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,
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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
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supreme-court-building-1209701_1280In a groundbreaking decision that follows closely on the heels of its jurisdictional decision in BNSF Railway Co. v. Tyrrell, 581 U.S. __ (May 30, 2017) (“Tyrrell”), the United States Supreme Court held that the California Supreme Court was wrong to let approximately 600 non-California residents join 86 state residents in a pharmaceutical claim against Bristol-Myers in which plaintiffs alleged that it misrepresented the risk of heart attacks and strokes associated with the use of its blood thinner, Plavix. In overturning the decision of the California Court, the Supreme Court premised its holding on the fact that the out-of-state plaintiffs had not shown enough of a connection between their alleged injuries and the company’s activities in California.

As previously reported, in an effort to find a way around the restrictions imposed on a court’s exercise of specific personal jurisdiction over a foreign corporation by the U.S. Supreme Court’s Daimler decision,  the California Supreme Court used specific personal jurisdiction as a tool to enlarge the Court’s power to exercise personal jurisdiction over a foreign corporation.  In Bristol-Myers Squibb, the California Supreme Court expressly held that Bristol-Myers Squibb was not subject to general personal jurisdiction in California, as its contacts with the state were not substantial enough to render it “at home” in the jurisdiction. It held, however, that specific personal jurisdiction existed over Bristol-Myers Squibb in California—even for plaintiffs who were not injured in California—based on its “purposeful availment” of the benefits and privileges of the laws of the State of California as a result of its “nationwide marketing, promotion and distribution [that] created a substantial nexus between the non-resident plaintiffs’ claims and the company’s contacts in California . . . .” Bristol-Myers Squibb Co. v. Superior Court, No. S221038, 2016 WL 4506107 (Cal. Aug. 29, 2016).

In the Supreme Court’s June 19, 2017 opinion, it reversed the California Supreme Court by a vote of 8-1. It made clear that specific jurisdiction is confined to adjudication of issues deriving from, or connected with, the very controversy that establishes jurisdiction.” If a state has no “legitimate interest” in particular claims, a defendant should not be forced to submit to the coercive power of the state with respect to those claims. Bristol-Myers Squibb Company v. Superior Court of California, San Francisco County, et al., 582 U.S. ___, ____ (2017) (slip op. at 6). The Supreme Court explicitly held that specific jurisdiction requires a connection between the forum and the specific claims at issue. Id. When there is no such connection, specific jurisdiction is lacking regardless of the extent of a defendant’s unconnected activities in the State. Id. at ­­­___ (slip op. at 7).  Applying that requirement, the Court found that California could not exercise specific jurisdiction over Bristol-Myers Squibb with respect to non-residents’ claims because: (1) the non-residents did not claim to have suffered harm in California; and (2) all the conduct giving rise to the non-residents’ claims occurred
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