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.
Respondent Nicastro injured his hand while using a metal-shearing machine that petitioner J. McIntyre Machinery, Ltd. (J. McIntyre), manufactured in England, where the company is incorporated and operates. Nicastro filed this products-liability suit in a state court in New Jersey, where the accident occurred, but J. McIntyre sought to dismiss the suit for want of personal jurisdiction. Nicastro's jurisdictional claim was based on three primary facts: A U. S. distributor agreed to sell J. McIntyre's machines in this country; J. McIntyre officials attended trade shows in several States, albeit not in New Jersey; and no more than four J. McIntyre machines (the record suggests only one), including the one at issue, ended up in New Jersey.
The State Supreme Court held that New Jersey's courts can exercise jurisdiction over a foreign manufacturer without contravening the Fourteenth Amendment Due Process Clause, so long as the manufacturer knew or reasonably should have known that its products are distributed through a nationwide distribution system that might lead to sales in any of the States.
Would the exercise of jurisdiction by New Jersey in the case violate Due Process?
The Supreme Court held that because J. McIntyre never engaged in any activities in New Jersey that revealed an intent to invoke or benefit from the protection of the State's laws, New Jersey is without power to adjudge the company's rights and liabilities, and its exercise of jurisdiction would violate due process.
Due process protects the defendant's right not to be coerced except by lawful judicial power. A court may subject a defendant to judgment only when the defendant has sufficient contacts with the sovereign “such that the maintenance of the suit does not offend 'traditional notions of fair play and substantial justice.' Freeform fundamental fairness notions divorced from traditional practice cannot transform a judgment rendered without authority into law. As a general rule, the sovereign's exercise of power requires some act by which the defendant “purposefully avails itself of the privilege of conducting activities within the forum State, thus invoking the benefits and protections of its laws.”
Nicastro has not established that J. McIntyre engaged in conduct purposefully directed at New Jersey. The company 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. Indeed, the trial court found that petitioner did not have a single contact with the State apart from the fact that the machine in question ended up there. Neither these facts, nor the three on which Nicastro centered his jurisdictional claim, show that J. McIntyre purposefully availed itself of the New Jersey market.