Seyfarth Synopsis: Recent activity within the federal Courts of Appeals this spring may prompt Supreme Court resolution of a central and unsettled issue concerning personal jurisdiction in the class-action context causing defendants to re-think pleading stage strategies when forced to litigate in forums where they have minimal contacts.

Generally, out-of-state defendants (not subject to general jurisdiction) may only be sued in a forum within that state when the suit arises out of or relates to the defendant’s in-state conduct—that is, where the defendant’s minimum contacts with the forum state are sufficient to exercise specific jurisdiction. Assessments of whether specific jurisdiction exists become problematic in mass-tort or class-action litigation involving both resident and nonresident plaintiffs. In such cases, is it sufficient that one or some of the plaintiffs reside or were injured in the forum state, so as to allow out-of-state plaintiffs to aggregate or “bootstrap” their claims?

In 2017, the Supreme Court answered in the negative, at least in the mass-tort context. 137 S. Ct. 1773 (2017). There, more than six hundred plaintiffs brought suit in California state court against a drug manufacturer. Only eighty-six of the plaintiffs were California residents, and the remaining plaintiffs were residents of over thirty other states. Id. at 1778. The nonresident plaintiffs did not argue that they obtained the allegedly defective drug in California or that they sustained injuries or received treatment in California. Id. The Supreme Court held that the California court lacked specific jurisdiction over the nonresident plaintiffs’ claims, reasoning that “[t]he mere fact that other plaintiffs . . . sustained the same injuries as did the nonresidents . . . does not allow the State to assert specific jurisdiction over the nonresidents’ claims.” Id. at 1781 (emphasis in original). The Supreme Court confirmed that a defendant’s relationship with a resident plaintiff “standing alone” is insufficient to confer personal jurisdiction over nonresidents’ claims, even where the claims are similar to those brought by the resident plaintiff. Id. at 1783.
Continue Reading Update on Personal Jurisdiction Law in the Class Action Context