Personal jurisdiction(sometimes called in personam jurisdiction) refers to a court’s ability to bring a defendant into court and entertain litigation and enter a judgment. Say you and I both live in Missouri. A real estate dispute arises between us concerning property located in Saint Louis County. What happens if you file suit in Florida? Do Florida courts have jurisdiction to hear this? Do they have to compel me to Florida and address this? The answer to these questions are all no.
In order for a Missouri Court to bring any out of state Defendant into Missouri courts it must be shown that (1) defendant’s action arose out of an activity covered by the long-arm statute, §506.500 RSMo, and that the (2) Defendant had sufficient minimum contacts with Missouri to satisfy due process requirements.
Missouri’s so-called long-arm statute states that an out of state Defendant’s conduct brings them within the purview of Missouri in the following instances:
(1) The transaction of any business within this state;
(2) The making of any contract within this state;
(3) The commission of a tortious act within this state;
(4) The ownership, use, or possession of any real estate situated in this state;
(5) The contracting to insure any person, property or risk located within this state at the time of contracting;
(6) Engaging in an act of sexual intercourse within this state with the mother of a child on or near the probable period of conception of that child.
Assuming that one of these items fits a given case, the inquiry is not over. Due process mandates that the defendant have minimum contacts with Missouri so that maintaining the suit does not offend traditional notions of fair play and substantial justice. International Shoe Co. v. Washington, 326 U.S. 310, 316 (1945). In order to establish that minimum contacts exist, plaintiff must show that defendant has taken some act by which he/she purposefully availed himself/herself of the privilege of conducting business within Missouri so that Defendant may reasonably anticipate being haled into a Missouri Court. In addition to the “purposefully avail” analysis, Missouri courts may consider the following factors before exercising personal jurisdiction: (1) the nature and quality of the contact; (2) the quantity of those contacts; (3) the relationship of the cause of action to those contacts; (4) the interest of Missouri in providing a forum for its residents; and (5) the convenience or inconvenience to the parties.
Personal jurisdiction involves the construction and analysis of state law and federal law; accordingly, it can often times be very confusing. Even though it does not address the merits of a given action, it is an important issue that needs to be analyzed before committing time and resources in a state and court which may have have no authority to entertain the dispute.