State Long-Arm Statute

Cite this article as: Jason Mance Gordon, "State Long-Arm Statute," in The Business Professor, updated January 3, 2015, last accessed April 8, 2020, https://thebusinessprofessor.com/knowledge-base/state-long-arm-statute/.
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What is a State Long-Arm Statute?
What is a State Long-Arm Statute? A statute allowing for service of process or delivering a summons outside of the state.

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What is a state “Long-arm Statute”?

A state’s long-arm statute allows service of process on defendants who are physically located outside of the state. A state’s long-arm statute must, however, comply with the 14th Amendment’s Due Process protections.

  • Relevant Law: the Eighth Circuit that when a state’s “long-arm statute is coextensive with constitutional limits, we need only determine whether the assertion of jurisdiction over this defendant offends due process.” Johnson v. Woodcock, 444 F.3d 953, 955 (8th Cir. 2006). The Fourth Circuit has held that the West Virginia long-arm statute “is coextensive with the full reach of due process. . . .” Owens-Illinois, Inc. v. Rapid Am. Corp. ( In re Celotex Corp.), 124 F.3d 619, 627 (4th Cir. 1997)

This means that, to pass constitutional muster, a state’s long-arm statute will only allow for service of process on individual outside of the state’s borders if the defendant has sufficient contact with the state to make it reasonable to call her into court there. More precisely, the defendant must have “minimum contacts with the state” sufficient to not offend notions of “fair play and substantial justice”.

  • Relevant Law: International Shoe v Washington, 326 US 310 (1945), established the standard requiring “minimum contacts” with a state, sufficient not to offend “notions of fair play and substantial justice”.

Examples of situations where a defendant has minimum contacts with the state to allow the state to serve process on a defendant via its long-arm statute include when: she is a resident of the state; she owns property in the state that is the subject of the controversy; or she committed the controversial activity in the state. A business entity is subject to jurisdiction if it carries on business regularly in the state or is organized in or registered to do business in the state. All of these situations involve a sufficient level of contact with the state so that service of process outside of the state’s geographic borders does not offend notions of fair play and substantial justice.

  • Note: Recall, federal courts use the law of the state in which it is located for serving process on a defendant. This includes using the state’s long-arm statute when a defendant is not physically located within the state.

Discussion: How much contact with a state do you feel is sufficient for a court to exercise jurisdiction over the person without offending the due process requirements of the US Constitution? Is there any situation where you believe a slight amount of contact with the state still justifies exercising jurisdiction? How do you feel about exercising jurisdiction over a business that regularly ships products to customers in a state but does not have a physical presence in the state and is not registered to do business?

Discussion Input

  • It is difficult to draw a bright line of when there is minimum contacts and when there is not. Think in terms of constructing a test that weighs multiple attributes of the situation when determining whether the objective of the state justifies infringing upon a fundamental right. Of course, intentional conduct directed toward an individual in their state is a driving force behind subjecting a person to that state’s jurisdiction. This is particularly true for business that direct commerce into the state. The standard, however, for whether a business has minimum contacts with a state can be somewhat tricky giving the ease with which one can carry on interstate commerce through the internet.

Practice Question: Elena lives in Vermont and has a small business that manufactures a product for pets and sells it to retail establishments throughout the United States. She takes orders on her website and ships her product through a third-party logistics company. Gary, one of her retailers in Montana, is not happy with the quality of her product and demands a refund. When Elena refuses to refund Gary’s money, he sues her in Montana court. The Montana long-arm statute allows for service of process on a civil defendant in any state if the defendant is a business entity and ships any products into the state of Montana. What constitutional argument could Elena make to defend against being served with process and called into court in Montana?

Proposed Answer

  • Elana could argue that subjecting her business to Montana court jurisdiction violates her due process rights. She would pose the same argument present in the International Shoe case, in which the court held that putting product into the “stream of commerce” is inadequate to establish “minimum contacts”. She would need to demonstrate that she had little or no additional contact with the state that could meet the minimum contacts standard.

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