Lawsuits & Legal Procedures Supreme Court Cases

The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure govern each stage of a lawsuit in federal court, from the initial complaint and pre-trial motions to trial and judgment. Some of the key rules include:

  • Rule 8(a): the initial claim for relief
  • Rule 12(b): pre-trial motions on grounds such as lack of jurisdiction, improper venue, insufficient service of process, or failure to state a claim
  • Rule 13: counterclaims (against an opponent) and cross-claims (against a co-party)
  • Rule 23: class actions brought by groups of people who have suffered similar harms
  • Rule 56: summary judgment, when the court rules for one party as a matter of law rather than proceeding to trial

In addition to interpreting the Federal Rules, the Supreme Court has applied federal statutes and constitutional principles to legal procedures. For example, due process has shaped theories of personal jurisdiction, which is the power of a court to make decisions that bind a party to a lawsuit. A court also must hold subject matter jurisdiction over a case. For federal courts, this usually requires diversity jurisdiction or federal question jurisdiction, which are defined by the U.S. Code. Diversity jurisdiction involves the parties and the amount in controversy, while subject matter jurisdiction involves the legal basis for the dispute.

The Supreme Court also has addressed complex issues related to conflicts of laws and preclusion. A conflict of laws occurs when a case has a connection to two or more jurisdictions with different applicable laws. Preclusion may consist of res judicata (claim preclusion) or collateral estoppel (issue preclusion). Res judicata prevents claims that have been litigated or could have been litigated from being litigated again, while collateral estoppel prevents issues that have been litigated from being litigated again.

Below is a selection of Supreme Court cases involving lawsuits and legal procedures, arranged from newest to oldest.

Ford Motor Co. v. Montana Eighth Judicial District Court (2021)

Author: Elena Kagan

When a company serves a market for a product in a state, and that product causes an injury in the state to one of its residents, the state's courts may entertain the resulting lawsuit.

Lucky Brand Dungarees, Inc. v. Marcel Fashions Group, Inc. (2020)

Author: Sonia Sotomayor

Any preclusion of defenses must, at a minimum, satisfy the strictures of issue preclusion or claim preclusion.

Bristol-Myers Squibb Co. v. Superior Court of California (2017)

Author: Samuel A. Alito, Jr.

When there is no connection between the forum and the underlying controversy, specific jurisdiction is lacking regardless of the extent of a defendant's unconnected activities in the state.

BNSF Railroad Co. v. Tyrrell (2017)

Author: Ruth Bader Ginsburg

A state court may exercise general jurisdiction over out-of-state corporations when their affiliations with the state are so continuous and systematic as to render them essentially at home in the forum state. This due process constraint applies to all state-court assertions of general jurisdiction over non-resident defendants and does not vary with the type of claim asserted or business enterprise sued.

Atlantic Marine Construction Co. v. U.S. District Court for Western District of Texas (2013)

Author: Samuel A. Alito, Jr.

A forum selection clause may be enforced by a motion to transfer under Section 1404(a). When a defendant files such a motion, a district court should transfer the case unless extraordinary circumstances unrelated to the convenience of the parties clearly disfavor a transfer.

Goodyear Dunlop Tires Operations, S.A. v. Brown (2011)

Author: Ruth Bader Ginsburg

Ties serving to bolster the exercise of specific jurisdiction do not warrant a determination that, based on those ties, the forum has general jurisdiction over a defendant.

Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. v. Dukes (2011)

Author: Antonin Scalia

In an employment discrimination class action, the conceptual gap between an individual's discrimination claim and the existence of a class of persons who have suffered the same injury must be bridged by significant proof that an employer operated under a general policy of discrimination. More generally, a class in a proposed class action has common questions of law or fact if their claims depend on a common contention of such a nature that it is capable of classwide resolution, which means that determination of its truth or falsity will resolve an issue that is central to the validity of each of the claims in one stroke.

J. McIntyre Machinery, Ltd. v. Nicastro (2011)

Author: Anthony Kennedy

Generally, the exercise of judicial power is not lawful unless the defendant purposefully avails itself of the privilege of conducting activities within the forum state, thus invoking the benefits and protections of its laws. A foreign manufacturer was not subject to personal jurisdiction when it did not target the state in any relevant sense.

Hertz Corp. v. Friend (2010)

Author: Stephen Breyer

For the purposes of federal diversity jurisdiction, a corporation's principal place of business refers to the place where its high level officers direct, control, and coordinate the corporation's activities. (This is known as its nerve center.)

