June 19, 2017

Supreme Court Decides Bristol-Myers Squibb Co. v. Superior Court, No.16-466.

On June 19, 2107 the U.S. Supreme Court decided Bristol-Myers Squibb Co. v. Superior Court, holding that in determining whether a forum’s exercise of specific personal jurisdiction over a party complies with the Fourteenth Amendment’s Due Process Clause, the nature of the required connection between the suit and the proposed forum jurisdiction may not be relaxed based on a “sliding scale” that depends on the extent of the defendant’s general connections with that jurisdiction.

Bristol-Myers Squibb is incorporated in Delaware and headquartered in New York. Several hundred plaintiffs from 38 states filed a single action against BMS in California state court, claiming injuries related to BMS’s manufacture and sale of the blood-thinning drug Plavix. BMS challenged the state court’s personal jurisdiction over the claims of the non-California plaintiffs on the ground that it “did not develop Plavix in California, did not create a marketing strategy for Plavix in California, and did not manufacture, label, package, or work on the regulatory approval of the product in California,” and because “[t]he nonresident plaintiffs did not allege that they obtained Plavix through California physicians or from any other California source; nor did they claim that they were injured by Plavix or were treated for their injuries in California.”

The California courts held that they had specific jurisdiction over BMS, adopting a “sliding scale” approach to specific jurisdiction under which “the more wide ranging the defendant’s forum contacts,” the more easily a plaintiff may establish personal jurisdiction “based on a less direct connection between [the defendant’s] forum activities and the plaintiffs’ claims.” Applying this rule, the California courts found specific jurisdiction because BMS had other operations in California, and because the California and non-California plaintiffs’ claims” “based on the same allegedly defective product and the assertedly misleading marketing and promotion of that product.”

The Supreme Court reversed, holding the “sliding scale” approach to “resemble a loose and spurious form of general jurisdiction.” The Court reiterated that specific jurisdiction does not arise merely “when third parties (here, the plaintiffs who reside in California) can bring claims similar to those brought by the nonresidents.” The Court also held that “BMS’s decision to contract with a California company … to distribute Plavix nationally” did not supply the needed connection because “the nonresidents have adduced no evidence to show how or by whom the Plavix they took was distributed to the pharmacies that dispensed it to them.”

Justice Alito delivered the opinion of the Court. Justice Sotomayor filed a dissenting opinion.

Download Opinion of the Court

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