California Courts Can Decide Plavix Lawsuits

     (CN) — A divided California Supreme Court ruled Bristol-Myers Squibb is subject to state-court jurisdiction for legal claims from people who suffered bleeding or a stroke after taking its blood thinner Plavix.
     In March 2012, eight separate product-liability lawsuits were filed against the pharmaceutical manufacturer in San Francisco Superior Court after 678 people allegedly suffered side effects or death from taking the prescribed drug.
     The litigants contend that they took Bristol-Myers Squibb Company’s blood thinner Plavix after being told it “provided greater cardiovascular benefits, while being safer and easier on a person’s stomach than aspirin,” which they now claim was not true, according to court records.
     Plavix is often prescribed after an individual has had a heart attack or stroke to prevent blood clots.
     According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, Plavix can cause serious bleeding and can sometimes lead to death.
     The plaintiffs are suing for a variety of alleged injuries from taking Plavix, including bleeding ulcers, cerebral bleeding, rectal bleeding, stroke and death.
     Bristol-Myers Squibb, or BMS, contends that the California courts do not have a right to adjudicate the 592 nonresident plaintiffs’ lawsuits since their injuries did not occur, nor were treated, in California.
     The pharmaceutical company is headquartered in New York City and has substantial operations in New Jersey, where it has established major research and development campuses. All of its operations take place in those two states.
     Although BMS claims it does not have substantial business contacts in California, declarations the company submitted show that it has five offices in California, which employ 164 researchers in its laboratory facilities.
     The company also employs 250 sales representatives that are based in California, and holds an office in Sacramento so it can represent the company and advocate on its behalf in state government affairs, court records show.
     According to the plaintiffs, 187 million Plavix pills were sold from 2006 to 2012 to distributors and wholesalers in California.
     The company allegedly made almost $918 million in revenue from the California sales. A substantial piece of the profit reportedly came from a distribution contract with McKesson Corporation, which is headquartered in San Francisco.
     In considering the question of jurisdiction, the California Supreme Court first conceded Monday that BMS did not have significant business operations in California to meet the purposes of general jurisdiction, since most of its business is conducted outside of the state.
     Four of the seven California Supreme Court justices diverted at that point, finding that California courts do hold specific jurisdiction over the pharmaceutical company.
     “Where a forum seeks to assert specific jurisdiction over an out-of-state defendant who has not consented to suit there, this fair warning requirement is satisfied if the defendant has purposefully directed his activities at residents of the forum and the litigation results from alleged injuries that arise out of or relate to those activities,” Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye wrote for the majority.
     Cantil-Sakauye explained that BMS can be held liable by Golden State courts for injuries nonresidents suffered since it marketed directly to them using magazine, TV and Internet advertising.
     “There is no question that Bristol-Myers Squibb has purposely availed itself of the privilege of conducting activities in California, invoking benefits and protections of its laws,” she wrote.
     The judge said the company’s research and laboratory facilities in California provide an additional connection since they used the facilities to carry out activities directly related to the nonresidents’ claims.
     “The due process protections afforded by the doctrine of specific jurisdiction are designed to give a potential nonresident defendant adequate notice that it is subject to suit there, and, accordingly, a prosecptive defendant can assess the extent of that risk and take measures to mitigate such a risk,” Cantil-Sakauye wrote. “Far from taking measures to mitigate the risk of suit in particular forums, BMS embraced this risk by coordinating a single nationwide marketing and distribution effort and by engaging in research and development in California. In that regard, BMS was on notice that it could be sued in California by nonresident plaintiffs.”
     The majority then shot down the pharmaceutical company’s argument that it would be a burden to defend against nonresidents’ claims by pointing out that, no matter where the litigation occurred, it would still have to conduct discovery and incur expenses to defend itself in some forum.
     Cantil-Sakauye said that providing a forum for all plaintiffs could aid in the efficiency of litigating the California residents’ claims.
     “This interest is further underscored by the substantial body of California law aimed at protecting consumers from the potential dangers posed by prescription medication,” the judge wrote. “In addition, California also has an interest in regulating the conduct of BMS’s codefendant, McKesson Corporation.”
     The majority found that a consolidation of claims into a single forum can help efficiently resolve the range of allegations made by the plaintiffs.
     Justices Goodwin Liu, Mariano-Florentino Cuellar and Leondra Kruger joined Cantil-Sakauye in the majority.
     Justices Kathryn Werdegar, Ming Chin and Carol Corrigan agreed with the majority’s decision on personal jurisdiction, but disagree that specific jurisdiction had been established.
     Writing the dissenting opinion, Werdegar disagreed with the finding that there was sufficient connection between the plaintiffs’ claims and BMS’s activities in the state, as required for specific jurisdiction to be established.
     “Plavix was not developed or manufactured in California and the nonresident plaintiffs did not obtain the drug through California physicians or from a California source,” Werdegar wrote.
     A BMS representative declined to comment on the ruling and instead suggested contacting the company’s media relations group.
     A spokeswoman for that group said, “We respectfully disagree with the majority’s 4-3 decision and believe the dissent applied the correct analysis. We continue to review the decision and are evaluating our options.”
     Lead plaintiff Bracy Anderson’s attorney – Shayna E. Sacks, a partner with Napoli Shkolnik PLLC – said the ruling “ensures that affected individuals can hold large corporations like Bristol-Myers Squibb responsible for their negligent actions.”
     “It is a classic David and Goliath scenario and our firm is proud to be part of the team that waged and won this battle,” Sacks said.

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