Wisconsin Supreme Court Limits Personal Jurisdiction over Foreign Corporations


The Wisconsin Supreme Court today issued a decision today, Rasmussen v. General Motors et al., 2011 WI 52, which places limits on lawsuits filed against foreign corporations in Wisconsin. Although the case caption cites General Motors, the specific issue in this case was whether Wisconsin had personal jurisdiction over Nissan Japan.

The lawsuit involved a class action case against numerous auto manufacturers for alleged anti-trust violations. Specifically, the plaintiffs alleged that Nissan Japan and its wholly owned subsidiary, Nissan North America, conspired to keep new car prices at significantly higher prices than prices in Canada for same vehicles. The plaintiffs alleged that the defendants arranged for U.S. dealers to not honor warranties on cars imported from Canada to prevent lower prices cars from being imported to the U.S.The case was dismissed for lack of personal jurisdiction by the trial court, which was upheld by the Court of Appeals. The issue before the Wisconsin Supreme Court was whether Wisconsin’s personal jurisdiction statute (Wis. Stat. § 801.05) allows for general or specific jurisdiction over a foreign parent corporation based on an agency theory.

The Wisconsin Supreme Court, in a 7-0 decision (Abrahamson issuing separate concurring opinion), upheld the Court of Appeals and ruled that Wisconsin did not have general personal jurisdiction over Nissan Japan.

The court held:

We conclude that even assuming arguendo that Nissan North Amercia were the agent of Nissan Japan, absent control by Nissan Japan sufficient to cause us to disregard the separate corporate identities of Nissan Japan and Nissan North America, the activities of the subsidiary corporation are insufficient to subject its nonresident parent corporation to general personal jurisdiction under Wis. Stat. § 801.05(1)(d). We also conclude that Rasmussen [plaintiff] has not met his burden to show that the corporate separateness of Nissan Japan and Nissan North America should be disregarded such that the activities of Nissan North America in Wisconsin should be imputed to Nissan Japan.