Academic journal article Emory Law Journal

Stepping Back to Move Forward: Expanding Personal Jurisdiction by Reviving Old Practices

Academic journal article Emory Law Journal

Stepping Back to Move Forward: Expanding Personal Jurisdiction by Reviving Old Practices

Article excerpt


In March 2012, eight complaints were filed in a San Francisco Superior Court, each alleging the same thirteen causes of action against the same defendant.1 The plaintiffs were 678 individuals, each of whom had been prescribed and had taken the drug Plavix.2 Their complaints alleged injuries resulting from having taken the drug.3 The defendant was Bristol-Myers Squibb Company (BMS), the manufacturer of Plavix.4 BMS is not a small company; it employs a workforce of over 12,000, maintains research facilities in California, and in California alone sold $918 million worth of Plavix over a six-year period.5 BMS moved to quash service of process on the grounds that California lacked personal jurisdiction with respect to the nonresident plaintiffs' claims.6 The Superior Court denied the motion, and BMS appealed.7

The issue was whether the nonresident plaintiffs' claims arose from BMS's contacts with California.8 Only eighty-six of the plaintiffs reside in California; the rest were spread across thirty-three other states.9 The 592 plaintiffs who did not reside in California (the nonresident plaintiffs) were all injured by drugs they took outside California.10 Furthermore, BMS did not manufacture those drugs in California, and the drugs did not even pass through California while being distributed to the nonresident plaintiffs.11 For these 592 plaintiffs, the connection between their claims and BMS's activities in California would appear nonexistent. The California Supreme Court disagreed, and in August 2016 held that jurisdiction was proper in California.12

Why was Bristol-Myers Squibb notable? Because it was one of the first cases to address specific jurisdiction since Daimler AG v. Bauman.12 There, the Court confirmed a shift in general jurisdiction jurisprudence that it had begun in 2011.14 Prior to 2011, courts analyzed general jurisdiction as a question of whether a defendant had "continuous and systematic" contacts with a forum state.15 In 2011, the Court qualified this test to establish the current standard; now the defendant's contacts must be "so 'continuous and systematic' as to render [it] essentially at home in the forum."16 Daimler clarified this standard. Generally a corporation will be "at home" only in the states where the corporation is incorporated and where it has its principal place of business.17

While Daimler severely limited general jurisdiction, it also hinted at an expanding role for specific jurisdiction.18 Commenters and attorneys noticed this hint, and now seek ways to expand specific jurisdiction.19 Because the nonresident plaintiffs could not directly trace their injuries to BMS's California activities,20 Bristol-Myers Squibb presented an opportunity to try such an expansion. Unfortunately, this opportunity would be short-lived.21

Why focus on expanding the scope of specific jurisdiction when courts are already swarming with litigants?22 Because litigating jurisdiction wastes both judicial and party resources at the pleading stage, before a dispute can be resolved on its merits.23 Making jurisdiction easier to establish would streamline litigation by avoiding lengthy disputes at the pleading stage.24 It would also expand access to the courts and ensure that the injured have an opportunity to be made whole,25 respect state sovereignty,26 and promote the fundamental goals of due process fairness.27 These are significant values in the field of civil procedure beyond just personal jurisdiction; they underpin much of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure,28 as well as our American democracy.29

This Comment proceeds in three parts. Part I traces the development of the Court's approach to personal jurisdiction since 1945, explaining how over time it moved from an approach that focused on the reasonableness of jurisdiction to an approach that focused primarily on whether the defendant has any contact with the forum.30 Part II then discusses how the California Supreme Court articulated a broad view of the scope of specific jurisdiction and arrived at a fair result in Bristol-Myers Squibb31 However, the California Supreme Court's reasoning was convoluted, and the Supreme Court eventually reversed it in an opinion that doubled down on a contacts-centric approach. …

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