Pulling Venue Up by Its Own Bootstraps: The Relationship among Nationwide Service of Process, Personal Jurisdiction, and § 1391(c)
Janutis, Rachel M., St. John's Law Review
Venue limitations serve to protect a defendant from litigation in an inconvenient or burdensome forum. This is accomplished by ensuring that the forum has some connection to the litigation or the defendant. Despite the general purpose for venue limitations, some courts have interpreted venue provisions in the general federal venue statute, 28 U.S.C. § 1391, and special venue provisions in ERISA, federal antitrust, and federal securities laws to permit nationwide venue in cases involving corporations subject to nationwide service of process. Commentators also have recognized the possibility of nationwide venue in such cases.1 Specifically, some courts have literally construed language in § 1391(c) defining corporate residence for venue purposes as any district in which a corporation is subject to personal jurisdiction. These literalist courts construe § 1391(c) to allow venue when a defendant is subject to personal jurisdiction in the district solely because of a nationwide service of process provision. Since a corporation subject to nationwide service of process is subject to nationwide personal jurisdiction, literalist courts conclude that a corporation is subject to nationwide venue.
Bootstrapping venue to jurisdiction in this manner results in no venue constraints independent from jurisdiction in cases where such constraints are most needed to protect the defendant from litigation in an inconvenient forum and to ensure a connection between the forum and the defendant or the litigation. This Article argues that such independent constraints are not only needed but actually provided in the federal venue statute and that these literalist courts have misconstrued § 1391(c)'s definition of corporate residence. Reading the language of § 1391(c) in the context of the overall statute and employing traditional canons of statutory construction provides independent constraints. Further, consideration of the historical context in which § 1391(c) was enacted and historical usage support a reading of § 1391(c) that provides independent constraints.
Part I of this Article discusses the purposes underlying venue limitations and the general venue limitations in the federal system. Part I then illustrates how literalist courts have interpreted § 1391 and special venue provisions to create nationwide venue. Part II argues that courts have misconstrued § 1391(c) by engaging in a literalism devoid of any consideration of context within the statute and that a contextual construction of the venue statute would avoid nationwide venue in cases involving corporate defendants subject to nationwide service of process. Part III then discusses the legislative history surrounding the enactment of § 1391(c) and surveys the historical definition of corporate residence prior to the enactment of § 1391(c) to conclude that the historical usage and context support a contextualist construction of § 1391(c). Part IV concludes by addressing potential objections to such an interpretation.
I. NATIONWIDE VENUE: PULLING VENUE UP BY JURISDICTION'S BOOTSTRAPS
A. Introduction to Venue
The civil justice system regards a plaintiff as the "master of its complaint." In part, this means that a plaintiff chooses in which forum to prosecute its claim. In selecting a forum, a plaintiff may consider a variety of factors. Common considerations include geographic location, pleading and discovery rules, docket speed, judge assignment system, and jury pool. A plaintiff also may consider choice of law rules and the law likely to be applied in a given forum. Indeed, a plaintiff has great flexibility in selecting a forum to maximize its advantage and its opponent's disadvantage based on these and other considerations. For example, a plaintiff may select the forum that will apply the longest statute of limitations. Generally, a plaintiff need only select any forum within broad constitutional limits on the forum's exercise of jurisdiction. …