The Briefcase Diaries

Bristol-Myers Squibb, Co. V. Superior Court of California, San Francisco County, et al.

Whether you are a rising 2L who just finished their first year of law school, or a law graduate, like me, who is studying for the bar exam, you should be especially interested with the Supreme Court’s recent decision narrowing the rules for bringing a class action lawsuit. The case raises several civil procedure issues that are extremely important and relevant to jurisdiction, and what cases a court can hear.

After reviewing civil procedure for the bar exam, reading the opinion from Supreme Court made complete sense to me, which means that I might actually have learned a thing or two during law school. The case involves a class of plaintiffs bringing a suit against Bristol-Myers Squibb alleging serious health damage from one of their drugs, Plavix.[1] BMS is incorporated in Delaware and has its headquarters in New York.[2] While it does conduct research and even engage in business in California, the plaintiffs did not allege that they bought the drug there, were injured by the drug there, or were even treated for injuries there.[3]

In order for a court to have personal jurisdiction over a defendant, it must establish for specific jurisdiction that the defendant’s contacts with the state must give rise to the cause of action, while for general jurisdiction, the defendant must be “at home” in the state.[4] The California Superior Court held that there was enough to establish personal jurisdiction over BMS because of the “wide ranging” contacts with the state.[5]

The Supreme Court in this case “granted certiorari to decide whether the California courts’ exercise of jurisdiction in this case violates the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.”[6] After analyzing several cases that are well settled law, and drilled into our memories from our 1L civil procedure class, the Court held that the state does not have personal jurisdiction over BMS.[7] While this decision does somewhat limit the types of class actions that may be brought, this “decision 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.”[8]

Also noteworthy is the solo dissent by Justice Sotomayor that expresses her fear that “a corporation that engages in a nationwide course of conduct cannot be held accountable in a state court by a group of injured people unless all of those people were injured in the forum State.”[9]

The decision can be read here:
[1] Bristol-Myers Squibb Co. v. Superior Court of California, San Francisco County, et al, No.16-466, slip op. at 1 (2017).
[2] Id.
[3] Id.
[4] Goodyear Dunlop Tires Operations, S. A. v. Brown, 564 U. S. 915, 924 (2011).
[5] Bristol-Myers Squibb Co. v. Superior Court of California, San Francisco County, et al, No.16-466, slip op. at 1 (2017).
[6] Id. at 4.
[7] Id. at 12.
[8] Id.
[9] Id. at dissent 1.

Categories: The Briefcase Diaries