On June 4, the Illinois Supreme Court issued an opinion that further limits the exercise of personal jurisdiction over out-of-state defendants in Christy Rios et al., v. Bayer Corporation et al., and Nichole Hamby et al., v. Bayer Corporation et al., 2020 IL 125020. At issue was whether “Illinois may exercise specific personal jurisdiction over an out-of-state defendant as to the claims of out-of-state plaintiffs for personal injuries suffered outside of Illinois from a device manufactured outside of Illinois.” Following rulings from the United States Supreme Court and those from other states, the court answered with a resounding: “no.”
Christy Rios and Nichole Hamby (Plaintiffs) were allegedly injured by “Essure, a type of permanent birth control for women.” Plaintiffs, both Madison County, Illinois residents, filed separate but nearly identical complaints against Bayer in 2016. Both lawsuits included numerous non-Illinois resident plaintiffs. Less than one year after Plaintiffs filed their complaints, the United States Supreme Court issued its decision in Bristol-Myers Squibb Co. v. Superior Court of California, 137 S. Ct. 1773 (2017) limiting the exercise of specific and general jurisdiction over out-of-state defendants. In light of Bristol-Myers, Bayer argued in the lower courts and on appeal that Illinois could not exercise specific jurisdiction “over an out-of-state defendant as to the claims of out-of-state plaintiffs when the conduct giving rise to the claims did not occur in the forum state.”
Plaintiffs countered that specific jurisdiction in Illinois was proper where Bayer worked on obtaining regulatory approval of the product, created an accreditation program, conducted physician training, and performed clinical trials in Illinois. The trial courts, relying on M.M. v. GlaxoSmithKline LLC, 2016 IL App (1st) 151909, ¶ 75 (handed down pre-Bristol Myers), found that Plaintiffs sufficiently established “the link between their claims and Illinois.” The appellate court agreed, finding that Bayer had purposefully availed itself of Illinois law and subjected itself to the jurisdiction of the state’s courts.
In reversing the lower courts’ decisions, the Illinois Supreme Court relied heavily on Bristol-Myers. Bayer did not dispute that it purposefully directed certain activities toward Illinois. The crucial determination then, was “whether the nonresident plaintiffs’ claims [arose] out of, or relate[d] to, those activities in any meaningful sense of the terms.” (emphasis added). The Court quickly dealt with Plaintiffs’ allegations. First, as to the claim that Bayer’s product was defectively manufactured, the Court found any assertion that the product was manufactured in Illinois was “[c]onspicuously absent from plaintiff’s allegations.” Second, nonresident plaintiffs failed to “allege that either they or their physicians received . . . false information in Illinois.” Further, any failure to warn claims had no connection to Illinois as “the nonresident plaintiffs’ devices were not implanted in Illinois.” Finally, Plaintiffs’ claims that physicians were inadequately trained in using the product again failed as the nonresident plaintiffs did not “allege that Bayer trained their physicians in Illinois.”
The Court further found that it would be unreasonable “for the nonresidents’ claims to proceed in Illinois.” In assessing reasonableness, the courts consider (1) the burden on defendant, (2) the forum state’s interest in adjudicating the dispute, (3) the plaintiff’s interest in obtaining convenient and effective relief, and (4) the judicial system’s interest in obtaining the most efficient resolution of the controversy.” (quoting World-Wide Volkswagen v. Woodson, 444 U.S. 286, 291-92 (1980)). In short, (1) the nonresident plaintiffs did not show how Illinois was convenient for the litigation, (2) Illinois had “no particular interest in resolving claims that did not arise out of or relate to activities that occurred” there, (3) Plaintiffs’ relief interest in Illinois did not justify finding personal jurisdiction as to nonresident plaintiffs, and (4) “many nonresident plaintiffs initiated duplicate actions in California” which showed that permitting their claims in Illinois did not further the interests of judicial economy. Notably, the Court found that M.M., decided one year before Bristol-Myers and relied upon by the lower courts in this matter, no longer reflects Illinois law. Rather, the fact that in-state plaintiffs allegedly sustained the same injuries . . . as did nonresidents does not allow a state to assert specific jurisdiction over the nonresidents’ claims” (quoting Bristol-Myers, 137 S. Ct. at 1781).
The Illinois Supreme Court’s decision provides strong support for closing the door on broad and irrelevant discovery requests by nonresident plaintiffs and further cements the rule that plaintiffs must show a meaningful connection between the claim and the defendant’s activity in the state. A defendant’s general activity in the state, unrelated to the claim, provides no basis for exercising specific personal jurisdiction over that defendant. The practical effect of the ruling may be limited in certain litigation, like the state’s mass of asbestos cases, where defendants may choose to continue litigating in Madison County or Cook County, Illinois to avoid the cases being re-filed in even higher risk jurisdictions where jurisdiction might be proper.