One would be hard-pressed to find an area of life COVID-19 has not upended. Court proceedings are no different. While most routine legal proceedings can be conducted virtually, there are some proceedings so sacred that physical presence will probably always be required. U.S. Supreme Court oral arguments are such sacred proceedings. As such, the U.S. Supreme Court is postponing oral arguments on Ford’s jurisdictional challenges – originally scheduled for April 27 – due to COVID-19. This means we won’t receive a decision until the Fall.
As a reminder, Ford is challenging the Montana and Minnesota Supreme Court’s findings that it is fair and reasonable for Ford to defend product liability suits occurring in their States. In both of these cases, the Plaintiffs were injured by defects in Ford’s cars and filed their suits in the state where the accidents occurred. The cars at issue were manufactured, designed, and originally sold outside the forum state. Ford did not dispute the quality and quantity of its contacts with those states. Instead, Ford argued that since the Plaintiffs’ cars were not purchased brand new in those states, then Ford’s in-state contacts did not “cause” Plaintiffs’ claims. Both the Montana and Minnesota Supreme Courts rejected Ford’s “causation” argument.
Since our last update on this case, many entities have filed Amicus Curiae briefs against Ford’s argument in the U.S. Supreme Court. Thirty-nine state attorneys general and the District of Columbia filed an excellent brief explaining how Ford’s proposed proximate cause standard would restrict “States’ strong sovereign and constitutional interests in ensuring that their own courts remain open to citizens injured within their borders.” However, the federal government filed an amicus brief siding with Ford. In a rare decision, the U.S. Supreme Court rejected bids from the States as well as from the federal government to participate in oral argument.
In addition, the Missouri Supreme Court recently became the third state supreme court to reject a manufacturer’s argument that the vehicle must be originally purchased in the state where it causes injury. On March 17, the Missouri Supreme Court upheld a trial court’s finding of jurisdiction over Suzuki Motor Corporation for a car accident in Missouri that left two Missouri residents severely burned.
Beasley Allen lawyers Graham Esdale and Stephanie Monplaisir were the lawyers on this case, titled State ex rel. Suzuki Moroto Corporation, No. SC 98129. They conducted jurisdictional discovery and filed extensive briefing for two years before receiving this favorable ruling from the Missouri Supreme Court. If you need more information, contact Stephanie Monplaisir at 800-898-2034.