Robinson v. Harley-Davidson Motor Co. — Oregon Supreme Court changes its personal jurisdiction test

It’s a law geek’s dream: a personal jurisdiction case that overturns an older “mechanistic” standard with a functional, fact-dependent test.  The final result: who knows where the personal jurisdiction boundary lies!

In Robinson v. Harley-Davidson Motor Co. (S060226) the court  held that operating an interactive website that directs customers to an out of state motorcycle shop did not provide sufficient minimum contacts with Oregon to sue the motorcycle shop in this state.  Interestingly, the opinion of the court of appeals was reversed but the result was affirmed.  Because of intervening US Supreme Court caselaw, and the reliance on the “outer limits of due process” as the basis for personal jurisdiction, the Oregon Supreme Court abandoned the earlier standard of “substantive relevance”:

We too are persuaded that the substantive relevance test is mechanical and rigid. By requiring that at least one of a defendant’s contacts with the forum be relevant to the merits of a plaintiff’s claim, the substantive relevance test focuses exclusively on the “arise out of” aspect of the Supreme Court’s test requiring that an action either “arise out of” or “relate to” the defendant’s contacts with the state. The substantive relevance test creates a bright- line rule for what the Supreme Court has announced as a fact-specific inquiry into the reasonableness of state court jurisdiction.
Oregon also rejected a “but-for” test as “overinclusive” and a “substantial connection” test as unpredictable.  Instead, the Oregon court adopted a “but-for test and an assessment of the foreseeability of litigation to determine the relatedness requirement.”  (Right here, I’ve lost every non-lawyer and most of the lawyers who might chance upon the blog).  In practice it seems to mean that for the Oregon courts to assert personal jurisdiction, a party has to do something in Oregon that results in damage to another, and that activity has to make it foreseeable that you can be sued here.  
In Robinson, the court evaluated the facts and concluded that an interactive website, even if it was the reason that the plaintiff stopped at the otherwise-unconnected Idaho dealership for repairs, did not provide for a foreseeable source of litigation against the dealership in Oregon.  This makes intuitive sense, even if the articulation of the test is so incredibly convoluted, but it doesn’t give out-of-state businesses much guidance on how to stay out of court in Oregon.  At least we know that an interactive website alone isn’t enough.
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