Shaffer v. Heitner (1977)

IRAC Summary

Issue: The main issue in Shaffer v. Heitner is whether the Delaware courts can exercise jurisdiction over nonresident defendants based on the mere presence of the defendants’ property in the state, even when the property is unrelated to the plaintiff’s cause of action.

Rule: The Supreme Court held that the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment requires a court to exercise jurisdiction only if the defendant has certain minimum contacts with the forum state such that the maintenance of the lawsuit does not offend “traditional notions of fair play and substantial justice.”

Application: In this case, the shares of stock owned by the nonresident defendants were considered property in Delaware because they were issued by a Delaware corporation. However, the mere presence of this property in the state, without any relation to the plaintiff’s cause of action, was insufficient to establish jurisdiction. The Court applied the “minimum contacts” test established in International Shoe Co. v. Washington, determining that the defendants did not have the requisite contacts with Delaware to justify the state’s jurisdiction over them in this particular legal dispute.

Conclusion: The Supreme Court reversed the Delaware Supreme Court’s decision, finding that the seizure of the defendants’ property in Delaware without sufficient connection to the cause of action did not satisfy the requirements of due process, and thus, the state lacked jurisdiction over the defendants.

Detailed IRAC Outline


The detailed issue is whether the Delaware “sequestration” statute, which allows a court to gain jurisdiction over an out-of-state defendant through the attachment of property located in Delaware, is constitutional under the Fourteenth Amendment’s Due Process Clause when the property is not related to the plaintiff’s cause of action, and the defendant does not have other relevant contacts with the state.


The legal rule stems from the precedent set in International Shoe Co. v. Washington, which requires a defendant to have “minimum contacts” with the forum state for the state to exercise jurisdiction without violating the Due Process Clause. The “minimum contacts” must be such that having to defend a lawsuit there would not offend traditional notions of fair play and substantial justice.


– Plaintiff Heitner filed a derivative suit in a Delaware court against Shaffer and other officers and directors of Greyhound Corporation, alleging they had caused harm to the corporation in violation of their duties.
– Heitner used Delaware’s sequestration statute to gain jurisdiction by seizing the defendants’ stock in Greyhound, which was incorporated in Delaware.
– The defendants argued that the sequestration of their stock did not establish personal jurisdiction because they had no other relevant contacts with Delaware.

– The Court analyzed the Delaware statute in light of the Due Process Clause requirements, considering the nature and quality of the defendants’ contacts with the state.
– The Court found that owning stock in a Delaware corporation, without more, did not amount to sufficient contacts to justify personal jurisdiction, given that the defendants’ conduct that gave rise to the suit occurred outside Delaware.
– The Court emphasized that the defendant’s liberty interest in not being subject to the power of a state with which they have no meaningful contacts, ties, or relations must be respected.


The Supreme Court concluded that the Delaware courts could not constitutionally exercise jurisdiction based solely on the fact that the property (stock) was located in Delaware. Personal jurisdiction was lacking because the defendants did not have the minimum contacts with Delaware required by due process. Without these contacts, the state’s exercise of jurisdiction would not meet the standards of fair play and substantial justice. Therefore, the Court reversed the Delaware Supreme Court’s decision, protecting the defendants from being subject to jurisdiction in a state with which they had no significant connection.

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