J. McIntyre Machinery, Ltd. v. Nicastro

PETITIONER: J. McIntyre Machinery, Ltd.
RESPONDENT: Robert Nicastro, et al.
LOCATION: Superior Court of New Jersey

DOCKET NO.: 09-1343
DECIDED BY: Roberts Court (2010-2016)
LOWER COURT: New Jersey Supreme Court

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

ADVOCATES:
Arthur F. Fergenson - for the petitioner
Alexander W. Ross Jr. - for the respondent

Facts of the case

An accident severed four fingers off the right hand of Robert Nicastro who was operating a recycling machine used to cut metal. A British company manufactured the machine and sold it through its exclusive U.S. distributor. Nicastro sued J. McIntyre Machinery, Ltd., the British company, and its U.S. distributor, McIntyre Machinery America, Ltd., in New Jersey state court for product liability. The state supreme court reversed a trial court's dismissal, finding that the foreign company had sufficient contacts with the state.

Question

May a consumer sue a foreign manufacturer in state court over a product that the foreign company marketed and sold in the United States?

Media for J. McIntyre Machinery, Ltd. v. Nicastro

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - June 27, 2011 (Part 2) in J. McIntyre Machinery, Ltd. v. Nicastro
Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - January 11, 2011 in J. McIntyre Machinery, Ltd. v. Nicastro

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - June 27, 2011 (Part 1) in J. McIntyre Machinery, Ltd. v. Nicastro

Anthony M. Kennedy:

This case arises from a products liability suit filed in a New Jersey state court.

Robert Nicastro seriously injured his hand while using a metal shearing device, a machine that was manufactured by J. McIntyre Machinery.

The accident occurred in New Jersey, but the machine was made in England and England is where J. McIntyre is incorporated and that's where it operates.

The question here is whether the New Jersey courts have jurisdiction over J. McIntyre, not withstanding the fact that the company at no time either marketed goods in the State or shipped from there.

Of course, Nicastro was the plaintiff in the New Jersey trial court and is the respondent here.

McIntyre was the defendant and is now the petitioner here.

The New Jersey Supreme Court held that its states courts -- its state courts could exercise jurisdiction over petitioner McIntyre.

It held that the company knew or recently should have known that its products were distributed through a nationwide distribution system that might lead to those products being sold in any of the 50 states.

Six members of the Court agree that this judgment must be reversed.

I've written a plurality opinion joined by the Chief Justice and Justices Scalia and Thomas.

That opinion explains that, at least in products liability cases, the sovereign's exercise of judicial power requires some act by which the defendant purposely avails itself of the privilege of conducting activities within the foreign State, thus invoking the benefits and the protection of its laws.

This Court's decision in an earlier case, a case called “Asahi” may impart be responsible for the New Jersey's Supreme Court's contrary conclusion that the mere placement of goods in the stream of commerce can substitute for purposeful availment.

Although, this Court invoke the stream of commerce metaphor in Asahi, it should be clear that there is no special rule of personal jurisdiction for products-liability cases.

Justice Breyer has filed an -- an opinion concurring in the judgment joined by Justice Alito.

He argues that none of this Court's precedence would support the exercise of jurisdiction over the defendant by petitioner who had only a single sale in the State as occurred here.

Because the incident at issue in this case does not invocate modern concerns, the concurring opinion would avoid using this case as an opportunity to make broad pronouncements on basic jurisdictional rules.

The petitioner is, thus, entitled to a dismissal of the suit for lack of jurisdiction.

The contrary judgment of the New Jersey Supreme Court is reversed.

Justice Ginsburg has filed a dissenting opinion in which Justices Sotomayor and Kegan joined.