Vanderbilt Law Review

First Page



The Supreme Court has struggled for over one hundred years to articulate a workable standard for determining whether a court may exercise personal jurisdiction, over a defendant without violating the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Despite a substantial body of precedent, the Court has been unable to enunciate a consistent, intelligible test to govern personal jurisdiction. The Court's pronouncements swing between two bases: the territoriality, sovereignty, and power concerns established by Pennoyer v. Neff, and the defendant-centered fairness analysis announced in International Shoe Co. v. Washington. As a result of this inconsistency, lower courts adhere to vastly different jurisdictional principles. Commentators have become increasingly vocal about the need to establish a clear, concise jurisdictional test that achieves the ultimate goals of coherence, fairness, and judicial economy.

A recent decision of the District Court for the Eastern District of New York attempted to define such a jurisdictional standard in the context of DES litigation. Ashley v. Abbott Laboratories (In re DES Cases) proposed a two-part test designed to guide courts in their determination of personal jurisdiction over nonresident defendants in DES litigation; the court suggested that the Ashley test might function equally well in other mass tort litigation. The Ashley test and the principles that underlie it signify a renewed commitment on the part of courts to seek congruous, effective jurisdictional standards. Ashley represents a laudable attempt to reconcile the disparate and often conflicting pronouncements of the Supreme Court in this confused area.