480 U. S. 102
February 24, 1987
After a motorcycle accident in California, Cheng Shin, a Taiwanese corporation, was sued for manufacturing faulty parts. Cheng Shin filed a cross-claim against Asahi, a Japanese corporation which had supplied materials to Cheng Shin. The original suit against Cheng Shin was settled, leaving only the Cheng Shin-Asahi dispute in the California courts. Asahi argued that having to submit to California law violated the due process clause. Asahi never sold any material to California, or directly targeted the state in any manner. At best, they were aware that Cheng Shin might ship its material there.
Unanimously, the Court held that California could not exercise jurisdiction over Asahi. For a four Justice minority, O’Connor wrote that if a corporation did not deliberately target a forum state in some meaningful way, jurisdiction could not be exercised merely because it was foreseeable that the stream of commerce would take company products into that state. In arguing this, she was joined by Rehnquist, Powell, and Scalia. For an eight Justice majority, O’Connor wrote that jurisdiction over Asahi would also be inconsistent with “traditional notion of fair play.” In this case, a foreign corporation was required to cross the ocean, and come to a state it had not targeted, all for the purpose of a lawsuit against another foreign corporation. Given California’s minimal interest in the lawsuit, and given the extreme burdens on Asahi, the traditional notions of fair play were duly offended. Scalia, without comment, declined to join this section.
Brennan, joined by White, Marshall, and Blackmun, thought that Asahi purposefully availed itself to California through the stream of commerce. Because Asahi should have been aware that Cheng Shin would sell its products to California, it could have reasonably anticipated being sued in that state. All of these Justices had joined the section of O’Connor’s opinion on “fair play” though, so they concurred in judgment. Stevens, joined by White and Blackmun, felt that the entire discussion over stream of commerce was unncessary, since the “fair play” grounds disposed of the case. Despite this, Stevens lightly suggested that he agreed with Brennan’s views on the subject. Personally, I like the O’Connor approach better. For me, the stream of commerce is simply too broad and unpredictable to provide jurisdiction all by itself.