Justice Alito delivered the opinion of the U.S. Supreme Court on June 19, 2017 in Bristol-Myers Squibb Company v. Superior Court of California. The case concerned over 600 plaintiffs who brought suit in California state court against Bristol-Myers Squibb (BMS) alleging injuries from taking the drug Plavix. The vast majority of the plaintiffs were not California residents. The California Supreme Court concluded that California courts had specific jurisdiction to entertain the nonresident claims. The U.S. Supreme Court reversed the decision. This decision will have an impact on future mass tort litigation cases.
BMS is incorporated in Delaware and headquartered in New York. Although Plavix was sold in California, it was not developed, manufactured, labeled or packaged in California. Justice Alito made a point to indicate that the nonresidents were not prescribed Plavix in California, did not purchase Plavix in California, did not take the drug in California and were not injured by the drug in California. As such, “the mere fact that other plaintiffs were prescribed, obtained, and ingested Plavix in California – and allegedly sustained the same injuries as did the non-residents – does not allow the State to assert specific jurisdiction over the nonresidents’ claims.”
Justice Sotomayor dissented and decried the majority decision as handing “one more tool to corporate defendants determined to prevent the aggregation of individual claims and forces injured plaintiffs to bear the burden of bringing suit in what will often be far flung jurisdictions.”
However, the decision is likely to limit forum shopping by firms looking for plaintiff friendly jurisdictions like California to boost their chances of large verdicts. It will also discourage firms from taking on these suits, as they will have smaller pools of plaintiffs.