Justices Shield Multinational Companies in Dirty War Case

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U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg
U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg

Some lawyers who followed the case closely called the high court decision "broad" and "dramatic," even though Ginsburg said the standard may not apply in the "exceptional case"—which she did not define.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor concurred only in the judgment, writing that the decision was wrong as to both process and substance. "The problem, the Court says, is not that Daimler's contacts with California are too few, but that its contacts with other forums are too many," she wrote. "In recent years, Americans have grown accustomed to the concept of multinational corporations that are supposedly 'too big to fail'; today the Court deems Daimler 'too big for general jurisdiction.' "

She chided the court for deciding the case on a ground that had neither been argued nor decided by the lower court and was raised for the first time by Daimler in a footnote to its brief. And, as for substance, she said, the court's focus on Daimler's operations outside of California "ignores the lodestar of our personal jurisdiction jurisprudence: A State may subject a defendant to the burden of suit if the defendant has sufficiently taken advantage of the State's laws and protections through its contacts in the State; whether the defendant has contacts elsewhere is immaterial."

Sotomayor said the "far simpler" ground for deciding the case was that, "no matter how extensive Daimler's contacts with California, that State's exercise of jurisdiction would be unreasonable given that the case involves foreign plaintiffs suing a foreign defendant based on foreign conduct, and given that a more appropriate forum is available."

Contact Marcia Coyle at mcoyle@alm.com.

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