WASHINGTON (AP) — The Supreme Court on Monday held that hundreds of out-of-state residents can’t sue Bristol-Myers Squibb Co. in California state court over harmful reactions they had to the blood thinner Plavix.
In an 8-1 ruling, the justices said there wasn’t a strong enough connection between the claims against the pharmaceutical company and its ties to the state for the cases to move forward.
At issue were the claims of 592 residents of 33 states who joined 86 California residents in suing the New Jersey-based company.
A divided California Supreme Court had ruled that California courts have specific jurisdiction to entertain the nonresidents’ claims.
Bristol-Myers Squibb is headquartered in New York City and has substantial operations in New Jersey, where it has established major research and development campuses.
But the drugmaker does have five offices in California, and employs 164 researchers and 250 sales reps there.
California distributors and wholesalers meanwhile bought 187 million Plavix pills from 2006 to 2012, generating almost $918 million in revenue, according to the mass tort action.
After the California Supreme Court ruled in the plaintiffs’ favor, Bristol-Myers Squibb petitioned for a writ of certiorari.”
Writing for the majority on Monday, Justice Samuel Alito Jr. said “[i]n order for a court to exercise specific jurisdiction over a claim, there must be an ‘affiliation between the forum and the underlying controversy, principally, [an] activity or an occurrence that takes place in the forum State’ … When there is no such connection, specific jurisdiction is lacking regardless of the extent of a defendant’s unconnected activities in the State.”
“For this reason, the California Supreme Court’s ‘sliding scale approach’ is difficult to square with our precedents,” Alito continued. “Under the California approach, the strength of the requisite connection between the forum and the specific claims at issue is relaxed if the defendant has extensive forum contacts that are unrelated to those claims. Our cases provide no support for this approach, which resembles a loose and spurious form of general jurisdiction.”
According to Alito, the California Supreme Court “found that specific jurisdiction was present without identifying any adequate link between the State and the nonresidents’ claims.
“As noted, the nonresidents were not prescribed Plavix in California, did not purchase Plavix in California, did not ingest Plavix in California, and were not injured by Plavix 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.”
But in a dissent, Justice Sonya Sotomayor said she fears the consequences of her colleague’s decision.
“The majority’s rule will make it difficult to aggregate the claims of plaintiffs across the country whose claims may be worth little alone,” she said. “It will make it impossible to bring a nationwide mass action in state court against defendants who are ‘at home’ in different States. And it will result in piecemeal litigation and the bifurcation of claims.
“None of this is necessary,” Sotomayor wrote.