Below, Chicago-based litigator Matt Gold weighs in on the implications of last week’s Supreme Court decision rejecting the sliding scale approach to specific jurisdiction in mass tort proceedings.
On June 19, 2017, the Supreme Court reinforced its narrow application of specific jurisdiction in mass tort proceedings in an 8-1 decision in Bristol-Myers Squibb Company v. Superior Court of California. In the class action context, this ruling may impede future class representatives attempting to forum shop by filing suit in a state court that not only lacks general jurisdiction over the defendant, but also lacks a direct connection to the alleged conduct providing the basis for the plaintiff’s claim.
The plaintiffs in Squibb—86 California residents and 592 residents from 33 other States—filed eight separate complaints in California Superior Court, alleging that a pharmaceutical drug, Plavix, damaged their health. Each complaint asserted 13 claims under California law, including products liability, negligent misrepresentation, and misleading advertising claims. The nonresident plaintiffs did not allege that they obtained Plavix in California, nor that they were injured by Plavix or treated for their injuries in California.
The majority held that the California Supreme Court failed to identify an adequate link between the State of California and the 592 nonresident-plaintiffs to support specific jurisdiction. SCOTUS explained that “[t]he mere fact that other plaintiffs were prescribed, obtained, and ingested Plavix in California—and allegedly sustained the same injuries as did the nonresidents—does not allow the State to assert specific jurisdiction over the nonresidents’ claims” as this type of relationship between residents and nonresidents is not an adequate link for jurisdictional purposes.
In so holding, SCOTUS rejected the sliding scale approach applied by the California Supreme Court, under which extensive forum contacts by the defendant can compensate for a less direct connection between the defendant’s activities in the forum and the basis of the plaintiffs’ claims. SCOTUS deemed the sliding scale model to be “a loose and spurious form of general jurisdiction,” and its rejection of the approach will put on damper on future plaintiffs attempting to forum shop based on a company’s conduct in a forum that is neither extensive enough to support general jurisdiction, nor directly tied to the nature of the plaintiffs’ claims.