If you are ever sued in another state, the first thing you need to look at is whether or not you are subject to “personal jurisdiction” in that state. Personal jurisdiction refers to the power of a court to decide a matter. If the court does not have jurisdiction over a person, that court has no power to decide any matters concerning the individual. While the history of the development of personal jurisdiction law is quite complex, the state of the law now can be boiled down to one concept: does the person being sued have “minimum contacts” with the state or forum in which they are being sued such that the suit would not offend “traditional notions of fair play and substantial justice?”
If you are a resident of Arizona, and you are sued in a court located in, for example, Montana, the first thing you and your attorney should look at is whether or not you have minimum contacts with the State of Montana. Have you done business in Montana? Did you cause something to happen in Montana that led to the suit in which you have been named? Did you do anything to subject yourself to the laws and protection of the State of Montana? These are generally complex questions, and often there is no easy answer. Courts will typically take jurisdictional questions on a case-by-case basis weighing all the factors to determine whether or not the imposition of jurisdiction would be fair and just.
For example, if you were driving through Montana and caused an accident there, even though you were not a resident of Montana and had never been there before or since, the courts would likely find that you are subject to jurisdiction and are probably a defendant in any subsequent case arising out of the accident. On the other hand, if you were to do business with a company that is located in Montana, but you had no other connection with that state, it is not likely a court would find you could be sued by that company in Montana unless you had taken some action that would make the imposition of jurisdiction just.
If personal jurisdiction is not found to exist, it may be possible to have that case dismissed. That may not be the end of the matter, but it will typically cause the opposing party substantial time and trouble in re-filing a suit in your home state.
Michael L. Kitchen