In order for a court to issue a binding judgment, the court must have both subject matter jurisdiction and personal jurisdiction over the parties to a lawsuit.
Personal jurisdiction is the concept that a Defendant to a lawsuit must have some relationship to the forum state in order to be bound by that state’s courts. That means that a New Hampshire court only has jurisdiction over an out-of-state Defendant if that Defendant has some relationship with New Hampshire.
What constitutes a relationship in the context of personal jurisdiction is complicated. Without getting into too much detail, personal jurisdiction can be either “general” or “specific.” “Specific” personal jurisdiction is when the Defendant’s alleged actions relate directly to the state of New Hampshire. For example, if a Massachusetts resident allegedly got into a car accident with a New Hampshire resident in New Hampshire, the Massachusetts resident could be sued in New Hampshire.
“General” personal jurisdiction, on the other hand, arises based not on the specific facts/occurrences of the lawsuit, but rather on unrelated, continuous ties to New Hampshire. For example, if a New Hampshire resident caused an accident in Massachusetts, the victim could sue the New Hampshire resident where the accident occurred in Massachusetts—but could also sue the NH resident in New Hampshire because that person lives and works there, and therefore has continuous ties to the state.
If you’re an out-of-state resident sued in New Hampshire, you are likely subject to the court’s jurisdiction if: you received services while in New Hampshire that are the basis of the lawsuit; you had an ongoing business relationship with someone in the state; you caused damage or harm while in the state; you own real estate in the state; etc. There are many reasons through which you could be subject to the New Hampshire courts’ jurisdiction.
On the other hand, if you have never been to New Hampshire and the lawsuit did not arise out of your activities in New Hampshire, you may be able to dismiss the lawsuit. For example, our firm has recently defended several lawsuits regarding a New Hampshire merchant where the merchant sued out-of-state customers. We have successfully had some of those cases dismissed based on personal jurisdiction grounds, including this recent case.
Importantly, once a Defendant files an Answer, Appearance, or other responsive pleading with the Court, they have waived their right to object to personal jurisdiction. A Motion to Dismiss (and often a special appearance) is needed to object to personal jurisdiction before any other document is filed with the court.
If you have a question about personal jurisdiction or another legal matter, contact the experienced litigators at Welts, White & Fontaine. You can call us today at (603) 883-0797, or use the contact form in the footer of this page. Welts, White & Fontaine is Nashua’s biggest law firm and serves the legal needs of both individuals and businesses in towns such as Amherst, Milford, Hudson, Brookline, Windham, Hollis, Merrimack, Litchfield, Bedford, Londonderry, Pelham, and of course Nashua.
Author: Israel F. Piedra
This blog is intended for informational use only. The information contained herein should not be construed as offering legal advice or a legal opinion.