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Online Vol. 106

Forthcoming in Cornell Law Review Online: Ford’s Hidden Fairness Defect

Linda Sandstrom Simard, Professor of Law, Suffolk University Law School

Cassandra Burke Robertson, John Deaver Drinko—BakerHostetler Professor of Law and Director of the Center for Professional Ethics, Case Western Reserve University School of Law

Charles W. “Rocky” Rhodes, Professor of Law, South Texas College of Law Houston

24 Sep 2020

A consumer saves up to buy a used car. Unbeknownst to him, the vehicle has a design defect—and in a crash, the airbag fails to deploy, leaving his passenger severely injured. Under state law, the injured party has a right to sue the vehicle manufacturer: but where? The obvious forum is the plaintiff’s home forum—it’s where the owner purchased the car, the accident happened, the injured party was hospitalized, and the plaintiff is able to interview local attorneys with experience in local courts.

But there’s a problem—the car manufacturer didn’t sell the car in state. It sold the car elsewhere, and the used-car dealer, or an earlier owner, brought the car into the forum state where it was purchased by its current owner. Of course, the car manufacturer conducted other extensive in-state activities—it advertised its vehicles and marketed its brand, it serviced its vehicles (new and used), and it sold similar models in state. But is that enough for personal jurisdiction? That question of whether strict causation is needed for personal jurisdiction is scheduled for argument before the United States Supreme Court in October 2020 in consolidated cases involving Ford Motor Company.1See Docket Sheet, Ford Motor Co. v. Mont. Eighth Judicial Dist. Ct., No. 19-368, Supreme Court of the United States, available at https://www.supremecourt.gov/search.aspx?filename=docket/docketfiles/html/public/19-368.html. The Court’s resolution of this issue will significantly affect future litigation.2See Charles W. “Rocky” Rhodes, Cassandra Burke Robertson & Linda Sandstrom Simard,
Ford’s Jurisdictional Crossroads (unpublished manuscript).
Most immediately, the case will determine whether injured plaintiffs can access a convenient forum in products-liability cases. In the long run, however, the case may have a broader and less obvious impact. Specifically, even a seemingly narrow win for Ford could result in an analytical short circuit that cuts off inquiry into the factors that the Supreme Court once held to be primary guarantors of “fair play and substantial justice.”3World-Wide Volkswagen Corp. v. Woodson, 444 U.S. 286, 292 (1980).

To read more, click here: Ford’s Hidden Fairness Defect.

References   [ + ]

1. See Docket Sheet, Ford Motor Co. v. Mont. Eighth Judicial Dist. Ct., No. 19-368, Supreme Court of the United States, available at https://www.supremecourt.gov/search.aspx?filename=docket/docketfiles/html/public/19-368.html.
2. See Charles W. “Rocky” Rhodes, Cassandra Burke Robertson & Linda Sandstrom Simard,
Ford’s Jurisdictional Crossroads (unpublished manuscript).
3. World-Wide Volkswagen Corp. v. Woodson, 444 U.S. 286, 292 (1980).

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