Supreme Court ruling results in talc lawsuit mistrial

Xavier Trudeau
Juin 20, 2017

WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court says hundreds of out-state-residents can't sue drugmaker Bristol-Myers Squibb Co.in California state court over adverse reactions to the blood thinner Plavix.

Under the justice's ruling, state courts can not hear claims against companies that are not based in the state where the injuries occurred.

Only Justice Sonia Sotomayor voted to affirm the California courts' rulings.

The ruling "will not result in the parade of horribles that respondents conjure up", Alito wrote, referring to the plaintiffs.

"In addition... all the conduct giving rise to the nonresidents' claims occurred elsewhere". Superior Court of California.

The out-of-state residents didn't buy the drug or take it in California. "Our decision does not prevent the California and out-of-state plaintiffs from joining together in a consolidated action in the States that have general jurisdiction over BMS", he stated.

The case is Bristol-Myers Squibb Co. v. The briefing and argument suggested that several of the justices regarded this as an effort to circumvent the limits Daimler AG imposed on state-court jurisdiction. On May 30, the court ruled Montana courts were wrong to accept two cases of railroad workers suing their employer over injuries not sustained in the state. The issues in these cases are so closely related that it would have been remarkable if the court had not reversed the decision of the California Supreme Court.

BMS is incorporated in DE and headquartered in NY, with more than 50 percent of its workforce employed in NY and New Jersey. Also, the product wasn't manufactured in the state. It also did not make the drug in the state. California has been be a particularly friendly state for injured plaintiffs.

Justice Alito's opinion explains that the approach of the California court "is hard to square with our precedents", in large part because it "resembles a loose and spurious form of general jurisdiction". Under the second part of the framework, the court has permitted state courts to assert "specific" jurisdiction over defendants only if the claims are related to the defendants' contacts with the particular state.

Sotomayor wrote that she fears the consequences of the opinion will make it hard for plaintiffs across the country to combine their claims. It will make it impossible to bring a nationwide mass action in state court against defendants who are "at home" in different states.

Droske said he was struck that the court reached a near-unanimous decision.

"Justice Sotomayor's fear... may prove to be correct, but that has not dissuaded both the liberals and conservatives on the bench from reigning in personal jurisdiction's reach", he said.

Alito said there was no personal jurisdiction over the nonresidents' claims because they didn't suffer any harm in the state.

Akin said the decision could impact Madison County, the busiest asbestos court in the country, with approximately 90 percent of plaintiffs being out-of-state residents.

Writing for the court, Justice Samuel Alito said the plaintiffs could sue Bristol-Myers together in other states, including NY, where the company has its headquarters, and DE, where it is incorporated.

Bristol-Myers argued it should not face claims in California by plaintiffs who do not live in the state.

"Could it be the cases were filed there because the plaintiffs" lawyers thought that by filing their cases in California, which is one of the nation's worst "Judicial Hellholes, ' they could get a more favorable outcome?" he said.

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