Attorneys and justices explored competing causation standards and competing understandings of due process on Wednesday during oral argument in Ford v. Montana Eighth Judicial District (consolidated with Ford v. Bandemer). The cases present a question of personal jurisdiction: whether individuals injured in automobile accidents involving Ford cars can sue Ford in the states in which the accidents took place (Montana and Minnesota) if Ford regularly sells, ships and markets cars in those states but manufactured and sold the specific cars involved in the accidents in other states.
Sean Marotta, for Ford, and Deepak Gupta, for plaintiffs, phone in for arguments (Art Lien)
Arguments for Ford
Sean Marotta argued for Ford. He proposed that, for a state court to exercise personal jurisdiction over Ford, the company’s contacts with the state must be the “proximate cause” of the accident and injuries sued upon. The case is controlled by the court’s 2017 decision in Bristol-Myers Squibb v. Superior Court of California, which held that selling a similar product in a state could not provide a basis for jurisdiction in that state. In BMS, the plaintiffs were Ohioans suing in California, whereas in this case, the plaintiffs are citizens of the forum states (Montana and Minnesota). But the plaintiff’s home state is irrelevant under Walden v. Fiore. Personal jurisdiction, Marotta reminded the court, protects defendants, not plaintiffs.
Chief Justice John Roberts. The chief justice proposed a hypothetical in which a car manufacturer advertised cars in all states and the ads prompted the plaintiff to purchase the car, including by highlighting the car’s safety. Marotta said advertising was in the “but-for” causal chain but was too attenuated to be the proximate cause of the accident. A plaintiff “tells the story” of an accident, and only those contacts that are part