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The U.S. Supreme Court decided one of the most important mass tort/product liability decisions ever Monday, effectively ending forum shopping or “litigation tourism.” In its 8-1 ruling, the Supreme Court in Bristol-Myers Squibb Co. v. Superior Court, No. 16-466 (U.S. June 19, 2017) overturned a California Supreme Court decision that had allowed hundreds of out-of-state patients who took Bristol-Myers Squibb’s blood-thinning medication Plavix to sue the company in California.
For years, plaintiffs involved in “litigation tourism” have relied on broad interpretations of personal jurisdiction to sue large companies in plaintiff-friendly jurisdictions. Ever since “general” personal jurisdiction was limited by the Supreme Court three years ago in Daimler AG v. Bauman, 134 S.Ct. 746 (2014) to those states where a corporation is incorporated or has its principal place of business, plaintiffs have tried to use a similar broad interpretation of “specific” personal jurisdiction to forum shop. The California Supreme Court accepted this theory when it allowed plaintiffs from all over the country to sue Bristol-Myers Squibb in California.
But the Supreme Court didn’t buy it and reiterated that the lawsuit itself must arise out of or relate to the defendant’s contacts with the forum.
The Supreme Court rejected the California Supreme Court’s ruling that any “substantial connection” between a corporate defendant’s activities and California, whether or not causally related to a plaintiff’s claimed injuries, would suffice to support jurisdiction. The California Supreme Court conferred jurisdiction over Bristol Myers-Squibb where the plaintiffs did not reside in the state and did not sue over a drug that they purchased in the state. The Supreme Court called this approach a “loose and spurious” form of general jurisdiction.
As the Court held, “a defendant’s general connections with the forum are not enough.” This means that plaintiffs may “join together in a consolidated action in the States that have general jurisdiction over BMS.” Otherwise, “the plaintiffs who are residents of a particular State… could probably sue together in their home States.”
This ruling ends the days of plaintiffs flocking to accommodating jurisdictions to bring claims against large companies, and it is already having widespread effects. Based on the Court’s ruling on Monday, a St. Louis judge declared a mistrial in a talcum powder trial underway in St. Louis Circuit Court based on lack of personal jurisdiction. The mistrial in St. Louis was declared in a trial where a Missouri man and two out-of-state plaintiffs sued Johnson & Johnson and its supplier Imerys Talc America over a claim that talcum powder in its products caused ovarian cancer. Johnson & Johnson’s lawyers prevailed, arguing that the packaging and labeling company with a plant in Missouri was simply one of the company’s contractors, and played no role in establishing jurisdiction over out of state plaintiffs.