The United States Supreme Court has stated that a defendant's placing goods into the stream of commerce with the expectation that they will be purchased by consumers within the forum State may indicate purposeful availment. But that statement does not amend the general rule of personal jurisdiction. It merely observes that a defendant may in an appropriate case be subject to jurisdiction without entering the forum -- itself an unexceptional proposition -- as where manufacturers or distributors "seek to serve" a given State's market. The principal inquiry in cases of this sort is whether the defendant's activities manifest an intention to submit to the power of a sovereign. In other words, the defendant must purposefully avail itself of the privilege of conducting activities within the forum State, thus invoking the benefits and protections of its laws. Sometimes a defendant does so by sending its goods rather than its agents. The defendant's transmission of goods permits the exercise of jurisdiction only where the defendant can be said to have targeted the forum; as a general rule, it is not enough that the defendant might have predicted that its goods will reach the forum State.
Respondent injured his hand while using a metal-shearing machine that petitioner British manufacturer produced in England. Petitioner's company is incorporated and operates in England. Respondent filed a consumer's products-liability suit in a state court in New Jersey, where the accident occurred. Petitioner sought to dismiss for want of personal jurisdiction. Respondent's jurisdictional claim was based on three primary facts: A U. S. distributor agreed to sell petitioner's machines in the US, its officials attended trade shows in several States, albeit not in New Jersey, and no more than four machines (the record suggests only one), including the one at issue, ended up in New Jersey. The state court entered judgment for respondent. On appeal, the court reversed.
Did the state court err in ruling it had personal jurisdiction over petitioner?
In products-liability cases, it was a defendant's purposeful availment that made jurisdiction consistent with traditional notions of fair play and substantial justice. The transmission of goods permitted the exercise of jurisdiction only where the defendant targeted the forum; generally, it was not enough that it might have predicted its goods would reach the forum State. The manufacturer directed marketing and sales efforts at the U.S., but the question was whether the New Jersey state court had the authority to exercise jurisdiction; thus, it was the manufacturer's purposeful contacts with New Jersey, not with the U.S., that alone were relevant. The manufacturer had no office in New Jersey; it neither paid taxes nor owned property there; and it neither advertised in, nor sent any employees to, the State. It did not have a single contact with New Jersey short of the product in question ending up in New Jersey. The Supreme Court of New Jersey's holding was error.