Washington Law Review


Paul Eric Clay


The United States Supreme Court has returned to a personal jurisdiction methodology similar to that used a century ago. Under the traditional nineteenth century doctrine, the Court applied concrete and mechanical rules in jurisdiction disputes. With increased social mobility and technological advancements, however, these rules became inadequate. Responding to the deficiencies of its doctrine, the Supreme Court formulated a flexible test for personal jurisdiction in International Shoe Co. v. Washington. Gradually, the Court's flexible test turned into a vague doctrine, incapable of consistent application by lower courts. The inconsistency caused by the Court's rule also affected businesses that desired predictability for conducting their transactions. Accordingly, since the late 1970's, the Court has been chipping away at the abstract, flexible test enunciated in International Shoe by reasserting bright line, concrete jurisdictional rules for various factual situations. Recently, in Burger King Corp. v. Rudzewicz, the Court stopped short of providing a concrete rule for personal jurisdiction disputes in contract situations. Prior movement toward bright line tests, however, suggests that the Court is searching for a personal jurisdiction rule applicable to contract cases. The Court should adopt, for contract disputes, a rule favoring buyer's or consumer's forums. A clear rule is particularly crucial for contract relationships where predictability and certainty are prime objectives. The most satisfactory rule for obtaining certainty in contract cases would, at the threshold, determine whether one of the contracting parties is an individual consumer or a commercial buyer.4 If an individual consumer is participating in the transaction, the consumer's forum should be the place of litigation. If there is no individual consumer, there should be a presumption in favor of the commercial buyer's forum as the place of litigation.

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