Robert Murdoch

Robert Murdoch

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Long Arm Statutes or Why Selling on the Internet Can be Harmful to your mental well-being!

So far we’ve talked about the general idea of a court exercising jurisdiction over a non-resident, and I think by now you understand the issues that creates. So now, let’s look at some specific circumstances where you might find yourself hauled into court in a different state, or conversely, if you’re doing the suing, how you can get someone from another state into court in your state.
In the last post I talked about two concepts – long arm statutes and due process. Quick recap, and to put things into perspective….  Long arm statutes are the state laws that give courts of a state the power to exercise jurisdiction over a non-resident. Due process refers to the constitutional limitations on the exercise of the power. It will make more sense, and be easier to understand if we look first at the long arm statutes and then, later look at the limitations on jurisdiction that courts have imposed on it.
Every state in the country has some form of long arm statute. These statutes set forth the circumstances under which a person or company not resident in the state can nonetheless be made a defendant in a lawsuit in the state. They are not identical from state to state, but are always very broad.
   
The long arm statutes of states fall into two broad categories. Those that specify the acts and conduct that will subject a non-resident to jurisdiction. Others simply say that the courts of the state have as much extra-territorial jurisdiction as the constitution allows.
Here are a couple of examples:
Utah’s long-arm statute goes into detail:
§ 78-27-24. Jurisdiction over nonresidents – Acts submitting person to
jurisdiction.
Any person, notwithstanding Section 16-10a-1501, whether or not a citizen
or resident of this state, who in person or through an agent does any of the following
enumerated acts, submits himself, and if an individual, his personal representative,
to the jurisdiction of the courts of this state as to any claim arising out of or related
to:
(1) the transaction of any business within this state;
(2) contracting to supply services or goods in this state;
(3) the causing of any injury within this state whether tortious or by breach of warranty;
(4) the ownership, use, or possession of any real estate situated in this state;
(5) contracting to insure any person, property, or risk located within this state at the time of contracting;
(6) with respect to actions of divorce, separate maintenance, or child support, having resided, in the marital relationship, within this state notwithstanding subsequent departure from the state; or the commission in this state of the act giving rise to the claim, so long as that act is not a mere omission, failure to act, or occurrence over which the defendant had no control; or
(7) the commission of sexual intercourse within this state which gives
rise to a paternity suit under Title 78, Chapter 45a, to determine paternity for the purpose of establishing responsibility for child support.
As you can see, this statute spells out in detail the things that will subject a non-resident to jurisdiction. Compare this to Arizona’s statute which simply states:
A court of this state may exercise personal jurisdiction over parties, whether found within or outside the state, to the maximum extent permitted by the Constitution of this state and the Constitution of the United States. Service upon
any such party located outside the state may be made as provided in this Rule 4.2, and when so made shall be of the same effect as personal service within the state
Within the statutes that are more detailed, there are of course differences from state to state. In some states, owning property in the state is in and of itself enough to confer jurisdiction, while in other states, property ownership, without more, is not enough. The thing to remember about all of the long arm statutes however is that they are always written as broadly as possible. If you take time to study some of these statutes you will see that virtually anything that you do that even remotely affects the state or a resident of the state could subject you to jurisdiction there.
This overly broad exercise of personal jurisdiction by states was historically troublesome enough, but today, with internet marketing and transactions the norm rather than the exception, it becomes even scarier.
For example, taking the long arm statute literally, you could fi yourself as a defendant in a state hundreds of miles away because you had sold a resident of that state something on ebay, and shipped it to that state.
As you can see, jurisdiction is not an academic issue to be pondered abstractly by legal scholars. It can affect all of us and potentially have serious consequences.

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