The Supreme Court’s recent decision in Mallory v. Norfolk Southern Railway Co. creates substantial uncertainty over whether companies that register to do business in certain states can be subject to personal jurisdiction for claims unrelated to the forum—because those states require consent to general jurisdiction as a condition of registration. Mallory involved a Pennsylvania law treating registration to do business “as a foreign corporation” as a “sufficient basis” for “general personal jurisdiction” over that corporation.
In a splintered set of opinions, the Supreme Court rejected a challenge to the law under the Due Process Clause. Five Justices agreed that—in this case—assertion of jurisdiction based on the Pennsylvania law was not unconstitutional as a matter of due process. But one of those five Justices (Justice Alito) indicated that the due process issue might be resolved differently under other facts. And Justice Alito strongly suggested in his concurrence that the dormant Commerce Clause might prohibit a state from requiring consent to general personal jurisdiction as a condition of doing business. The four dissenting Justices would have held that jurisdiction based on the law violates the Due Process Clause.
The Pennsylvania courts are likely to consider (at minimum) the dormant Commerce Clause challenge on remand. In the meantime, the fractured nature of the Court’s opinions—combined with the reality that, despite the result, five Justices have questioned the constitutionality of Pennsylvania’s requirement—ensures further litigation over so-called “consent-by-registration” jurisdictional statutes.