Readers of the Supreme Court’s decision yesterday in Daimler Chrysler v. Bauman may have learned two things: First, it is increasingly difficult to establish general jurisdiction over a corporation for conduct unrelated to the forum; second, the Court ultimately resolves the issue it wants to, which may not be the one the parties focused on.
When the parties briefed Daimler to the Court, they presented it as a question about the interaction of agency and general jurisdiction. Daimler is a German corporation that was sued in California by Argentinian plaintiffs for human rights violations in Argentina. The Ninth Circuit upheld jurisdiction, reasoning that MBUSA, an indirect subsidiary of Daimler, did extensive business in California, and its conduct could be attributed upward to Daimler. The circuits have disagreed over when such conduct may be attributed to a parent corporation, and Daimler argued that the Ninth Circuit made it too easy to attribute one corporation’s behavior to another.
But the Court resolved the question quite differently. In keeping with a line of questions she had asked at argument, Justice Ginsburg wrote a broad opinion for eight justices holding that it did not matter whether MBUSA’s conduct was attributed to Daimler. Even if it was, California did not have general jurisdiction over Daimler.
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