balance of whether to assert personal jurisdiction. This is particularly so given that there is no other articulated state interest.

Reinhardt’s analysis stands in sharp contrast to the Supreme Court’s famous analysis of state interest in the foreign defendant case of Asahi v. Superior Court, where the Court held that

“[b]ecause the plaintiff is not a California resident, California’s legitimate interests in the dispute have considerably diminished. The Supreme Court of California argued that the State had an interest in ‘protecting its consumers by ensuring that foreign manufacturers comply with the state’s safety standards.’ The State Supreme Court’s definition of California’s interest, however, was overly broad.”

After concluding that there was a state interest in promoting international human rights, Reinhardt then goes on to analyze other factors, including “the most efficient judicial resolution of the dispute; the convenience and effectiveness of relief for the plaintiff; and the existence of an alternative forum.” Reinhardt analyzes alternative fora, particularly Germany and Argentina, and concludes that given the “substantial doubt as to the adequacy of either Germany or Argentina as an alternative forum, I would hold that on this record it is entirely reasonable and consistent with due process to exercise in personam jurisdiction over DCAG.”

Is it just me, or does his reasoning not sound like a dressed-up version of forum non conveniens in the guise of asserting personal jurisdiction?

http://opiniojuris.org/2009/09/08/the-reasonableness-of-asserting-personal-jurisdiction-in-human-rights-cases/

2 Responses

  1. This is very surprising.  This is a horrible case for “specific jurisdiction” aka “long arm jurisdiction” that arises out of the facts of the case itself.  Asahi v. Superior Court was a specific jurisdiction case (IIRC). 

    But, it is a very strong case for “general jurisdiction” which arises out of the idea that you can be sued in any place you maintain a regular office for the conduct of business.  The idea is that you won’t be hometowned if you are sued where you live, and that there may be no court other than a court where you live, where you can be sued.  General jurisdiction doesn’t have anything to do with the facts of the case at issue at all.  If there is general jurisdiction over a defendant in a state, that defendant can be sued over absolutely anything in that state.

    Interest analysis in the conflicts of law and jurisdiction field assumes that states have an interest in handling lawsuits against those who reside and do business in their jurisdiction on any matter, because of the economic impact it could have on someone who is in their jurisdiction.

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