We are counselors, trial lawyers, mediators, and professional instructors.

SCOTUS – Round Two, Specific Jurisdiction

Last month, in BNSF Railway Co. v. Tyrrell, the Supreme Court reaffirmed the minimum standard necessary for a state court to exercise general jurisdiction over a non-resident, holding that general jurisdiction focuses on the

“paradigm forums in which a corporate defendant is ‘at home’ are the corporation’s place of incorporation and its principal place of business.”

We can only assume this holds true for the human defendant as well. In my last article, I noted that BNSF Railway Co. v. Tyrrell might prove helpful to defeat jurisdiction over lawsuits unrelated to a defendant’s contacts with a particular jurisdiction, but it has little bearing on litigation based on a defendant’s specific contacts with a venue.

On June 19, 2017, in Bristol-Myers Squibb Co. v. Superior Court of California, 137 S. Ct. 1773 (2017), the United States Supreme Court clarified the scope of when a court can exercise specific personal jurisdiction over a corporate defendant. In Bristol-Myers Squibb Co., a group of California residents and non-residents filed a lawsuit against defendant Bristol-Myers Squibb Co. (“BMS”) in California state court, alleging that Plavix had damaged their health. BMS did not develop, create a marketing strategy for, manufacture, label, package, or work on the regulatory approval for Plavix in California. Although, BMS did engage in business in California and sold Plavix there, none of the nonresident plaintiffs had connections to California. The California Supreme Court found that it was appropriate for California courts to exercise specific personal jurisdiction over BMS under a sliding scale approach, because BMS had extensive contacts with California, and the claims of the nonresident-plaintiffs were substantially similar to those of the California resident plaintiffs.

The United States Supreme Court reversed, holding that California’s exercise of specific personal jurisdiction violated the Fourteenth Amendment’s Due Process Clause. For a court to exercise specific personal jurisdiction over a claim, the lawsuit must arise out of or relate to the defendant’s contacts with the forum. There must be an affiliation between the forum and the underlying controversy, principally, an activity or an occurrence that takes place in the forum state. California’s sliding scale approach resembled a loose and spurious form of general jurisdiction in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment’s Due Process Clause. The Supreme Court concluded that a defendant’s relationship with a third party, standing alone, is an insufficient basis for jurisdiction, and the mere fact that other California residents were similarly injured similarly had no bearing on the: non-residents’ claims.

Both BNSF Railway Co. and Bristol-Myers Squibb Co. focus on when a non-resident plaintiff will be able to assert claims in venues against non-resident corporate defendants. Nevertheless, because the focus is on the defendant’s contacts with the forum, both decisions provide guidance on a resident plaintiff’s claims against a non-resident defendant.