Better late than never...
Recent Jotwell Review

Service and Personal Jurisdiction within Federal Enclaves

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.


Ben Abel

In essence, what you're saying is that part of the bargain for states surrendering their land to the Federal government is that, in return, they retain rights like service, and arresting? Otherwise, states would be less willing to give land to the Federal government for use?

Similarly, a corporation could pass the Goodyear test of being sufficiently "at home" in a state even if the entirety of its activity occurs on the Federal enclave? I suspect this is a significant concern/issue for government contractors.

Michael Green

Not exactly. Whether the land is surrendered to the federal government may not be under the state's control. The idea is instead this: With the creation of the federal enclave, state law is often displaced within it (although the extent to which federal law displaces state law is a complicated matter). But simply because there is displacement of the state's legislative (that is, lawmaking) authority does not mean that there is displacement of the state's adjudicative authority over individuals within its borders. There is no reason to think that the state's adjudicative authority doesn't remain intact.

I think you are right about gov't contractors.

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