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‘Another Fractured Opinion’ on Personal Jurisdiction

June 27, 2023

Prof. Tobias Wolff opines that the Supreme Court’s decision in Mallory “may have major implications.”

In Mallory v. Norfolk Southern Railway, the Supreme Court upheld a Pennsylvania law that forces companies to face litigants in Pennsylvania when they register to do business in the state.

Tobias Barrington Wolff, Jefferson B. Fordham Professor of Law and Deputy Dean for Equity & Inclusion at the University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School, writes and teaches in the fields of civil procedure and complex litigation, the conflict of laws, constitutional law, and LGBT rights. He has issued the following statement on the decision:

The Supreme Court has produced yet another fractured opinion on the issue of personal jurisdiction and this time their ruling may have major implications.

Tobias Wolff, Jefferson B. Fordham Professor of Law Tobias Wolff, Jefferson B. Fordham Professor of LawIn Mallory v. Norfolk Southern Railway, the Court has upheld—for now—the power of States to compel a corporation to respond to any lawsuit in any State in which the corporation registers to do business, even if the lawsuit has nothing to do with that State and the corporation is headquartered elsewhere, so long as state law makes that requirement explicit. This result appears to undermine recent Supreme Court rulings that placed strict limits on this type of “general jurisdiction” over corporate defendants.

The catch is that Justice Alito, who provided the fifth vote for this outcome, joined only a few parts of the majority opinion and explained separately that he thinks such laws may be unconstitutional on other grounds. Until we get further clarification from the Court, States will have to decide whether to try to make use of the significant power the Court has unexpectedly given them.

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