World-Wide Volkswagen Corp v. Woodson, is a United States Supreme Court case involving strict products liability, personal injury and various procedural issues and considerations. The 1980 opinion, written by Justice Byron White, is included in the first-year civil procedure curriculum at nearly every American law school for its focus on the personal jurisdiction.
The Robinsons' Oklahoma attorney brought the lawsuit in state court in Creek County, Oklahoma, the county in which the accident had occurred. Creek County was at that time known as home to some of the most sympathetic plaintiffs' juries in the country. However, since the lawsuit met requirements for concurrent jurisdiction in both state and federal court, Audi and Volkswagen would have had the ability to ask for the case to be removed from state court in Creek County and taken directly to federal court. One of the factors which governs concurrent jurisdiction is diversity of citizenship, or whether a defendant and plaintiff are from the same state. Only in cases where diversity of citizenship exists can a defendant ask for removal to federal court. In the case of multiple defendants, if one defendants' state citizenship matches the plaintiff's, concurrent federal jurisdiction does not apply and the case cannot be removed to federal court. It has therefore been stated that the reason the Robinsons' attorney added the New York regional distributor and New York dealership as defendants was to prevent Audi and Volkswagen from being able to remove the case from what was generally seen as a Creek County pro-plaintiffs' jury to what would be a federal court jury in Tulsa that might be more sympathetic to the car manufacturers' case. The Robinsons had not yet completed a move to Arizona, so they were still considered to be legal residents of New York.
The Robinsons first sued only Volkswagen of America, World-Wide, and Seaway. They later amended the suit to include Volkswagen AG, the German parent company. A second amendment was included after they learned during formal discovery that Audi AG was the manufacturing parent company rather than Volkswagen AG; they substituted Audi AG for Volkswagen AG.
When they were brought in as defendants in the case, World-Wide and Seaway claimed that Oklahoma’s exercise of in personam jurisdiction over them would offend the limitations on states' jurisdiction imposed by the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States; they asked to be removed from the suit. Audi and Volkswagen, which sold cars in the state of Oklahoma, did not attempt to assert that the Oklahoma state court had no jurisdiction over them.
The Due Process Clause of the 14th Amendment limits the power of a state court to exercise personal jurisdiction against a nonresident defendant. Due process requires that the defendant be given adequate notice of the suit. A state court may exercise personal jurisdiction over a nonresident only so long as there exist "minimum contacts" between the defendant and the forum state.
The 14th Amendment provides protection against inconvenient litigation, typically described in terms of “reasonableness” or “fairness”: “Does not offend ‘traditional notions of fair play and substantial justice.” The relationship between the defendant and forum must be “reasonable.” The burden on the defendant is to be balanced against other factors, including the plaintiff’s interest in obtaining convenient and effective relief.
The due process clause “does not contemplate that a state may make binding a judgment in personam against an individual or corporate defendant with which the state has no contacts, ties or relations.” Even if the defendant would suffer minimal or no inconvenience from being forced to litigate before the tribunals of another state, even if the forum state has a strong interest in applying its law to the controversy, and even if the forum state is the most convenient location for litigation, the due process clause may sometimes act to divest the state of its power to render a valid judgment.
The petitioners' contentions were deemed correct by the Supreme Court, which agreed that the two corporations did not have minimum contacts in Oklahoma, did not avail themselves of any of the privileges or benefits of Oklahoma law; Oklahoma therefore had no jurisdiction over the two companies.
The Robinsons' counterclaim and Justice Blackmun's dissenting opinion were based on foreseeability- a car sold in New York is mobile, and therefore it was foreseeable by World-Wide and Seaway that a car sold by them could subsequently lead to an injury in Oklahoma. The majority opinion of the Supreme Court rejected this argument, saying that foreseeability alone could not provide the basis for personal jurisdiction over a defendant and the two petitioning companies had no other contacts with Oklahoma.
Why Properly Construed Due Process Limits on Personal Jurisdiction Must Always Trump Contrary Treaty Provisions
Jun 22, 1998; I. INTRODUCTION Let me begin by thanking Professor Borchers for inviting me to contribute to this Symposium on the interrelation...