Ashcroft v. Iqbal (2009)

Author: Anthony Kennedy

The tenet that a court must accept as true all of the allegations contained in a complaint is inapplicable to legal conclusions.

Taylor v. Sturgell (2008)

Author: Ruth Bader Ginsburg

The rule against non-party preclusion is subject to six categories of exceptions: when a party agreed to be bound by the determination of issues in an action between others; when there was a pre-existing substantive legal relationship between the person to be bound and a party to the judgment; when the non-party was adequately represented by someone with the same interests who was a party to the earlier action; when the non-party assumed control over the litigation in which the judgment was rendered; when a party bound by a judgment tries to relitigate through a proxy; and when a special statutory scheme consistent with due process expressly forecloses successive litigation by non-litigants.

Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly (2007)

Author: David Souter

A plaintiff must plead enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face. More specifically, stating a claim under Section 1 of the Sherman Act requires a complaint with enough factual matter (taken as true) to suggest that an agreement was made. Asking for plausible grounds to infer an agreement calls for enough fact to raise a reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal evidence of an illegal agreement.

Scott v. Harris (2007)

Author: Antonin Scalia

When opposing parties tell two different stories, one of which is blatantly contradicted by the record so that no reasonable jury could believe it, a court should not adopt that version of the facts for the purposes of ruling on a motion for summary judgment. Also, a police officer's attempt to terminate a dangerous high-speed car chase that threatens the lives of innocent bystanders does not violate the Fourth Amendment, even when it places the fleeing motorist at risk of serious injury or death.

Jones v. Flowers (2006)

Author: John Roberts

When notice of a tax sale is mailed to the owner and returned undelivered, the government must take additional reasonable steps to provide notice before taking the owner's property.

Grable & Sons Metal Products, Inc. v. Darue Engineering & Manufacturing (2005)

Author: David Souter

In determining jurisdiction over federal issues embedded in state law claims between non-diverse parties, the question is whether the state law claim necessarily raises a stated federal issue, actually disputed and substantial, which a federal forum may entertain without disturbing any congressionally approved balance of federal and state judicial responsibilities.

Exxon Mobil Corp. v. Allapattah Services, Inc. (2005)

Author: Anthony Kennedy

When the other elements of jurisdiction are present, and at least one named plaintiff in the action satisfies the amount-in-controversy requirement for diversity jurisdiction, Section 1367 authorizes supplemental jurisdiction over claims of other plaintiffs in the same case or controversy, even if their claims are for less than the requisite amount.

Swierkiewicz v. Sorema N.A. (2002)

Author: Clarence Thomas

An employment discrimination complaint need not contain specific facts establishing a prima facie case but instead must contain only a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.

J.E.B. v. Alabama ex rel. T.B. (1994)

Author: Harry Blackmun

The Equal Protection Clause prohibits discrimination in jury selection on the basis of gender, or on the assumption that an individual will be biased in a particular case solely because that person happens to be a woman or a man.

Carnival Cruise Lines, Inc. v. Shute (1991)

Author: Harry Blackmun

A non-negotiated forum clause in a passage contract may be enforceable even though it is not the subject of bargaining, although it is subject to judicial scrutiny for fundamental fairness.

Connecticut v. Doehr (1991)

Author: Byron White

Deciding what process must be afforded by a law enabling a private party to enlist the state's aid in depriving another party of their property through a prejudgment attachment or a similar procedure involves three issues: consideration of the private interest that will be affected by the prejudgment measure; an examination of the risk of erroneous deprivation through the procedures under attack and the probable value of additional or alternative safeguards; and principal attention to the interest of the party seeking the prejudgment remedy, with due regard for any ancillary interest of the government in providing the procedure or forgoing the added burden of providing greater protections.

Edmonson v. Leesville Concrete Co., Inc. (1991)

Author: Anthony Kennedy

A private litigant in a civil case may not use peremptory challenges to exclude jurors on account of race.

Chauffeurs Local 391 v. Terry (1990)

Author: Thurgood Marshall

To determine whether a particular action will resolve legal (as opposed to equitable) rights, such that the plaintiff is entitled to a jury trial, courts must examine both the nature of the issues involved and, more importantly, the remedy sought.

Temple v. Synthes Corp., Ltd. (1990)

Author: Per Curiam

It is not necessary for all joint tortfeasors to be named as defendants in a single lawsuit.

Burnham v. Superior Court (1990)

Author: Antonin Scalia

Service of process confers state court jurisdiction over a physically present non-resident, regardless of whether they were only briefly in the state or whether the cause of action is related to their activities there.

