Document Type


Publication Title

New York University Law Review



Publication Date



Personal jurisdiction, service of process, nationwide service of process, Rule 4, Fed. R. Civ. P. 4, forum non conveniens


Every litigator who remembers first year civil procedure knows that the personal jurisdiction1 of federal courts is limited by state territorial boundaries. That limitation, however, may soon disappear in federal question cases. A new rule of civil procedure, currently under consideration by the federal rulemakers, would provide for nationwide service of process in all federal question cases. The proposed rule would profoundly affect forum selection in the federal courts. This Note argues in favor of the adoption of the new Rule 4's nationwide personal jurisdiction provision. Not only would the new Rule 4 be a legitimate exercise of authority, but it might result ultimately in a decrease in litigational inconvenience, which would inure to the benefit of defendants as well as plaintiffs. Finally, using the proposed rule as a springboard to discuss the confused state of current court access doctrine, this Note urges the adoption of more rational and clearly defined distinctions in civil procedure. Part I of this Note analyzes the proposed rule's nationwide service of process provision. After comparing the operation of the current Rule 4 to the proposed Rule 4, it describes the practical benefits the new rule would bring, particularly judicial economy and more vigorous enforcement of federal law. It then identifies the class of cases the new rule would affect, concluding that while the new rule would make personal jurisdiction obtainable in many more forums than before, venue restrictions would sharply limit the new rule's practical impact on where suits could actually be brought. Part II addresses the criticisms to which the proposed rule seems most vulnerable. The rule might be challenged as a violation of the due process limitations on personal jurisdiction or as an endeavor beyond the scope of the rulemakers' authority. Even if it is constitutional and a valid exercise of authority, the proposal might be challenged as a bad idea, on the ground that expansions of jurisdictional reach cause inconvenience and unfairness to defendants. These objections, Part II argues, prove unpersuasive, though the proposed rule would engender certain problems of inconvenience and unfairness to defendants. In particular, the new rule might enable plaintiffs to harass defendants by bringing suit in inconvenient forums. Part III proposes a response to the new rule's problems. The pro- posed rule, Part III argues, will help separate the currently overlapping doctrines of personal jurisdiction, venue, and forum non conveniens, thus enabling those doctrines to filter out inappropriate choices of forum more effectively. Much of the potential unfairness engendered by the new rule could be prevented by the adoption of restrictive, defendant-oriented venue provisions, and by the vigorous use of venue transfer and forum non conveniens. Finally, Part IV discusses the new rule's broader implications for the future, concluding that the proposal heralds a step toward greater rationality in civil procedure doctrine.