Goodyear Dunlop Tires Operations, S.A. v. Brown

PETITIONER: Goodyear Dunlop Tires Operations, S.A., et al.
RESPONDENT: Edgar D. Brown et ux., co-administrators of the Estate of Julian David Brown, et al.
LOCATION: Court of Appeals of North Carolina

DOCKET NO.: 10-76
DECIDED BY: Roberts Court (2010-2016)
LOWER COURT: State appellate court

CITATION: 564 US (2011)
GRANTED: Sep 28, 2010
ARGUED: Jan 11, 2011
DECIDED: Jun 27, 2011

ADVOCATES:
Benjamin J. Horwich - Assistant to the Solicitor General, Department of Justice, as amicus curiae, supporting the petitioners
Collyn Peddie - on behalf of respondents
Meir Feder - for the petitioners

Facts of the case

The families of two North Carolina teenagers killed in a bus crash in France brought suit in North Carolina state court, alleging faulty tires. The tires were made in Turkey, and the plaintiffs sued Goodyear's Luxembourg affiliate and its branches in Turkey and France. A North Carolina appeals court held that the foreign defendants had sufficient contacts in the state to support general personal jurisdiction.

Question

May a consumer sue a foreign manufacturer in a U.S. court when the manufacturer's only connection with the United States is that another company sells its products in this country?

Media for Goodyear Dunlop Tires Operations, S.A. v. Brown

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - January 11, 2011 in Goodyear Dunlop Tires Operations, S.A. v. Brown

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - June 27, 2011 in Goodyear Dunlop Tires Operations, S.A. v. Brown

Ruth Bader Ginsburg:

This case concerns the authority of a U.S. Court to hear a case against a foreign defendant based on an incident that occurred abroad.

The suit arose from a tragic accident, two 13-year old boys from North Carolina were on a soccer adventure in France.

A bus taking them to the airport for their journey home overturned outside Paris.

Both boys sustained fatal injuries.

Attributing the accident to a Goodyear tire that failed, the boy's parents commenced wrongful-death suits in a North Carolina State Court.

Named as -- as defendants were Goodyear USA and three foreign subsidiaries of that parent corporation, Goodyear Luxembourg, Goodyear France, and Goodyear Turkey.

The tire alleged to have caused the accident was made in Istanbul by Goodyear Turkey.

All three subsidiaries made tires designed for markets in Europe and Asian countries.

Their tire's differed in size and construction from tires ordinarily used in the United States.

Goodyear USA, an Ohio corporation that had plants in North Carolina and regularly engaged in commercial activity there, did not object to suit in that state.

The three European subsidiaries however, did object asserting their lack of connection to North Carolina.

The tires they made, they stressed, were geared to European and Asian road conditions, and was seldom sold to US buyers.

Because the accident occurred in France, and because the subsidiaries have no regular, and sustained North Carolina contacts, they urged that their subjection to the jurisdiction of North Carolina's Courts would be incompatible with the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.

Our pathmarking decision on questions of personal jurisdiction over nonresidents, compatible with due process, is a 1945 Opinion, International Shoe Company against Washington.

International Shoes sparked recognition of a distinction between general or all-purpose jurisdiction over a defendant, and specific case-linked jurisdictions.

A state court may assert general jurisdiction over a foreign corporation to hear any and all claims against the corporation if this condition is met.

The foreign corporation's affiliations with the State are so "continuous and systematic" as to render the corporation, not a stranger, but at home in the state.

Specific jurisdiction in contrast, depends on an "affiliation between the forum and the underlying controversy," principally, an activity or occurrence that takes place in the forum State.

A classic example, a nonresident drives her car into another state, and negligently causes an accident there.

She may never have entered the State before, yet she will be answerable there to persons injured in the accident.

Unlike general all-purpose jurisdiction, specific jurisdiction is confined to adjudication of the very controversy that establishes jurisdiction.

Because the bus accident that prompted the litigation occurred in France, and the tire that failed was made and sold abroad, North Carolina plainly lacked specific jurisdiction over the three European corporations.

The question for our decision is whether the foreign corporations are amenable to suit in North Carolina on a claim unrelated to any North Carolina activity of those corporations.

Confusing or blending general and specific jurisdiction inquiries, the North Carolina courts answered yes, the European manufacturers maybe sued in North Carolina because a small percentage of the tires they made were sold to North Carolina purchases.

We reverse that determination, the connections between the foreign corporations and North Carolina were hardly "continuous and systematic," they fall far short of the strong ties necessary to render North Carolina a place where the Goodyear subsidiaries are at home.

In the merits briefly filed in this Court, the plaintiffs urged -- urges to disregard the separate corporate organization and operations of Goodyear USA, and its foreign subsidiaries.

In other words, they asked us to pierce the corporate veils and treat all four defendants as a -- not as discreet entities, but as a "unitary business," so that jurisdiction over the parent, Goodyear USA, would draw in the subsidiaries as well.

Plaintiffs failed to raise that argument in the courts below or in their brief in opposite into certiorari.

They have therefore forfeited the argument, so we express no view on it.

The court's opinion is unanimous.