Finley v. U.S. (1989)

Author: Antonin Scalia

A grant of jurisdiction over claims involving particular parties does not confer jurisdiction over additional claims by or against different parties.

Martin v. Wilks (1989)

Author: William Rehnquist

A voluntary settlement in the form of a consent decree between one group of employees and their employer cannot possibly settle the conflicting claims of another group of employees who do not join in the agreement.

Asahi Metal Industry Co. v. Superior Court (1987)

Author: Sandra Day O’Connor

The substantial connection between a defendant and the forum state necessary for a finding of minimum contacts that support personal jurisdiction must derive from an action purposely directed toward the forum state. The mere placement of a product into the stream of commerce is not such an act, even if done with an awareness that the stream will sweep the product into the forum state, without additional conduct indicating an intent to serve the forum state market.

Matsushita Electrical Industrial Co., Ltd. v. Zenith Radio Corp. (1986)

Author: Lewis Powell

To survive a motion for summary judgment, a plaintiff seeking damages for a violation of Section 1 of the Sherman Act must present evidence that tends to exclude the possibility that the alleged conspirators acted independently. Also, the absence of any plausible motive to engage in the conduct charged is highly relevant to whether a genuine issue for trial exists within the meaning of Rule 56(e) on summary judgment. Lack of motive bears on the range of permissible conclusions that might be drawn from ambiguous evidence.

Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals, Inc. v. Thompson (1986)

Author: John Paul Stevens

A violation of a federal statute as an element of a state cause of action does not state a claim arising under federal law when Congress has determined that there should be no private federal cause of action for the violation.

Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc. (1986)

Author: Byron White

The inquiry involved in a ruling on a motion for summary judgment or for a directed verdict necessarily implicates the substantive evidentiary standard of proof that would apply at the trial on the merits.

Celotex Corp. v. Catrett (1986)

Author: William Rehnquist

Rule 56(c) mandates the entry of summary judgment, after adequate time for discovery and upon motion, against a party who fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial.

Burger King Corp. v. Rudzewicz (1985)

Author: William Brennan

A contract with an out-of-state party does not alone automatically establish sufficient minimum contacts for personal jurisdiction in the other party's home forum. Instead, the court must evaluate the prior negotiations, the contemplated future consequences, the terms of the contract, and the parties' actual course of dealing to determine whether a defendant purposefully established minimum contacts within the forum.

Phillips Petroleum Co. v. Shutts (1985)

Author: William Rehnquist

Due process requires that absent class members in a class action receive notice, an opportunity to appear in person or by counsel, an opportunity to opt out, and adequate representation. It does not require that absent class members affirmatively opt in to the class.

Cooper v. Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond (1984)

Author: John Paul Stevens

A judgment in a class action determining that an employer did not engage in a general pattern or practice of racial discrimination against the certified class of employees does not preclude a class member from maintaining a subsequent civil action alleging an individual claim of racial discrimination against the employer.

Helicopteros Nacionales v. Hall (1984)

Author: Harry Blackmun

Mere purchases, even if occurring at regular intervals, are not enough to warrant a state's assertion of personal jurisdiction over a non-resident corporation in a cause of action not related to the purchases.

Insurance Corp. of Ireland v. Compagnie des Bauxites (1982)

Author: Byron White

Since the requirement that a court have personal jurisdiction protects an individual interest, it may be intentionally waived, or a defendant may be estopped from raising the issue for various reasons.

Allstate Insurance Co. v. Hague (1981)

Author: William Brennan

A state court could apply the law of its state when the state had a significant aggregation of contacts with the parties and the occurrence, creating state interests, such that the application of its law was neither arbitrary nor fundamentally unfair.

Piper Aircraft Co. v. Reyno (1981)

Author: Thurgood Marshall

Plaintiffs may not defeat a motion to dismiss on the ground of forum non conveniens merely by showing that the substantive law that would be applied in the alternative forum is less favorable to them than the law of the chosen forum.

Upjohn Co. v. U.S. (1981)

Author: William Rehnquist

The attorney-client privilege exists to protect not only the giving of professional advice to those who can act on it, but also the giving of information to the lawyer to enable them to give sound and informed advice. However, the privilege only protects disclosure of communications, rather than disclosure of the underlying facts.

World-Wide Volkswagen Corp. v. Woodson (1980)

Author: Byron White

The foreseeability that is critical to due process analysis for personal jurisdiction is that the defendant's conduct and connection with the forum are such that they should reasonably anticipate being brought into court there.

