RUSH V. SAVCHUK, 444 U. S. 320 (1980)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Rush v. Savchuk, 444 U.S. 320 (1980)

Rush v. Savchuk

No. 78-952

Argued October 3, 1979

Decided January 21, 1980

444 U.S. 320


While a resident of Indiana, appellee was injured in an accident in Indiana while riding as a passenger in a car driven by appellant Rush, also an Indiana resident. After moving to Minnesota, appellee commenced this action against Rush in a Minnesota state court, alleging negligence and seeking damages. As Rush had no contacts with Minnesota that would support in personam jurisdiction, appellee attempted to obtain quasi in rem jurisdiction by garnishing the contractual obligation of State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Co. (State Farm) to defend and indemnify Rush in connection with such a suit. State Farm, which does business in Minnesota, had insured the car, owned by Rush's father, under a liability insurance policy issued in Indiana. Rush was personally served in Indiana, and after State Farm's response to the garnishment summons asserted that it owed the defendant nothing, appellee moved the trial court for permission to file a supplemental complaint making the garnishee, State Farm, a party to the action. Rush and State Farm moved to dismiss the complaint for lack of jurisdiction over the defendant. The trial court denied the motion to dismiss and granted the motion for leave to file the supplemental complaint. The Minnesota Supreme Court affirmed, ultimately holding that the assertion of quasi in rem jurisdiction under the Minnesota garnishment statute complied with the due process standards enunciated in Shaffer v. Heitner, 433 U. S. 186.

Held: A State may not constitutionally exercise quasi in rem jurisdiction over a defendant who has no forum contacts by attaching the contractual obligation of an insurer licensed to do business in the State to defend and indemnify him in connection with the suit. Pp. 444 U. S. 327-333.

(a) A State may exercise jurisdiction over an absent defendant only if the defendant has certain minimum contacts with the forum such that the maintenance of the suit does not offend traditional notions of fair play and substantial justice. International Shoe Co. v. Washington, 326 U. S. 310. In determining whether a particular exercise of state court jurisdiction is consistent with due process, the inquiry must focus on "the relationship among the defendant, the forum, and the litigation." Shaffer v. Heitner, supra at 433 U. S. 204. P. 327.

(b) Here, the only affiliating circumstance offered to show a relationship among Rush, Minnesota, and this lawsuit is that Rush's insurance

Page 444 U. S. 321

company does business in the State. However, the fictional presence in Minnesota of State Farm's policy obligation to defend and indemnify Rush -- derived from combining the legal fiction that assigns a situs to a debt, for garnishment purposes, wherever the debtor is found with the legal fiction that a corporation is "present," for jurisdictional purposes, wherever it does business -- cannot be deemed to give the State the power to determine Rush's liability for the out-of-state accident. The mere presence of property in a State does not establish a sufficient relationship between the owner of the property and the State to support the exercise of jurisdiction over an unrelated cause of action, and it cannot be said that the defendant engaged in any purposeful activity related to the forum that would make the exercise of jurisdiction fair, just, or reasonable merely because his insurer does business there. Nor does the policy provide significant contacts between the litigation and the forum, for the policy obligations pertain only to the conduct, not the substance, of the litigation. Pp. 444 U. S. 327-330.

(c) Moreover, the requisite minimum contacts with the forum cannot be established under an alternative approach attributing the insurer's forum contacts to the defendant by treating the attachment procedure as the functional equivalent of a direct action against the insurer, and considering the insured a "nominal defendant" in order to obtain jurisdiction over the insurer. The State's ability to exert its power over the "nominal defendant" is analytically prerequisite to the insurer's entry into the case as a garnishee, and if the Constitution forbids the assertion of jurisdiction over the insured based on the policy, then there is no conceptual basis for bringing the "garnishee" into the action. Nor may the Minnesota court attribute State Farm's contacts to Rush by considering the "defending parties" together and aggregating their forum contacts in determining whether it has jurisdiction. The parties' relationships with each other may be significant in evaluating their ties to the forum, but the requirements of International Shoe must be met as to each defendant over whom a state court exercises jurisdiction. Pp. 444 U. S. 330-332.

272 N.W.2d 888, reversed.

MARSHALL, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BURGER, C.J.,and STEWART, WHITE, BLACKMUN, POWELL, and REHNQUIST, JJ., joined. BRENNAN, J., ante p. 444 U. S. 299, and STEVENS, J., post, p. 444 U. S. 333, filed dissenting opinions.

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