Earlier this week, the United States Supreme Court issued its ruling in a closely watched case concerning state based mass actions. The decision, which shuts down certain forms of forum shopping, might lead to more lawsuits being filed in New Jersey state courts because of our state’s plaintiff-friendly laws and the fact that many major businesses call New Jersey home.
The case, Bristol-Myers Squibb v. Superior Court of California, involves a group of more than 600 plaintiffs, most of whom are not from California, who sued the pharmaceutical company Bristol-Myers Squibb in California state court over the alleged ill-effects of the drug Plavix. The company successfully argued that it should not be haled into court in California by non-California plaintiffs who did not suffer any injury in the state of California because it does not do much more than sell its products there.
The United States Supreme Court ruled 8-1 (with Justice Alito writing for the majority, and Justice Sotomayor dissenting) that Bristol-Myers Squibb could not be sued by non-California residents in California just because they sold products in the state or because some of the plaintiffs did live in California.
“The mere fact that other plaintiffs were prescribed, obtained, and ingested Plavix in California—and allegedly sustained the same injuries as did the nonresidents—does not allow the state to assert specific jurisdiction over the nonresidents’ claims,” wrote Alito. He added, “What is needed—and what is missing here—is a connection between the forum and the specific claims at issue.”
We are pleased with this ruling because businesses should not be subject to jurisdiction anywhere their product might be sold, and this decision will encourage lower courts to step-up their gatekeeping role. However, New Jersey should brace for impact as plaintiffs shift their attention to our state courts, in which many businesses can be considered “at home,” and which are known for being friendly to plaintiffs thanks to our Rules of Evidence.
Additional analysis of this decision’s likely impact in New Jersey and elsewhere will be provided to NJCJI members in the coming weeks. If you would like to become a member of the New Jersey Civil Justice Institute, please contact our President, Marcus Rayner.