Federal District Courts Tackle Application of Bristol-Myers Squibb Co. v. Superior Court to Class Actions

In June 2017, we wrote about the Supreme Court’s decision in Bristol-Myers Squibb Co. v. Superior Court, 137 S. Ct. 1773 (2017) and how it would likely affect attempts by plaintiffs to pursue multi-state or nationwide class actions.  As predicted, the case law is rapidly developing in the district courts, where, in reliance on Bristol-Myers’ holding, defendants challenge courts’ jurisdiction in cases where non-resident plaintiffs assert claims against non-resident defendants not subject to general jurisdiction.

We expect the post-Bristol-Myers landscape will continue to evolve and at some point, the various Circuit Courts of Appeals will begin weighing in.  Until then, below we provide a brief overview of recent notable district court decisions on this topic.  As this overview shows, the majority of courts have held that under Bristol-Myers, they do not have personal jurisdiction over the non-resident defendants with regard to claims brought by the non-resident plaintiffs.

Courts have taken different approaches in arriving at this conclusion. For example, in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, the court applied Bristol-Myers but did not specifically address whether jurisdiction should be treated differently in federal class actions as compared to a state court mass tort action like Bristol-Myers, leaving that answer to inference.  Other courts, such as the Southern District of New York and Northern District of Illinois, have expressly rejected the argument that personal jurisdiction in class actions should be analyzed differently from any other case.

Of the courts which have declined to extend Bristol-Myers to the class action context, two did so upon consideration of whether resident plaintiffs could represent a nationwide class where no named plaintiffs resided outside of the forum.  A third court, building on those two cases, took a step further in holding that Bristol-Myers applied only to state court actions, and not in a case involving non-resident class members.

In effect, while Bristol-Myers has begun restricting plaintiffs’ ability to pursue nationwide classes in any location other than where the defendant is “at home” and subject to general jurisdiction under Daimler AG v. Bauman, 134 S. Ct. 746 (2014), a few courts allow plaintiffs’ counsel to pursue nationwide classes without having to satisfy the same jurisdictional requirements.

Class actions dismissing claims based on Bristol-Myers’ holding:

  • Plumbers’ Local Union No. 690 Health Plan v. Apotex Corp., 2017 WL 3129147 (E.D. Pa. July 24, 2017) (defendants who did not sell in the forum could not be subject to specific jurisdiction in case brought by Pennsylvania plaintiffs asserting nationwide consumer class).
  • Spratley v. FCA US LLC, 2017 WL 4023348 (N.D.N.Y. Sept. 12, 2017) (court dismissed claims of non-resident plaintiffs, who showed no connection between their claims and the non-resident defendant’s contacts with the forum state).
  • In re Dental Supplies Antitrust Litigation, 2017 WL 4217115 (S.D.N.Y. Sept. 20, 2017) (rejecting plaintiffs’ argument that requirements for personal jurisdiction should be relaxed in the class action context because Bristol-Myers was not a class action, and holding “[a] putative class representative seeking to hale a defendant into court to answer to the class must have personal jurisdiction over that defendant just like any individual litigant must.”).
  • McDonnell v. Nature’s Way Products, LLC, 2017 WL 4864910 (N.D. Ill. Oct. 26, 2017) (finding no jurisdiction where non-resident plaintiff’s alleged injury did not occur in the forum state, and only connection to forum was provided by the resident plaintiff’s purchase of the product).
  • LDGP, LLC v. Cynosure, Inc., 2018 WL 439122 (N.D. Ill. Jan. 16, 2018) (holding that court does not have personal jurisdiction over defendants with regard to claims asserted by non-resident plaintiffs).
  • DeBernardis v. NBTY, Inc., 2018 WL 461228 (N.D. Ill. Jan. 18, 2018) (following McDonnell v. Nature’s Way, rejecting notion that class actions should be treated differently from mass torts for due process purposes, and dismissing claims brought by non-resident plaintiffs).
  • Dyson v. Bayer Corp., No. 4:17CV2584 SNLJ, 2018 WL 534375, at *5 (E.D. Mo. Jan. 24, 2018) (dismissing non-Missouri plaintiffs’ claims for lack of personal jurisdiction in products liability case brought by 95 plaintiffs, only 3 of whom resided or were allegedly harmed in Missouri).

Cases declining to extend Bristol-Myers to class actions:

  • Fitzhenry-Russell v. Dr. Pepper Snapple Group, Inc., No. 17-cv-00564, 2017 WL 4224723 (N.D. Cal. Sept. 22, 2017) (declining to extend Bristol-Myers to class action context in case brought by California residents on behalf of nationwide class, but restricting holding to the facts of the case and not foreclosing possibility of extending Bristol-Myers to a putative class action with different facts).
  • In re Chinese-Manufactured Drywall Products Liability Litigation, No. 09-2047, 2017 WL 5971622 (E.D. La. Nov. 30, 2017) (following Fitzhenry-Russel in drawing distinction between the mass tort action of Bristol-Myers and a class action where citizenship of unnamed plaintiffs was not considered for personal jurisdiction purposes).
  • Sloan v. General Motors LLC, No. 16-cv-7244, 2018 WL 784049 (N.D. Cal. Feb. 7, 2018) (rejecting defendant’s argument that Bristol-Myers required federal court to dismiss claims by non-California named plaintiffs who did not purchase cars in California, based on conclusion that Bristol-Myers’ federalism rationale applies only to state court cases).

Written by former litigation partner, Katherine S. Kayatta.