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Supreme Court Re-examines Stream-of-Commerce Personal Jurisdiction

In State of Vermont v. Atlantic Richfield Company, et al., 2016 VT 22 (February 12, 2016), the Vermont Supreme Court affirmed the denial of a motion to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction in a decision examining the contours of the “stream-of-commerce” doctrine of personal jurisdiction.

Issue: Defendant appealed the denial of its motion to dismiss the State’s claims that it contaminated Vermont waters by introducing methyl tertiary butyl ether (MTBE), arguing that recent U.S. Supreme Court cases preclude personal jurisdiction based on either the foreseeability that its products will end up in the subject forum or the unilateral conduct of third parties.

Holding: After reviewing the U.S. Supreme Court case law on the stream-of-commerce doctrine, the Court held that the analysis set forth in World-Wide Volkswagen Corp. v. Woodson, 444 U.S. 286 (1980) is the governing law for personal jurisdiction, given the failure of competing factions on the U.S. Supreme Court to garner a majority vote to expand or limit the doctrine. Accordingly, it rejected Defendant’s arguments based on subsequent plurality and concurring U.S. Supreme Court decisions and a decision from Puerto Rico. It held that the trial court did not err in finding that the complaint and accompanying affidavit were sufficient to establish specific personal jurisdiction over Defendant. It also held that Defendant failed to present a compelling case that it was unreasonable to force it to litigate in Vermont.

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