U.S. Supreme Court

Kagan cites Ford’s 'truckload of contacts' with plaintiffs' home states in jurisdictional SCOTUS ruling

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The Ford Motor Co. can be sued for alleged defects in its vehicles in the states where the plaintiffs lived and the alleged harm happened, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled Thursday in an 8-0 opinion.

In her March 25 opinion for the high court, Justice Elena Kagan ruled for plaintiffs in Montana and Minnesota, who sued Ford for alleged defects in their 1996 Ford Explorer and 1994 Crown Victoria. The cars were involved in car crashes that killed the Montana resident and injured the Minnesota resident.

The cars were purchased outside the states where the plaintiffs sued.

Ford had argued that it could not be sued in Montana and Minnesota state courts because the cars at issue were not designed, manufactured or sold to the crash victims there. The company argued that it wasn’t subject to the states’ jurisdiction because its conduct there did not give rise to the plaintiffs’ claims.

But Kagan said Ford’s contacts with the states were sufficient to give courts specific jurisdiction over the company.

“Ford has a veritable truckload of contacts” with the states, Kagan wrote for the court.

Ford did substantial business in Montana and Minnesota, including promoting, selling and servicing the models of vehicle at issue in the suits.

Kagan distinguished the Ford case from the 2017 Supreme Court decision Bristol-Myers Squibb Co. v. Superior Court of California. In Bristol-Myers, the court ruled that California courts didn’t have specific jurisdiction over the drugmaker in a Plavix class action when the plaintiffs were from outside the state and they didn’t buy or ingest the drug in the state.

“Yes, Ford sold the specific products in other states, as Bristol-Myers Squibb had,” Kagan said. “But here, the plaintiffs are residents of the forum states. They used the allegedly defective products in the forum states. And they suffered injuries when those products malfunctioned in the forum states.”

The Bristol-Myers plaintiffs, Kagan said, “were engaged in forum-shopping—suing in California because it was thought plaintiff-friendly.”

Kagan’s opinion was joined in full by Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and Justices Stephen G. Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Brett M. Kavanaugh. Justices Samuel A. Alito Jr., Neil M. Gorsuch and Clarence Thomas concurred in the judgment. Justice Amy Coney Barrett did not take part in the decision.

The consolidated cases are Ford Motor Co. v. Montana Eighth Judicial District Court and Ford Motor. Co. v. Bandemer.

Hat tip to SCOTUSblog.

See also:

ABAJournal.com: “Chemerinsky: The Supreme Court returns to a term like no other”

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