Mercedes-Benz Argentina (“MBA”) aided and abetted the killings and mayhem that defined Argentina’s Dirty War (1976-83), the plaintiffs alleged. But they sued MBA’s German parent Daimler — not MBA. And they brought the action in California — not where Daimler’s main United States sub (Mercedes-Benz USA or MBUSA) had incorporated (Delaware) or the state in which MBUSA kept its main place of business.
The Ninth Circuit held that in law and fact the district court had had something it thought it lacked — personal jurisdiction over Daimler by virtue of the many things MBUSA had done in the Golden State as Daimler’s “agent”.
Reversing, the Court (in the person of Justice Ginsburg) ruled that Daimler’s contacts with California through its American offspring MBUSA did not warrant hailing the German giant into court there. Because the case related solely to events in Argentina and had nothing to do with California, the Court noted, only “all-purpose” jurisdiction mattered. Pooh-poohing the notion that all-purpose jurisdiction can exist any time a foreign entity has “important” links to the forum state, the Court stated that “the inquiry . . . is not whether a foreign corporation’s in-forum contacts can be said to be in some sense ‘continuous and systematic,’ it is whether that corporation’s ‘affiliations with the State are so ‘continuous and systematic’ as to render [it] essentially at home in the forum State.’” Daimler AG v. Bauman, No. 11-965, slip op. at 20 (U.S. Jan. 14, 2014) (quoting Goodyear Dunlop Tires Operations, S. A. v. Brown, 564 U. S. ___, ___ (2011)) (http://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/13pdf/11-965_1qm2.pdf). Daimler did a lot of stuff through MBUSA in California, the Court conceded, but not enough to make it “at home” in the land of Hollywood, Death Valley, and Muir Woods, the Court held.
The outcome extends the Court’s march away from all-purpose or “general” jurisdiction and towards the “specific” kind, which turns on the linkage among the defendant, the forum, and the lawsuit. Having first spoken of the two jurisdiction types in International Shoe Co. v. Washington, 326 U. S. 310 (1945), the Court has thus trimmed the growth of the former in heavy favor of the latter.