Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Tuazon v. R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. (9th Cir. - Jan. 11, 2006)

Thank you, Margaret. Sincerely.

Every year, during their first semester of law school, to introduce my civil procedure students to the concept of general personal jurisdiction, I assign them the two leading Supreme Court opinions on the topic: Perkins (which found that general jurisdiction existed) and Helicopteros (which found that it didn't). And that's about it. Because, quite frankly, as far as the Supreme Court goes, that's indeed about it. These "bookends" are pretty much the only real insight the Supreme Court has rendered on the subject.

For this reason, every single year, my students invariably say: "Well, okay, we know one case where general jurisdiction exists, and one case where it doesn't, but what about cases in the middle?" And I tell them: "Well, honestly, you just do what lower courts -- and lawyers -- do all the time. Compare the cases, argue about the differences and the principles behind them, and come to a conclusion." And they respond: "That's all you got for me? For this they pay you a salary?!" To which I say: "My only defense is that it ain't that much."

Okay, in truth, I tell them that they could read 100 general jurisdiction cases and not get much more from it than what I tell them: that you compare cases and come to a reasoned conclusion. General jurisdiction exists if there are a lot more contacts than in Helicopteros. How much more? No one knows, exactly. They'd have a better sense -- but hate me even more than they do -- if I assigned 100 lower court general jurisdiction cases, but not much of a better sense. There's no test. The doctrine is what it is. You've got Cases A through ZZZ and try to figure out where yours stands compared to the others.

But along comes Judge McKeown. And writes a great opinion: one that is clear, reasonably concise, and informative. So now I can tell my students: "Don't take my word for it. Here's a judge who's doing exactly what I'm telling you one has to do with these types of cases. Plus, she writes an opinion which would clearly get an A+ if it were an answer to a law school hypothetical. Great analysis, great reasoning. Do what she does and you'll be a star."

Anyway, Judge McKeown holds that R.J. Reynolds is properly subject to general personal jurisdiction in Washington for a smoking-related that transpired pretty much exclusively in the Phillipines. The fact that I happen agree with the result that she reaches is largely irrelevant; the opinion would be excellent even if it came out the other way. I also happen to agree with her on the forum non conveniens issue (she holds that the lawsuit shouldn't be dismissed); though, honestly, I probably think that's a lot closer issue than she seems to perceive it to be.

An excellent exemplar of (and opinion relevant to) any case that raises an issue of general jurisdiction.