In an important decision in accord with the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2017 landmark ruling on personal jurisdiction in Bristol-Myers Squibb Co. v. Superior Court of Calif., 137 S. Ct. 1773 (2017) (BMS), the Illinois Supreme Court held that Illinois courts may not exercise personal jurisdiction over claims of out-of-state plaintiffs for personal injuries suffered outside of Illinois from a device manufactured outside of Illinois. Rios v. Bayer, 2020 IL 125020 (June 4, 2020).
Reversing both the trial court in Madison County and the Fifth District Appellate Court, the Court rejected arguments that alleged in-state clinical trials and marketing activities support the exercise of specific personal jurisdiction. Justice Theis delivered the opinion of the Court, joined by Chief Justice Anne Burke and Justices Michael Burke, Garman and Karmeier. Justice Kilbride wrote a special concurrence, joined by Justice Neville.
The case arose out of alleged personal injuries from the use of Essure birth control medical devices that were originally manufactured and developed by Conceptus, a California corporation. Conceptus was bought by Bayer in 2013. In two separate cases with nearly identical claims filed in 2016, two Illinois residents filed complaints along with 179 plaintiffs from numerous other states against various Bayer entities, all of them incorporated and located outside Illinois.
The U.S. Supreme Court issued its decision in June 2017 in BMS, holding that California did not have personal jurisdiction over a nonresident defendant when the conduct giving rise to the claims did not occur in the forum.
The plaintiffs ultimately filed amended complaints alleging that the defendants “used Illinois to develop, label or work on the regulatory approval for Essure” and “created the Essure Accreditation Program and the marketing strategy for Essure in Illinois.” The defendants moved to dismiss as to the nonresident plaintiffs for lack of specific personal jurisdiction under BMS. In response, the plaintiffs “asserted that Bayer conducted clinical trials in Illinois,” tested a “physician training program” in Illinois and “orchestrated a marketing campaign in Illinois that ultimately spread misinformation about Essure nationwide.”
The trial judges in both cases denied the defendants’ motions to dismiss, holding that the plaintiffs had established a sufficient link between their claims and Illinois to exercise personal jurisdiction.
The trial courts held that because the plaintiffs’ claims allegedly arose in part out of clinical trials in Illinois, Illinois had an “indisputable interest” in resolving these claims such that the courts could exercise personal jurisdiction, relying on M.M. v. GlaxoSmithKline LLC, 2016 IL App (1st) 151909.
On appeal, the Fifth District Appellate Court affirmed, holding that the defendants had purposefully availed themselves of jurisdiction in Illinois by conducting clinical trials and creating the marketing strategy for Essure in Illinois, linking the plaintiffs’ claims, at least in part, to their conduct in Illinois. The Illinois Supreme Court granted leave to appeal.
The Court first observed that the inquiry under the Illinois long-arm statute, 735 ILCS 5/2-209(c), focuses on “whether the nonresident defendants’ contacts with Illinois suffice to satisfy both federal and Illinois due process.” Because the defendants had not argued that the Illinois Constitution imposed “any greater restraints” on the exercise of jurisdiction than the U.S. Constitution, the Court proceeded to analyze the issue by only considering federal constitutional principles.
The Court held that BMS “forecloses plaintiffs’ theory of specific personal jurisdiction.” The Court found that the nonresident plaintiffs’ claims did not arise out of or relate “in any meaningful sense” to the allegations about clinical trials and marketing activities in Illinois. The opinion noted that there was no allegation that Essure had been made in Illinois, and therefore “no adequate link between the nonresident plaintiffs’ manufacturing defect claims and this forum.”
As for the allegations that the defendants had disseminated false or misleading information about Essure in Illinois, the Court noted that the out-of-state plaintiffs failed to allege that either they or their physicians received any of this information in Illinois, or that the devices were implanted in Illinois. And as to the alleged physician training programs, the Court noted the absence of allegations that the defendants trained the nonresidents’ implanting physicians in Illinois. “In short, the nonresident plaintiffs have identified no jurisdictionally relevant links between their claims and Illinois.”
The Court held that the plaintiffs had failed to meet their burden to establish “a prima facie basis to exercise specific personal jurisdiction over defendants as to the nonresident plaintiffs’ claims.” The Court further held that “it would not be reasonable for the nonresidents’ claims to proceed in Illinois,” applying the factors set out in World-Wide Volkswagen Corp. v. Woodson, 444 U.S. 286, 291 (1980). The Court held that Illinois “has no particular interest” in resolving claims for nonresident plaintiffs that did not arise out of or relate to activities in Illinois. The Court observed that the nonresident plaintiffs could bring claims elsewhere and that indeed many of them had “initiated duplicate actions in California, which demonstrates that the interests of judicial economy are not furthered by permitting their claims to proceed in Illinois.”
The Court also rejected the lower courts’ reliance on M.M. v. GlaxoSmithKline, which held that clinical trial participants in Illinois, the presence of employees in Illinois and an agent of service of process in Illinois were sufficient to find a pharmaceutical company had purposefully availed itself of the benefits of Illinois law, justifying personal jurisdiction. Because it was decided before BMS, the opinion “does not reflect the law in Illinois and should no longer be relied upon.”
The Court ultimately reversed and ordered the lower courts to grant the motions to dismiss the nonresident plaintiffs’ claims for lack of personal jurisdiction.
In his special concurrence, Justice Kilbride agreed with the result under BMS but wrote to echo the concerns expressed by Justice Sotomayor in her BMS dissent. He stated that when nonresident plaintiffs have claims substantively identical to resident plaintiffs, it would not be unfair or inefficient or violate due process to allow the claims to be adjudicated together.
Overall, the Illinois Supreme Court’s Rios opinion is an important decision that correctly reads BMS to preclude jurisdiction over non-resident defendants for claims of out-of-state plaintiffs for personal injuries suffered outside of Illinois. The opinion is in accord with the post-BMS majority of decisions in pharmaceutical products liability cases concluding that allegations regarding in-state clinical trials or testing are not sufficient to establish specific personal jurisdiction. See Clinical Trial Activity Is Not an Exception to the Rule by Chanda Miller and Christian Piccolo, Faegre Drinker on Products, October 17, 2018 (collecting cases).