Whenever a student prefaces a question with “This may be a simple question but…”, I know it’s not going to be a simple question. This is what a student asked: “This may be a super simple question, but if D is tagged on a Federal reservation in a state, is that enough for D to be subject to in personam jurisdiction in that state?” My gut said yes, but my gut also said that the answer would be easy to find. Not so.
The problem is that the question tends to get muddled together with other questions, like the power of a state to extend its laws to the enclave, or the power of state officials to exercise arrests within the enclave. The question here is simpler. Can tagging of a defendant in the enclave give a state court in personam jurisdiction over the defendant (especially for a non-federal cause of action)?
After considerable searching, I got my answer. See the discussion in Richard T. Altieri, Federal Enclaves: The Impact of Exclusive Legislative Jurisdiction Upon Civil Litigation, 72 MIL. L. REV. 55, 71-78 (1976). There is in personam jurisdiction due to such service (under the 14th Amendment). This makes sense. Any relinquishment of state sovereignty due to the creation of the federal enclave does not have to extend to the state's adjudicative power over defendants within its borders. In addition, the cause of action might not be one over which federal courts have subject matter jurisdiction. We don’t want defendants to become immune from suit in such cases by hanging out on federal land. By the way, this conclusion extends beyond “tagging” jurisdiction to general in personam jurisdiction over corporations. The corporation’s contacts with the federal enclave can support personal jurisdiction over the corporation in state court.
Yet another civpro question I had never thought of before.