DMCAR Trend # 9 – Corporate Defendants Aggressively Asserted Defenses Based On Personal Jurisdiction

By Gerald L. Maatman, Jr. and Jennifer A. Riley

 Duane Morris Takeaway: In 2022, corporate defendants aggressively asserted defenses based on personal jurisdiction to fracture collective actions in particular. In Bristol-Myers Squibb Co. v. Superior Court of California, San Francisco County, 137 S. Ct. 1773 (2017), the U.S. Supreme Court held that each plaintiff in a mass action must demonstrate a basis for the court to exercise personal jurisdiction over the defendant for purposes of adjudicating his or her claims, even if those claims are similar to the claims of other plaintiffs.

Federal circuits, however, have disagreed on the impact of the Supreme Court’s ruling in the collective action and class action context. Such a decision has the potential to curtail the forums in which the plaintiffs’ bar may file class and collective actions against a corporate defendant and, in particular, could limit the forums where a plaintiff could bring a nationwide action to those where a court may exercise general personal jurisdiction over the defendant (i.e., typically only the state where the company is organized and the state where it maintains its principle place of business).

Given the potential of the defense to fracture nationwide suits, multiple defendants raised personal jurisdiction in 2022, and the number of federal circuits holding that Bristol-Myers applies to collective actions grew to three (the Third, Sixth, and Eighth Circuits), with one circuit holding otherwise (the First Circuit).

In Fischer, et al. v. Federal Express Corp., 42 F.4th 366 (3d Cir. 2022), the Third Circuit joined the Sixth and Eighth Circuits in concluding that Bristol-Myers requires a court to find personal jurisdiction over the claims of opt-in plaintiffs in an FLSA collective action. The plaintiff, a Pennsylvania resident, brought suit against FedEx in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania alleging that FedEx misclassified her and other security specialists as exempt from the overtime requirements of the FLSA. Two non-resident FedEx employees, who worked for FedEx in their home states, filed notices of consent to join the action. The district court held that it lacked specific personal jurisdiction over FedEx with respect to their claims, and they filed a petition for interlocutory appeal. The Third Circuit granted the petition to resolve whether, in an FLSA collective action, where the district court lacks general personal jurisdiction over the defendant, all opt-in plaintiffs must demonstrate that the district court may exercise specific personal jurisdiction over the defendant to resolve their claims.

The Third Circuit recognized that the Sixth and Eighth Circuits had answered in the affirmative, holding that the claims of FLSA opt-in plaintiffs must arise out of or relate to the defendant’s minimum contacts with the forum state, Id. at 370 (citing Canaday, et al. v. Anthem Cos., 9 F.4th 392 (6th Cir. 2021), and Vallone, et al. v. CJS Solutions Group, LLC, 9 F.4th 861 (8th Cir. 2021)), whereas the First Circuit had answered in the negative, holding that only the named plaintiffs must show that their claims arise out of or relate to the defendant’s minimum contacts with the forum state. Id. (citing Waters, et al. v. Day & Zimmermann NPS, Inc., 23 F.4th 84 (1st Cir. 2022)).

The Third Circuit agreed with the former, holding that, like the out-of-state plaintiffs in Bristol-Myers, the opt-in plaintiffs in FLSA collective actions must satisfy the personal jurisdiction requirements of the Fourteenth Amendment to join the suit by demonstrating general personal jurisdiction or specific personal jurisdiction. As to the former, the opt- ins could not establish general personal jurisdiction over FedEx because the company was incorporated in Delaware and had a principal place of business in Tennessee. As to the latter, the opt-ins could not establish specific jurisdiction because they lived and worked in New York and Maryland, respectively, and based their claims entirely on their treatment by FedEx in their home states. Id. at 383.

During 2022, the parties in three of these cased filed petitions for review by the U.S. Supreme Court, and requested that it address the question of personal jurisdiction in the context of collective actions. To date, the Supreme Court has denied two of the petitions, with the  petition outstanding. Thus, it is unlikely that the Supreme Court will resolve this issue in 2023, and corporate defendants can expect that personal jurisdiction will remain a powerful defense for facing collective actions outside of their home states.

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The opinions expressed on this blog are those of the author and are not to be construed as legal advice.

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