Torts – U.S. Supreme Court Limits California Jurisdiction

by Low, Ball & Lynch

Bristol-Myers Squibb Company v. Superior Court California, San Francisco County, et al.

United States Supreme Court (June 19, 2019)

More than 600 plaintiffs (most of whom were not California residents) brought product liability claims against Bristol Myers-Squibb Co. (“BMS”) in a California state court. Plaintiffs alleged personal injuries from ingesting a drug named Plavix, which was manufactured by BMS. The non-resident plaintiffs did not allege that they obtained Plavix through California physicians or from any other source in California. Further, none of them claimed that they were injured by Plavix or were treated for their injuries in California.

BMS is incorporated in Delaware, headquartered in New York and maintains substantial operations in New York and New Jersey. BMS markets and sells Plavix in other states, including California. Five of the company’s research and laboratory facilities are located in California. BMS also employs 160 individuals at its research and laboratory facilities and 250 sales representatives in California.

BMS moved to quash the summons for lack of personal jurisdiction in California. The superior court concluded that BMS’ extensive activities in the state gave the California courts general jurisdiction and denied the motion. The State Court of Appeal found that California courts lacked general jurisdiction but held that they had specific jurisdiction over the non-residents’ claims. The California Supreme Court affirmed. The Court used a “sliding scale approach.” Under this approach, “the more wide ranging the defendant’s forum contacts, the more readily is shown the connection between the forum contacts and the claim.” The Court held that specific jurisdiction existed because both the resident and non-resident plaintiffs’ claims were based on the same allegedly defective product and misleading marketing and promotion. The Court further held that the nationwide distribution of the drug satisfied the requirement that the claims had a connection with BMS’ extensive contacts with California.

The United States Supreme Court reversed. The Court held that the required connection between the lawsuit and the forum jurisdiction cannot be determined based on the “sliding scale approach” that depends on the extent of the defendant’s general connections with that jurisdiction that are not related to the claim. The Court stated that California’s approach resembled “a loose and spurious form of general jurisdiction.” The adequate link between the non-residents’ claims and state were not identified. The non-residents did not purchase or ingest Plavix in California nor were they injured by the drug in California.


The United States Supreme Court’s decision sets forth specific criteria for establishing specific jurisdiction. This now limits the type of corporation/individual who can be sued in California.

For a copy of the complete decision, see: Bristol-Myers v. Superior Court


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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