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Home Is Where The Heart Is (NJ)

July 11, 2019

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<p style="text-align: justify;">In<em> <a href="https://www.wcmlaw.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/07/Cohen-v.-Starbucks.pdf">Cohen v. Starbucks</a>,</em> Starbucks moved to dismiss plaintiff’s action for lack of personal jurisdiction, which was filed in the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey.  Plaintiff, a resident of New Jersey, was a customer at a Starbucks in Mexico.  At that store, plaintiff fell and suffered an injury.</p>
<p style="text-align: justify;">As a general matter, a court must have personal jurisdiction over a defendant.  There are two types of personal jurisdiction: (1) general; and (2) specific.  A court with general jurisdiction may hear any claim against an out-of-state defendant, even if the underlying claim occurred in a different state.  However, to assert general jurisdiction, a defendant’s contacts with the forum state must be “continuous and systematic” and only a limited set of affiliations with a forum will render a defendant amenable to all-purpose jurisdiction there.  For a corporation, the paradigm forum for the exercise of general jurisdiction is the state in which the corporation is fairly regarded as “at home.”  A corporation is “at home” in a forum state if it is incorporated there or has its principal place of business there.</p>
<p style="text-align: justify;">On this basis, Starbucks moved to dismiss the complaint on personal jurisdiction grounds, arguing that its “home” is Washington State where it is incorporated and has its principal place of business.  Plaintiff opposed the motion, arguing that Starbucks has continuous and systematic contacts with New Jersey.  The District Court disagreed, noting that Starbucks is incorporated and has its principal place of business in Washington.  The Court ruled that Starbucks' presence in New Jersey did not render it “at home” in New Jersey.  Accordingly, the Court transferred the case to Washington.</p>
<p style="text-align: justify;">This case is a good illustration of how difficult it is to assert general jurisdiction.  An exercise of general jurisdiction is reserved for an exceptional case.  Such an exceptional case would be a corporation that relocates its headquarters while remaining incorporated in another state.  A litany of stores operated in a state is insufficient for a court to exercise general jurisdiction over a claim involving an accident not occurring in the forum state.</p>
<p style="text-align: justify;">Thank you to Michael Noblett for his contribution to this post.  Please email <a href="mailto:chayes@wcmlaw.com">Colleen E. Hayes</a> with any questions.</p>
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