For hundreds of plaintiffs and attorneys in mass tort litigations involving Plavix, Talcum Powder, Essure and other allegedly harmful products, a recent Supreme Court ruling could have huge implications for the future of their cases.
In a case titled Bristol-Myers Squibb v. Superior Court, the United States Supreme Court reviewed California Supreme Court’s decision that adopted an expansive view of the power granted to California courts to exercise “specific jurisdiction” over a defendant.
Specific jurisdiction is one of two ways plaintiffs can establish a defendant has sufficient contact with a state to empower courts to exercise personal jurisdiction in their case. The court can then make a formal judgment or decision about particular claims relating to a defendant’s conduct, as long as the defendant has established connections within or related to that state, and the lawsuit involves those connections.
Bristol-Myers Squibb v. Superior Court
Incorporated in Delaware and headquartered in New York, Bristol-Myers Squibb (BMS) manufactures the prescription blood-thinning drug Plavix. Last summer, in eight amended complaints, 86 California residents and 592 residents of other states sued BMS as well as pharmaceutical distributor McKesson Corporation, which is headquartered in California, over alleged injuries related to the drug. California has the second largest number of residents involved in the Plavix lawsuits (Texas has the largest).
BMS moved to dismiss the claims from plaintiffs outside of California. However, the California Supreme Court held that California courts could exercise specific jurisdiction over these claims, as they were “… based on the same allegedly defective product and the assertedly misleading marketing and promotion of that product” that occurred nationwide.
Just last month, the U.S. Supreme Court reversed the California decision in an 8-1 ruling. The majority opinion held that California courts do not have jurisdiction over the nonresidents’ claims against BMS. Justice Samuel Anthony Alito Jr. wrote in the opinion that the nonresidents weren’t prescribed Plavix in California, they did not buy or take the drug there, and they were not harmed by the drug there, Alito said. Furthermore, allowing the out-of-state plaintiffs’ claims would violate the due process clause, according to the opinion. Justice Alito noted that class actions can still be brought in states with general jurisdiction over Bristol-Myers Squibb.
What Will Happen to the Nonresident Plaintiffs?
Because of the Supreme Court’s decision regarding specific jurisdiction, only 86 plaintiffs in the Plavix litigation will be able to file in California, which will leave the other 592 to start from scratch by re-filing in a jurisdiction designated as appropriate for their particular claims.
Attorneys in other mass tort litigations nationwide will also be waiting to find out how specific jurisdiction will impact their cases. There may be future questions regarding how strongly a plaintiff’s claims will need to be connected to the forum state in order to assert specific jurisdiction. With regards to the BMS case, the Supreme Court found there was no connection between the State of California and the nonresident plaintiffs; with future litigations, however, the lines may be more blurred.
As the Associated Press mentioned, “The ruling is a win for Bristol-Myers Squibb and other companies that want to avoid lawsuits in state courts seen as more favorable to plaintiffs.” To see the scale being tipped in favor of large pharmaceutical companies is a concerning development that all civil justice stakeholders will have to keep an eye on.
About John Bair
John Bair has guided thousands of plaintiffs through the settlement process as co-founder of Milestone Consulting, LLC, a broad-based settlement planning and management firm. Milestone’s approach is comprehensive and future-focused. John’s team has guided thousands of clients by taking the time to understand the complexities of each case. They assess the best outcome and find the path that enables each client to manage their many needs. Read more about Milestone Consulting at http://milestoneseventh.com/.
A West Point graduate where he served as captain and military aviator, John Bair continues his commitment to our country through his efforts within the settlement planning industry. He has represented families of victims lost in the Flight 3407 crash, offered pro bono services to the families of 9/11 victims and drafted the first consumer protection bill for plaintiffs (H.R. 3699).