Parklane Hosiery Co., Inc. v. Shore (1979)

Author: Potter Stewart

A trial judge should not allow the use of offensive collateral estoppel if a plaintiff could easily have joined in the earlier action, or if the application of offensive estoppel would be unfair to the defendant. Unfairness might be found when the defendant had less incentive to defend the previous case, there are inconsistent judgments, or different procedural opportunities in the second action could cause a different result. (Offensive collateral estoppel is collateral estoppel asserted by a plaintiff.)

Owen Equipment and Erection Co. v. Kroger (1978)

Author: Potter Stewart

A finding that federal and non-federal claims arise from a common nucleus of operative fact does not suffice to establish that a federal court has the power to hear non-federal as well as federal claims. Although the constitutional power to adjudicate the non-federal claim may exist, it does not necessarily follow that statutory authorization has been granted. The context in which a non-federal claim is asserted is crucial.

Shaffer v. Heitner (1977)

Author: Thurgood Marshall

When the property serving as the basis for state court jurisdiction is completely unrelated to the plaintiff's cause of action, the presence of the property alone does not support jurisdiction without other ties among the defendant, the state, and the litigation.

Mathews v. Eldridge (1976)

Author: Lewis Powell

Identifying the specific dictates of due process generally requires considering three factors: the private interest that will be affected by the official action; the risk of an erroneous deprivation of that interest through the procedures used, and the probable value of additional or substitute procedural safeguards; and the government's interest, including the function involved and the fiscal and administrative burdens that the additional or substitute procedural requirement would entail. (An evidentiary hearing is not required prior to the termination of Social Security disability payments.)

Aldinger v. Howard (1976)

Author: William Rehnquist

A non-federal claim should not be the basis for joining a party over whom no independent federal jurisdiction exists, simply because that claim derives from the common nucleus of operative fact giving rise to the dispute between the parties to the federal claim.

Liberty Mutual Insurance Co. v. Wetzel (1976)

Author: William Rehnquist

An order constituting a grant of partial summary judgment limited to liability cannot be considered final when damages or other relief remain to be resolved.

Fuentes v. Shevin (1972)

Author: Potter Stewart

From the standpoint of due process, it is immaterial that a deprivation of property may be temporary and non-final.

The Bremen v. Zapata Off-Shore Co. (1972)

Author: Warren Burger

A forum selection clause that was a vital part of a towing contract was binding unless the party challenging its enforcement could meet the heavy burden of showing that its enforcement would be unreasonable, unfair, or unjust. (A forum selection clause is a contract provision stipulating that disputes arising under the contract must be heard in a certain court.)

Blonder Tongue v. University of Illinois Foundation (1971)

Author: Byron White

Res judicata and collateral estoppel are affirmative defenses that must be pleaded to give the opposing party notice of the plea of estoppel and a chance to argue why the imposition of estoppel would be inappropriate.

Goldberg v. Kelly (1970)

Author: William Brennan

A pre-termination evidentiary hearing is necessary to provide a recipient of welfare benefits with procedural due process. The interest of an eligible recipient in the uninterrupted receipt of public assistance, coupled with the state's interest in not erroneously terminating their payments, clearly outweighs the state's competing concern to prevent any increase in its fiscal and administrative burdens.

Adickes v. S.H. Kress & Co. (1970)

Author: John Marshall Harlan II

A party moving for summary judgment has the burden of showing the absence of a genuine issue as to any material fact. For these purposes, the material submitted by the moving party must be viewed in the light most favorable to the opposing party.

United Mine Workers of America v. Gibbs (1966)

Author: William Brennan

Pendent jurisdiction exists whenever there is a substantial federal claim, and the relationship between the federal claim and the asserted state claims permits the conclusion that the entire action before the court comprises one case. The state and federal claims must derive from a common nucleus of operative fact.

Van Dusen v. Barrack (1964)

Author: Arthur Goldberg

When actions were properly brought in the transferor district court, and the defendants seek transfer under Section 1404(a), the change of venue should not be accompanied by a change in the governing state laws.

Hoffman v. Blaski (1960)

Author: Charles Evans Whittaker

A federal district court in which a civil action has been properly brought is not empowered to transfer the action on the motion of the defendant to a district in which the plaintiff did not have a right to bring it.

Beacon Theatres, Inc. v. Westover (1959)

Author: Hugo Black

Only under the most imperative circumstances can the right to a jury trial of legal issues be lost through prior determination of equitable claims.

