Breaking News – Supreme Court Takes BMS Personal Jurisdiction Case

by Reed Smith
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The United States Supreme Court today granted certiorari in Bristol-Myers Squibb Co. v. Superior Court.  Here is a link to the order.  The California Supreme Court decision in this case was our worst case for all of 2016.  Here is our description of what the Supreme Court has just agreed to review:

Bristol-Myers-Squibb v. Superior Court, 377 P.3d 874 (Cal. 2016). Ultimately (and fortunately) there was not much contest for the worst drug/device product liability decision of the year.  The highest court of the largest state in the country – check.  Direct defiance of United States Supreme Court precedent on a significant constitutional issue – check.  Significant impact on the litigation of mass torts – check.  In Bauman, the Supreme Court condemned “exorbitant exercises” of general jurisdiction that do not “permit out-of-state defendants to structure their primary conduct with some minimum assurance as to where that conduct will and will not render them liable to suit.”  Such “unacceptably grasping” “[e]xercises of personal jurisdiction [are] so exorbitant” that they “are barred by due process.”  The paradigm of such overly “grasping” jurisdiction is that which “would presumably be available in every other State in which a [defendant’s] sales are sizable.”  So the California Supreme Court promptly fashions a theory of “specific” jurisdiction that allows masses of plaintiffs, anywhere in the country, to sue a drug company (and presumably any other large corporation), as long as one Californian (or, here, 86 of 678) is suing over the same conduct.  The reason?  Because the defendant does significant general business in California.  If your reaction is that BMS simply shifted the pre-Bauman “continuous and substantial” jurisdiction standard from general jurisdiction to specific jurisdiction, you would be right.  We haven’t seen such blatant defiance of Supreme Court precedent in our bailiwick since the First Circuit in Bartlett (2012-1), and that one headed up our bottom ten, too.  Here’s hoping for a similar result in the Supreme Court.  We chronicled California sliding to the bottom of the slippery slope here and here.

If our side wins this, then we’ll see a significant reduction in both the size and reach of litigation in all those places where we don’t want to be. We’ll be following this closely.

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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