Bristol-Myers Squibb Co v Superior Court of California: Getting Personal Jurisdiction Now More Difficult
In Bristol-Myers Squibb Co v Superior Court of California, San Francisco County, 582 U.S. ____ (2017), the U.S. Supreme Court tightened the requirements for exercising personal jurisdiction. It held that California courts lacked specific jurisdiction to entertain the nonresident plaintiffs’ claims because those claims did not have a specific connection to the State of California.
Facts of Bristol-Myers Squibb Co v Superior Court of California
A class of plaintiffs, most of whom are not California residents, filed a product liability suit against Bristol-Myers Squibb Company (BMS) in California state court. The plaintiffs alleged that they were harmed by the company’s blood-thinning drug, Plavix. 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. In addition, the plaintiffs that resided outside of California 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.
BMS moved to quash service of the summons, arguing that California courts lacked personal jurisdiction over the company to adjudicate the claims of the nonresident plaintiffs. The Supreme Court of California agreed, concluding that BMS was not subject to the general jurisdiction of the California courts. However, it held that BMS’s “wide ranging” contacts with the State were enough to support a finding of specific jurisdiction over the nonresident’ claims. According to the Supreme Court of California, jurisdiction was proper 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.
Court’s Decision in Bristol-Myers Squibb Co v Superior Court of California
By a vote of 8-1, the Supreme Court held that California courts did not have specific jurisdiction to adjudicate the nonresidents’ claims. Justice Samuel Alito wrote on behalf of the Court.
In his opinion, Justice Alito explained that the exercise of specific jurisdiction over a claim requires an “affiliation between the forum and the underlying controversy, principally, [an] activity or an occurrence that takes place in the forum State.” Goodyear Dunlop Tires Operations, S. A. v. Brown, 564 U. S. 915 (2011). In the absence of such a connection, specific jurisdiction is lacking regardless of the extent of a defendant’s unconnected activities in the State.
“The nonresidents were not prescribed Plavix in California, did not purchase Plavix in California, did not ingest Plavix in California, and were not injured by Plavix in California,” Justice Alito wrote. “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.”
Justice Alito added, “What is needed—and what is missing here—is a connection between the forum and the specific claims at issue.
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