Conley v. Gibson (1957)

Author: Hugo Black

A complaint should not be dismissed for failure to state a claim unless it appears beyond doubt that the plaintiff can prove no set of facts in support of their claim that would entitle them to relief.

Mullane v. Central Hanover Bank & Trust Co. (1950)

Author: Robert H. Jackson

A fundamental requirement of due process in any proceeding that is to be accorded finality is notice reasonably calculated, under all the circumstances, to apprise interested parties of the pendency of the action and afford them an opportunity to present their objections.

Gulf Oil Corp. v. Gilbert (1947)

Author: Robert H. Jackson

Important considerations in the application of the forum non conveniens doctrine from the standpoint of litigants are relative ease of access to sources of proof, availability of compulsory process for attendance of unwilling witnesses, cost of obtaining attendance of willing witnesses, the possibility of viewing the premises if appropriate, and other practical problems that make trial of a case easy, expeditious, and inexpensive. Considerations of public interest include the undesirability of piling up litigation in congested centers, the burden of jury duty on people of a community with no relation to the litigation, the local interest in having localized controversies decided at home, and the unnecessary injection of problems in conflict of laws. (Forum non conveniens allows a court to dismiss a case when another court is clearly better positioned to hear it.)

Hickman v. Taylor (1947)

Author: Frank Murphy

Memoranda, statements, and mental impressions prepared or obtained from interviews with witnesses by counsel in preparing for litigation after a claim has arisen are not within the attorney-client privilege. However, a party who would invade the privacy of an attorney's course of preparation must establish adequate reasons to justify production through a subpoena or court order.

Lavender v. Kurn (1946)

Author: Frank Murphy

When there is an evidentiary basis for the jury's verdict, the jury is free to discard or disbelieve whatever facts are inconsistent with its conclusion. The appellate court's function is exhausted when that evidentiary basis becomes apparent. It is immaterial that the court might draw a contrary inference or feel that another conclusion is more reasonable.

International Shoe Co. v. Washington (1945)

Author: Harlan Fiske Stone

To subject a defendant to personal jurisdiction when they are not present in the territory of the forum, the defendant must have certain minimum contacts with the forum such that the maintenance of the lawsuit does not offend traditional notions of fair play and substantial justice.

Klaxon Co. v. Stentor Electric Manufacturing Co., Inc. (1941)

Author: Stanley Reed

Federal courts deciding questions of conflict of laws in diversity of citizenship cases must follow the rules prevailing in the states in which they sit.

Hansberry v. Lee (1940)

Author: Harlan Fiske Stone

A judgment rendered in a class suit may be res judicata as to members of the class who are not formal parties to the suit. There is a failure of due process only in cases in which it cannot be said that the procedure adopted fairly ensures the protection of the interests of absent parties who are to be bound by it.

Erie Railroad Co. v. Tompkins (1938)

Author: Louis Brandeis

A federal court exercising diversity jurisdiction must apply the state law as declared by the highest state court. There is no federal general common law.

Hess v. Pawloski (1927)

Author: Pierce Butler

Due process does not prevent a state from declaring that the use of its highways by a non-resident motorist shall be deemed equivalent to an appointment by the motorist of the registrar as their attorney, upon whom process may be served in any action arising out of an accident in which the non-resident was involved.

Louisville & Nashville R. Co. v. Mottley (1908)

Author: William Henry Moody

A lawsuit arises under the Constitution and laws of the United States only when the plaintiff's statement of their own cause of action shows that it is based on those laws or that Constitution. It is not enough that the plaintiff alleges some anticipated defense to their cause of action and asserts that the defense is invalidated by a constitutional provision.

Shoshone Mining Co. v. Rutter (1900)

Author: David Josiah Brewer

The mere fact that a suit is an adverse suit authorized by the statutes of Congress is not sufficient by itself to vest jurisdiction in the federal courts.

Pennoyer v. Neff (1878)

Author: Stephen Johnson Field

Proceedings to determine the personal rights and obligations of parties over whom the court has no jurisdiction do not constitute due process.

Strawbridge v. Curtiss (1806)

Author: John Marshall

If there are two or more joint plaintiffs and two or more joint defendants, each of the plaintiffs must be capable of suing each of the defendants in federal courts for diversity jurisdiction.

Capron v. Van Noorden (1804)

Author: Per Curiam

It is the duty of a court to see that it has jurisdiction. The consent of parties cannot provide it.

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