Have you been sued in another state? Are you from another state but have been sued in Arizona? If so, you might have a legal defense to the action before it even starts. This defense is called “lack of personal jurisdiction.”

Before any court may make decisions about whether or not you are liable for any alleged wrongdoing, and before a court may enter any judgment against you, the court must have the legal power over your person to do so. Under centuries-old American law, a judge in, for example, Maine, may not assert power over an individual who has never been to Maine, owns no property in Maine, and has never had any contact with Maine whatsoever. On the other hand, the courts in Maine will always be able to assert power over a “citizen” of Maine (i.e. someone who resides in Maine or who has “continuous and systematic” contacts with the state). This is called “general jurisdiction.” The question of whether or not general jurisdiction exists is typically clear, and is not commonly litigated.

Whether or not personal jurisdiction exists is normally only litigated in more difficult, less clear-cut cases. Even if one does not reside or have continuous contacts with a state, the courts in that state may nonetheless assert power over a person in certain circumstances under what is called “specific jurisdiction.” Specific jurisdiction refers to the power given to courts by law to make decisions and enter judgments against people who do not reside in nor have continuous contacts with a state, but instead take some action that creates minimum contact with that state. The question of whether specific personal jurisdiction exists is a very complex question to answer, and this article will concern itself with the law in the state and federal courts in Arizona.

Arizona courts assert personal jurisdiction to the greatest extent allowed by the United States Constitution and, therefore, to the extent there are any limits to the exercise of jurisdiction, those limits come from federal law. Under the Due Process Clause of the United States Constitution, one who is not subject to general jurisdiction has certain minimum contacts with the state such that the assertion of judicial power would not offend traditional notions of fair play and justice. Whether jurisdiction is to be asserted depends upon a complex factual analysis of the person, the person’s contacts with the state, and the specific facts of the lawsuit.

Arizona is located within the 9th Federal Judicial Circuit and is therefore subject to the decisions of the Federal 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. The 9th Circuit has enacted a three-part test to determine if specific jurisdiction may be asserted:

Did the person purposefully direct his or her activities with the forum or a resident thereof; or purposefully availed him or herself of the privilege of conducting activities in the state;
Does the lawsuit arise out of the state-related activities; and
Would the exercise of jurisdiction be fair?

If the court finds in the affirmative on all three tests, the Court may exercise jurisdiction over the non-resident. Each of these factors is depended upon a highly complex analysis.

Whether a person purposefully direct his or her activities to the state or purposefully availed him or herself of its laws is satisfied when the person (1) commits an intentional act, (2) that is expressly aimed at the state, (3) and which causes foreseeable harm in the state. Whether a person “purposefully availed” him or herself of the privilege of conducting activities in the state depends upon a detailed factual analysis of whether the person was physically present in the state, sent products or services to the state, or otherwise took actions that would reasonably be deemed to subject him or herself to the protections of the laws in the state.

Whether or not the lawsuit arises out of the state-related activities should generally be self-explanatory. For example, if a person drives through a state, that act would be sufficient to satisfy this factor if the lawsuit concerned an auto accident which occurred during that drive. It would not be enough to exercise jurisdiction over an unrelated business transaction.

As to the third factor, the question of whether the exercise of jurisdiction would be “fair” depends on a detailed factual analysis of seven sub-factors:

Did the person purposefully direct his or her activities with the forum or a resident thereof; or purposefully availed him or herself of the privilege of conducting activities in the state;
the burden on the defendant in defending in the forum;
the extent of the conflict with the sovereignty of the defendant’s state;
the forum state’s interest in adjudicating the dispute;
the most efficient judicial resolution of the controversy;
the importance of the forum to the plaintiff’s interest in convenient and effective relief; and
the existence of an alternative forum.

The court will look to the facts of the case and apply those facts to each of these sub-factors to get a sense of whether the exercise of jurisdiction would be fair. If the court applying the facts deem the exercise of jurisdiction fair, this last factor will be satisfied.

Each of these facts and sub-factors is subject to numerous court decisions applying them to particular factual situations, and there is no way to properly analyze whether jurisdiction will be imposed without a detailed analysis of the specific facts of the case. Should you be sued or threatened with a suit in a state where you do not reside, you should immediately consult with a competent attorney about the possibility of challenging the state’s power to drag you into court.

Michael L. Kitchen