By: Theresa A. Langschultz and Heather U. Guerena
In an 8-1 decision, the Supreme Court appeared to deal a blow to forum shopping last week in Bristol-Myers Squibb Co. v. Superior Court of California, San Francisco County (“BMS”).
In BMS, a mixed group of California residents and nonresidents sued Bristol-Myers Squibb in California, alleging injury due to the pharmaceutical company’s drug Plavix. The Supreme Court held that California courts lacked specific jurisdiction to entertain the claims brought by plaintiffs who are not California residents, because there was an insufficient connection between the forum and the specific claims at issue. Justice Alito, writing for the majority, noted that the nonresidents weren’t prescribed the drug in the state, didn’t buy the drug in the state, didn’t take the drug in the state, and weren’t injured by the drug in the state. Further, Bristol-Myers Squibb is incorporated in Delaware and headquartered in New York. The Court ruled that:
the mere fact that other plaintiffs were prescribed, obtained, and ingested Plavix in California—and allegedly sustained the same injuries as did the nonresidents—does not allow the State to assert specific jurisdiction over the nonresidents’ claims.
__ S. Ct. __, 2017 WL 2621322, at *8 (U.S. June 19, 2017).
The effect of the Court’s ruling was immediate: within hours of the Court’s decision, a St. Louis Circuit Court judge declared a mistrial in a products liability action brought on behalf of Missouri residents and nonresidents. See Michael Blaes et al. v. Johnson & Johnson et al., No. 1422-CC09326-01, ________ WL ________ (Mo. Cir. Ct. 22d June 19, 2017). In Blaes, defendant Johnson and Johnson moved for an immediate mistrial in a case in which a Missouri resident and two nonresidents alleged injury due to the company’s talcum products, arguing that BMS could prove fatal to the claims of the individuals who resided outside of Missouri.
BMS suggests that plaintiffs are foreclosed from bringing suits based on specific jurisdiction in a state without a sufficient connection between the forum and the specific claims at issue. However, as Justice Alito pointed out, plaintiffs still have a variety of options. Nonresident and resident plaintiffs may join together to bring a class action against a company in a forum in which the company is headquartered or incorporated. See Bristol-Myers Squibb Co. v. Super. Ct. of California, San Francisco County, __ S. Ct. __, 2017 WL 2621322, at *11. Similarly, plaintiffs may be able to bring a class action against a company in their state of residence. Id. However, BMS illustrates that nonresident plaintiffs who bring suit against an out-of-state defendant in a forum that does not bear a connection to their claim risk dismissal of their action.