As previously reported, the issue of establishing personal jurisdiction when there is no causal link between defendant’s forum contacts and plaintiff’s claims was recently decided by the United States Supreme Court in Bristol-Myers Squibb Co. v. Superior Court of California, 137 S. Ct. 1773 (2017). Last week, the Bristol-Myers decision was applied by Judge Kleifield, presiding judge of Department 324 at the Los Angeles Superior Court, which oversees state court asbestos litigation for Counties of Los Angeles, San Diego, and Orange.
In Bristol-Myers, the Supreme Court considered whether a state court could exercise personal jurisdiction over the claims of non-resident plaintiffs against a non-resident corporate defendant for tortious injuries that occurred out of state. Bristol-Myers, 137 S. Ct. at 1778. Bristol-Myers Squib Company (“BMS”), incorporated in Delaware and headquartered in New York, had been sued in California state court by a group of plaintiffs, most of whom were not California residents, who alleged that a BMS drug damaged their health outside of California. Id. The non-resident plaintiffs had not alleged that they: (1) obtained the drug from any California source; (2) ingested the drug in California; or (3) were injured by the drug in California Id. However, it was established that BMS had some connections with California, as it sold the drug in the state. Id. at 1778. The Supreme Court reversed the decision of the California Supreme Court, which had held that there was specific jurisdiction over BMS. Id. at 1777, 1781.
The Supreme Court ruled that specific jurisdiction necessitates “an affiliation between the forum and underlying controversy, principally, [an] activity or an occurrence that takes place in the forum State.” Bristol-Myers, 137 S. Ct. at 1781 (quoting Goodyear Dunlop Tires Operations, S.A. v. Brown, 564 U.S. 915, 919 (2011)). It further held that in order for a state court to exercise specific jurisdiction, “the suit’ must ‘aris[e] out of or relat[e] to the defendant’s contacts with the forum.” Bristol-Myers, 137 S. Ct. at 1781 (quoting Daimler AGv. Bauman, 134 S. Ct. 746, 754 (2014)).
Applying those requirements, the Supreme Court found that California courts could not exercise specific jurisdiction over BMS with respect to non-residents’ claims because the non-residents did not claim to have suffered harm in California and all of the conduct giving rise to the non-residents’ claims occurred outside of California. Id. at 1782. Ultimately, the Supreme Court ruled that there was no specific jurisdiction because there was no connection between the forum and specific claims at issue. Id. at 1782.
In Herford, at al. v. AT&T Corp., et al., No. BC646315 (L.A. Super. Ct.), Tina Herford allegedly suffered exposure to asbestos-contaminated talc in California. The talc was allegedly supplied by defendant Whittaker, Clark & Daniels, Inc. (“WCD”). WCD and its successors, Brenntag North America, Inc. (“BNA”) and Brenntag Specialties, Inc. (“BSI”) moved to quash service of the summons for lack of personal jurisdiction.
Plaintiffs conceded that there was no general jurisdiction over WCD, BNA, or BSI, as each corporation was incorporated and had its principal place of business in a state other than California.
Although WCD’s former Vice President and Secretary stated in his declaration that: (1) WCD ceased its business operations in 2004; (2) it does not own any facilities or real property in California; (3) it has no offices in California; (4) it has no employees in California; and (5) it does not have a registered agent in California, Plaintiffs presented contradictory evidence. Plaintiffs offered evidence that: (1) WCD sold cosmetic talc in California; (2) owned warehouse facilities in the state; (3) had employees in California; and (4) was registered to do business in California. Plaintiffs further presented evidence that WCD sold talc in California to American International Industries in Los Angeles, which incorporated that talc into a product called Clubman talcum powder.
In his ruling on the motion to quash, Judge Kleifield applied the Bristol-Myers decision even though he acknowledged that the facts in the Herford matter were different. He emphasized that while Bristol-Myers dealt with non-residents of California who did not purchase or use the drug in California, Tina Herford was a California resident who allegedly used asbestos-contaminated products while in California. Despite those factual differences, Judge Kleifield concentrated on applying Bristol-Myers’ principles.
Plaintiffs argued that the suit was related to WCD’s contacts with California because WCD sold talc in California. Although Judge Kleifield acknowledged that there was evidence to support WCD’s talc sales in California, he ruled that it was not enough to establish personal jurisdiction. Judge Kleifield focused on the lack of evidence that Tina Herford was exposed to Clubman talcum powder or any of the talc that WCD sold in California. Consequently, Judge Kleifield concluded that Plaintiffs presented no evidence that WCD did anything in California to give rise to this suit.
As to BNA and BSI, Judge Kleifield also ruled that there was no specific jurisdiction over them because the claims against BNA and BSI are derivative of the claims against WCD.
Time will tell how Bristol-Myers will be applied by California courts. Here, Judge Kleifield diverted from a close factual application of Bristol-Myers. Even though Tina Herford was a California resident and alleged injury while in this state, Judge Kleifield based his decision on the lack of connection between WCD’s sales of talc in California and Tina Herford’s claims. Judge Kleifield’s ruling is good news for asbestos defendants sued in California because it makes it clear that in order to prevail on the specific personal jurisdiction issue, plaintiffs must show evidence that the exposure alleged is directly related to a particular defendant’s activities in the state.