Recently, a team of attorneys from MG+M successfully obtained a dismissal of all claims against their client, based on the lack of personal jurisdiction. The case was Howell v. Asbestos Corporation, pending in Los Angeles County Superior Court before the coordinating asbestos judge, the Honorable Steven J. Kleifield. In his decision dismissing the claims, Judge Kleifield applied the stringent personal jurisdiction standards recently set forth in Bristol-Meyers Squibb Co. v. Superior Court of California 137 S. Ct. 1773 (2017).
In Bristol-Meyers, the United States Supreme court examined whether a state court could exercise personal jurisdiction over the claims of non-resident plaintiffs against a non-resident corporate defendant for injuries occurring out of the forum state. Id. at 1778 Specifically, a group of plaintiffs sued Bristol-Myers Squibb (Bristol) in a California court for injuries sustained after ingesting a drug manufactured and supplied by Bristol. Many of the plaintiffs were not from California. Bristol was incorporated in Delaware with its principal place of business in New York; however, it did have some connections with California, as it sold its drug within the state.
Ultimately, the Court ruled that California courts could not exercise specific personal jurisdiction over Bristol with respect to any plaintiffs who did not reside in California, because any conduct giving rise to the non-resident plaintiffs’ claims occurred outside of California. The Court noted 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.” Id. at 1781. Thus, because the complaint did not allege any acts or occurrences in California that specifically resulted in injury, the Court ruled that California could not exercise personal jurisdiction over the claims against Bristol.
In the Howell v. Asbestos Corporation case decided last week, the plaintiffs alleged that Mr. Howell developed malignant epithelial mesothelioma as a result of exposure to various asbestos-containing products. Although the plaintiff did reside in California for a short period of time, the vast majority of the plaintiff’s alleged exposure to asbestos occurred in the state of Texas. On behalf of one of the defendants, attorneys from MG+M argued that California courts lacked personal jurisdiction over our client pursuant to the standard set forth in Bristol-Meyers. Specifically, MG+M attorneys argued the plaintiff’s claims did not relate to any contacts that the defendant had with the state of California. For example, the defendant was not incorporated in California, did not have its principal place of business in California, and had less than 1 percent of employees residing in California, meaning there was no general jurisdiction. Additionally, the plaintiff’s alleged injury from the defendant’s product occurred outside of the state of California, meaning there was no specific jurisdiction. Ultimately, Judge Kleifield applied the Bristol-Meyers standard and held that because the plaintiffs’ claims did not bear a substantial connection to the non-resident defendant’s forum contacts, the exercise of personal jurisdiction was not appropriate.
The Future of Bristol-Meyers
Since the decision in Bristol-Meyers, corporate defendants are raising more personal jurisdiction challenges and achieving greater success. The Bristol-Meyers standard for personal jurisdiction has fundamentally changed the rules governing where corporate defendants can be sued, limiting plaintiffs’ lawyers’ ability to select favorable forums in which to file claims (i.e. forum shopping). To establish specific jurisdiction, plaintiffs’ lawyers now must plead specific facts that show a connection between their client’s claims and the forum in which they seek adjudication.