Forum Shopping for Plaintiff-Friendly State Courts at Issue
CHICAGO – (June 19, 2017) —In an 8-1 opinion, the Supreme Court held today in Bristol-Myers Squibb Co. v. Superior Court of California, No. 16-466, that a state court violates an out-of-state corporate defendant’s due process rights by exercising “specific” (i.e., “case-linked”) personal jurisdiction over out-of-state plaintiffs’ product liability claims that lack a connection with the corporation’s in-state activities. The decision aligns with an amicus brief submitted by DRI - The Voice of the Defense Bar in March of this year.
In the Bristol-Myers case, filed in San Francisco Superior Court, 575 out-of-state plaintiffs joined 86 California residents in mass product liability litigation involving Plavix, a brand-name prescription drug used to prevent blood clots. It is manufactured by Bristol-Myers, which is neither incorporated nor headquartered in California. The nonresident plaintiffs were not prescribed the drug by California doctors, did not have their prescriptions filled by pharmacies in California, and did not suffer their alleged drug-related injuries in California. The trial court refused to dismiss those claims on the theory that Bristol-Myers’ activities in California (e.g., certain California research activities unrelated to the out-of-state plaintiffs’ claims) created “general” (i.e., all-purpose) jurisdiction over the company.
The opinion, authored by Justice Alito, indicates that the Court’s “settled principles regarding specific jurisdiction control this case.” Based on Supreme Court precedent, the opinion explains that “[w]hen there is no . . . connection” between the forum State (i.e., where the suit is filed) and the underlying controversy, “specific jurisdiction is lacking regardless of the extent of a defendant’s unconnected activities in the State.”
The Supreme Court’s holding aligns with the arguments submitted by DRI-The Voice of the Defense Bar in an amicus brief. This includes DRI’s position that due process is violated by the California Supreme Court’s “sliding-scale” approach to personal jurisdiction, which allowed specific jurisdiction if a company has extensive forum contacts unrelated to nonresident plaintiffs’ claims. The plaintiffs had convinced a narrow majority of California Supreme Court justices that a corporation’s nationwide marketing and in-state sales for a prescription drug provided enough of a sliding-scale connection with California for hundreds of nonresident plaintiffs to file suit in California. Justice Alito’s opinion indicates that U.S. Supreme Court cases “provide no support for this approach, which resembles a loose and spurious form of general jurisdiction” under which a company can be sued in a State where it is “at home.” The opinion concludes by explaining that the Court’s “straightforward application in this case of settled principles of personal jurisdiction will not result in the parade of horribles that [plaintiffs] conjure up.”
According to DRI Amicus Committee Chair Lawrence S. Ebner, who authored DRI’s amicus brief, “this is a bad day for forum-shoppers, which is what the Bristol-Myers case, as a practical matter, is really about.” Ebner stated that “the plaintiffs’ bar now will have a much more difficult time assembling a multi-state group of product-liability plaintiffs to sue a company in a plaintiff-friendly jurisdiction such as the California state court system.” He said that “the Supreme Court’s opinion restores some semblance of fairness to the civil justice system.”
Amicus Committee Chair and amicus brief author Lawrence S. Ebner, of Capital Appellate Advocacy PLLC, Washington, DC is available for interview or expert comment through DRI’s Communications Office. The complete text of the DRI brief can be found here.
About DRI – The Voice of the Defense Bar
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