U.S. Supreme Court Strikes Down California Ruling in Bristol-Myers’ Plavix Case

Plavix bleeding side effects

The US Supreme Court ruled today that California courts lack specific jurisdiction to entertain the nonresidents’ claims against Bristol-Myers that Plavix damaged their health.

The Court ruled that:

(a) The personal jurisdiction of state courts is “subject to review for compatibility with the Fourteenth Amendment’s Due Process Clause.” Goodyear Dunlop Tires Operations, S. A. v. Brown, 564 U. S. 915, 918. This Court’s decisions have recognized two types of personal jurisdiction: general and specific. For general jurisdiction, the “paradigm forum” is an “individual’s domicile,” or, for corporations, “an equivalent place, one in which the corporation is fairly regarded as at home.” Specific jurisdiction, however, requires “the suit” to “aris[e] out of or relat[e] to the defendant’s contacts with the forum.”

The “primary concern” in assessing personal jurisdiction is “the burden on the defendant.” World-Wide Volkswagen Corp. v. Woodson, 444 U. S. 286, 292. Assessing this burden obviously requires a court to consider the practical problems resulting from litigating in the forum, but it also encompasses the more abstract matter of submitting to the coercive power of a State that may have little legitimate interest in the claims in question. At times, “the Due Process Clause, acting as an instrument of interstate federalism, may . . . divest the State of its power to render a valid judgment.”

(b) Settled principles of specific jurisdiction control this case. For a court to exercise specific jurisdiction over a claim there must be an “affiliation between the forum and the underlying controversy, principally [an] activity or an occurrence that takes place in the forum State.” When no such connection exists, specific jurisdiction is lacking regardless of the extent of a defendant’s unconnected activities in the State. The California Supreme Court’s “sliding scale approach”—which resembles a loose and spurious form of general jurisdiction—is thus difficult to square with this Court’s precedents. That court found specific jurisdiction without identifying any adequate link between the State and the nonresidents’ claims. The mere fact that other plaintiffs were prescribed, obtained, and ingested Plavix in California does not allow the State to assert specific jurisdiction over the nonresidents’ claims. Nor is it sufficient (or relevant) that BMS conducted research in California on matters unrelated to Plavix. What is needed is a connection between the forum and the specific claims at issue.

(c) The nonresident plaintiffs’ reliance on Keeton v. Hustler Magazine, Inc., 465 U. S. 770, and Phillips Petroleum Co. v. Shutts, 472 U. S. 797, is misplaced. Keeton concerned jurisdiction to determine the scope of a claim involving in-state injury and injury to residents of the State, not, as here, jurisdiction to entertain claims involving no in-state injury and no injury to residents of the forum State. And Shutts, which concerned the due process rights of plaintiffs, has no bearing on the question presented here.

(d) BMS’s decision to contract with McKesson, a California company, to distribute Plavix nationally does not provide a sufficient basis for personal jurisdiction. It is not alleged that BMS engaged in relevant acts together with McKesson in California or that BMS is derivatively liable for McKesson’s conduct in California. The bare fact that BMS contracted with a California distributor is not enough to establish personal jurisdiction in the State.

(e) The Court’s decision will not result in the parade of horribles that respondents conjure up. It does not prevent the California and out-of-state plaintiffs from joining together in a consolidated action in the States that have general jurisdiction over BMS. Alternatively, the nonresident plaintiffs could probably sue together in their respective home States. In addition, since this decision concerns the due process limits on the exercise of specific jurisdiction by a State, the question remains open whether the Fifth Amendment imposes the same restrictions on the exercise of personal jurisdiction by a federal court.

 272 plaintiffs sue

A group of plaintiffs, most of whom are not California residents, sued Bristol-Myers Squibb Company (BMS) in California state court, alleging that the pharmaceutical company’s drug Plavix had damaged their health.

BMS is incorporated in Delaware and headquartered in New York, and it maintains substantial operations in both New York and New Jersey. Although it engages in business activities in California and sells Plavix there, BMS did not develop, create a marketing strategy for, manufacture, label, package, or work on the regulatory approval for Plavix in the State. And the nonresident plaintiffs did not allege that they obtained Plavix from a California source, that they were injured by Plavix in California, or that they were treated for their injuries in California.

The California Superior Court denied BMS’s motion to quash service of summons on the nonresidents’ claims for lack of personal jurisdiction, concluding that BMS’s extensive activities in the State gave the California courts general jurisdiction. Following this Court’s decision in Daimler AG v. Bauman, 571 U. S. ___, the State Court of Appeal found that the California courts lacked general jurisdiction.

But the Court of Appeal went on to find that the California courts had specific jurisdiction over the claims brought by the nonresident plaintiffs. Affirming, the State Supreme Court applied a “sliding
scale approach” to specific jurisdiction, concluding that BMS’s “wide ranging” contacts with the State were enough to support a finding of specific jurisdiction over the claims brought by the nonresident plaintiffs. That attenuated connection was met, the court held, in part because the nonresidents’ claims were similar in many ways to the California residents’ claims and because BMS engaged in other activities in the State.

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