International Shoe Co. v. Washington

326 U.S. 310 (1945)

Yeazell, p. 95-100


Facts: International Shoe is a Delaware company based in St. Louis.  They have some salesmen on commission in the state of Washington but don’t have any offices there.  Washington is trying to get the company to ante up for its unemployment fund.  Washington served Shoe notice of assessment by personally delivering it to one of their salesmen in Washington as well as sending registered mail to their home office in St. Louis.


Procedural Posture: Shoe made a special appearance in Washington to argue that the service of process on the salesman was not proper and that Shoe wasn’t doing business in Washington according to the statute.  The courts in Washington found that Shoe was amenable to personal jurisdiction in that state.  Shoe appealed up to the U.S. Supreme Court.


Issue: Under what conditions is a corporation subject to personal jurisdiction in a particular state?


Rule: A corporation that is protected by the laws of a state shall be subject to personal jurisdiction in that state.


Analysis: The court interprets the due process clause and the Fourteenth Amendment to mean that if a company has “sufficient contacts” in a state, they may be subject to being sued in that state.


Chief Justice Stone relies upon the concept of “fair play”, whereas Justice Black takes a harder line and says that under more or less no circumstances should a state’s law be found not to apply simply because it doesn’t meet the court’s standard of “fair play”.


Conclusion: The Supreme Court upheld the lower court’s ruling for the state of Washington.


Notes and Problems



a.      The court could only have reached a different result if it found that the activities of the company in Washington were “casual” and “irregular”.  For example, if the company did not have any salesmen in Washington but had sent an agent to the state to investigate future expansion of their business there, the state of Washington probably wouldn’t have had personal jurisdiction.  The Court says, however, that the line between sufficient and insufficient contacts is necessarily qualitative rather than quantitative.

b.     I think requiring the court to notify the parties if it is going to make a mind-blowing doctrinal change would make things too complicated and delay the proceedings too much.  Hopefully, if the attorneys from both sides have been reading law reviews and are familiar with the records of the judges involved, they will be able to anticipate the changes when they write their briefs.

2.     This does seem like an awfully vague standard, but the Court seems to suggest that the standard is necessarily vague.  If the salespeople are freelancers, the companies that pay them will all be protected by the laws of that state, so presumably they would all be under the personal jurisdiction of that state.  If the salesmen travel to other states, the protection of those other states’ laws will apply to them.  It would seem that personal jurisdiction would apply in those states as well.

3.     The statement suggests that if your corporate operations in a certain state are “continuous” and “substantial”, you could be subject to personal jurisdiction on a whole host of issues.

a.      If a corporation does a good amount of business in a state, it seems to be more or less “black letter” that the corporation is subject to general jurisdiction in that state.  These would not be hard cases.

b.     If the corporation does limited business in a state, the court must decide if the state has specific jurisdiction on a particular issue based on how connected that limited business is to the specific issue in question.

4.     Oh boy, hypotheticals!  We’re told that Shoe still has its headquarters in Missouri and is incorporated in Delaware.  They have no salespeople in Wyoming, they don’t sell shoes there, and basically they don’t do any business there except use their roads to transport their shoes to other states.

a.      It would seem that the company doesn’t have sufficient contacts to be subject to personal jurisdiction in Wyoming as a company.  The driver would be subject to personal jurisdiction individually, although the injured person could not expect to get nearly as much money from the driver as from the company.  However, the injured person could sue Shoe in federal court.  As a matter of policy, the remedies that can be obtained through these alternate means should make the courts fairly content with this system of personal jurisdiction.  (I think the right answer is that the company is subject to specific personal jurisdiction in regard to their transportation activities.)

b.     I don’t think the company would be subject to personal jurisdiction in this case either for similar reasons.  The person is not a current employee, and the alleged wrongdoing didn’t take place in Wyoming.  If the court were to come to a different conclusion in case 4a than in case 4b, I think it would rest on where the wrongdoing took place.

c.     It would not make any difference which plaintiff sued in Missouri because it only matters whether the state has personal jurisdiction over the defendant.

d.     I think this would be no different than case 4c.  The Delaware court would have appropriate personal jurisdiction over the company.

e.      The issue here is whether Wyoming has specific jurisdiction or general jurisdiction.  Wyoming would have jurisdiction in regard to transportation, but not in regard to the bond payments.

5.     Are there situations where we can clearly see that a defendant may be sued for all claims in a certain state?

a.      If you’re incorporated in a state, you can be sued there for anything.  If you’re a person domiciled in a state, you can also be sued there for anything.  The induced consent comes from the idea that whatever the state creates, it can mess with or destroy.  If you agree to incorporate in my state, you have to be subject to the rules I set up.

b.     If you’re domiciled in a state, you can be served in that state even if you’re out of state at the time.  This seems like a change from Pennoyer.


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