World-Wide Volkwagen Corporation v. Woodson

PETITIONER: World Wide Volkswagen Corp., Seaway Volkswagen Inc.
RESPONDENT: The Honorable Charles Woodson, District Judge of Creek County, State of Oklahoma; Key Eloise Robinson; Eva May Robinson; Harry Robinson; George Samuel Robinson
LOCATION: Turner Turnpike

DOCKET NO.: 78-1078
DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1975-1981)
LOWER COURT: Supreme Court of Oklahoma

CITATION: 444 US 286 (1980)
ARGUED: Oct 03, 1979
DECIDED: Jan 21, 1980
GRANTED: Feb 21, 1979

ADVOCATES:
Herbert Rubin - for petitioners
Jefferson G. Greer - for respondents

Facts of the case

New York residents purchased a car from a Volkswagen retailer in New York. On a drive to Arizona, the residents got in a car accident while driving through Oklahoma. A defective gas tank in the car allegedly caused the accident. The residents sued the retailer and its New York based wholesale distributor in Oklahoma state court. The retailer and distributor asserted that Oklahoma could not properly have jurisdiction. The trial court rejected this claim. The retailer and distributor then sought a writ of prohibition from the Supreme Court of Oklahoma to prevent the trial court from exercising in personam jurisdiction. The court denied the writ because jurisdiction was authorized by Oklahoma’s long-arm statute, which allowed jurisdiction over defendants who caused tortuous injury within the state.

Question

May a state court exercise in personam jurisdiction over a non-resident defendant in a products liability action where the defendant’s only connection to the state is the accident in question?

Media for World-Wide Volkwagen Corporation v. Woodson

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - October 03, 1979 in World-Wide Volkwagen Corporation v. Woodson

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - January 21, 1980 in World-Wide Volkwagen Corporation v. Woodson

Warren E. Burger:

The judgment and opinion of the Court in World-Wide Volkswagen Corporation against Woodson will be announced by Mr. Justice White.

Byron R. White:

This case is here on writ of certiorari to the Supreme Court of Oklahoma.

Petitioners are a New York wholesaler and retailer of automobiles and they do business only in the State of New York.

One of their cars which was sold to a New York resident was later involved in accident in the State of Oklahoma.

The injured owner brought this product liability suit claiming that the car was structurally deficient.

Among the defendants were these petitioners who had no contacts with the State of Oklahoma other than the fact that one of the cars they had handled was involved in an accident in that state.

The issue is whether the petitioners are subject to the jurisdiction of the Oklahoma courts. Contrary to the judgment of the Oklahoma Supreme Court, we hold that they are not.

The contacts the petitioners had with that state are not sufficient under the Due Process Clause to sustain a jurisdiction.

We accordingly reverse the judgment of the Oklahoma Supreme Court.

Justices Brennan, Marshall and Blackmun have each filed a dissenting opinions and Mr. Justice Blackmun has also joined the opinion of Mr. Justice Marshall.

Warren E. Burger:

Thank you Mr. Justice White.