Supreme Court Applied ‘Settled Principles’ In BMS Ruling

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Leslie Brueckner of Public Justice and I just published an article in Law360 about the Supreme Court’s recent decision in  Bristol-Myers Squibb Co. v. Superior Court. Here it is in full:

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The U.S. Supreme Court’s June 26 ruling in Bristol-Myers Squibb Co. v. Superior Court[1] has been characterized by some in the defense bar as portending a sea change in “specific,” or “case-linked,” personal jurisdiction. Not so fast.

Although the case was closely watched by both sides of the aisle because of its potential to strictly limit plaintiffs’ ability to sue corporations outside of their “home” state, the 8-to-1 ruling was decided on “settled principles” of law[2] — and, as a result, it did not move the legal needle anywhere near as far as the defense bar was hoping.

In this case, both California and nonresident plaintiffs sued Bristol-Meyer Squibb (BMS), a national pharmaceutical company, for personal injuries caused by Plavix, a cardiovascular drug linked to strokes and other serious injuries. Because BMS is incorporated in Delaware and headquartered in New York, and conducts most of its operations on the East Coast, there was no basis for asserting “general,” or “all-purpose,” jurisdiction over BMS in California.[3]

Instead, the question was whether California courts could assert specific jurisdiction over BMS, which exists where the plaintiff’s claims “aris[e] out of or relat[e] to the defendant’s contacts with the forum.”[4]

Specific jurisdiction was a non-issue as to the California plaintiffs because they had bought their Plavix in California and were injured in the state.

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BMS v. Superior Court Shouldn’t Affect Personal Jurisdiction in Class Actions, Solicitor General Says

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We’ve been closely watching the pending U.S. Supreme Court case Bristol-Myers Squibb Co. v. Superior Court, because the personal jurisdiction question put to the Court could greatly affect where (and how) mass torts are litigated. In this case, California plaintiffs and nonresident plaintiffs are suing BMS for injuries allegedly caused by Plavix, a cardiovascular medication that the company created and marketed in the US. The Court is being asked to decide whether Bristol-Meyer Squibb’s California activities are sufficiently related to the nonresident plaintiffs‘ suits to support their invocation of specific jurisdiction in California.

A lingering question in our minds has been whether the answer to this question would also resolve questions regarding personal jurisdiction in class actions in which a single court is asked to rule on class claims of resident and non-resident plaintiffs. The (acting) Solicitor General has now filed an amicus brief in support of BMS, and his answer–No–is quite the surprise.

Here’s what the SG had to say:

The issue before the Court, as framed by Bristol-Meyers Squibb, is “whether a plaintiff’s claims arise out of or relate to a defendant’s forum activities when there is no causal link between the defendant’s forum contacts and the plaintiff’s claims—that is, where the plaintiff’s claims would be exactly the same even if the defendant had no forum contacts.”

This case does not present any question concerning whether a state court may entertain class actions, under established rules, to resolve claims arising from conduct in multiple jurisdictions.… Read more