Wal-Mart Stores v. Hon. Lemaire (CA1 5/11/17)

Opinions on personal jurisdiction too often get turned into primers, recounting once again the long string of cases since Pennoyer v. Neff; that’s easy and lends perfunctory analysis an air of substance. Fortunately, this one is the other way around: a brief reminder of how the law works followed by extended analysis, mentioning the landmark cases only as necessary.

Plaintiff sued Wal-Mart here for a slip-and-fall in Oregon. Wal-Mart moved to dismiss for failure of jurisdiction. The trial court denied it, holding that Arizona has general jurisdiction over Wal-Mart, a Delaware company with its principal place of business in Arkansas. Wal-Mart took special action.

The Court of Appeals accepts jurisdiction and grants relief, directing the trial court to dismiss without prejudice.

Plaintiff argued firstly that Arizona has general jurisdiction because Wal-Mart has a statutory agent here. She cited Bohreer (App. 2007), which held that insurance companies – by authorizing, as a statute requires them to do, the Director of the Department of Insurance to be their agent for service of process – consent to general jurisdiction. Another statute requires foreign corporations to have a stat agent here. But the court holds that that does not “create general personal jurisdiction over foreign corporations, either by prescription or consent.” “Had the Legislature intended to endow Arizona courts with the ability to hear all cases (including those in which Arizona has no interest) against all registered foreign corporations, it would have said so.” “A corporation cannot fairly be deemed to have consented to waive its due-process rights when, as here, the statutes gave no notice that such a waiver is the price of registration.” Some courts hold otherwise but the opinion, discussing various U.S. Supreme Court cases, says that their implied-consent analysis, based on Pennoyer, has been superseded by  the “modern” doctrine of specific jurisdiction.

Plaintiff also argued that the extent of Wal-Mart’s activities in Arizona – its one of our largest employers, apparently — make it “present” here.  Wal-Mart argued that under the U.S. Supreme Court cases of Goodyear and Daimler  a corporation can be present only in its states of incorporation and principal place of business. The court declines to qo quite that far, holding that there can be additional presence in “exceptional cases.” But “exceptional” is not a matter of size; “we hold that the magnitude of a corporation’s business activities in Arizona is not sufficient to create general jurisdiction.”

Wal-Mart argued, by the way, that Goodyear and Daimler overruled Bohreer. The court sidestepped that, putting off having to face that problem until another day when the issue is more squarely presented.

(Opinion: Wal-Mart Stores v. Hon. Lemaire/Buss)