WASHINGTON (CN) – The U.S. Supreme Court took up a case Thursday that will determine where Bristol-Myers Squibb must battle with plaintiffs who say the blood thinner Plavix caused bleeding or a stroke.
Back in March 2012, the pharmaceutical giant was hit with eight separate product-liability lawsuits related to Plavix in San Francisco Superior Court.
The plaintiffs purport to represent 678 people who suffered side effects or death after taking the prescription drug, but Bristol-Myers Squibb contends that the California courts do not have a right to adjudicate the claims of the 592 nonresident consumers.
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. All of its operations take place in those two states.
Although the drugmaker 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.
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.
The plaintiffs say the drugmaker’s distribution contract with McKesson Corp., of San Francisco, is responsible for a substantial piece of that profit.
Bristol-Myers Squibb petitioned for a writ of certiorari after the California Supreme Court affirmed 4-3 last year that the company was subject to the personal jurisdiction of Golden State courts.
Per its custom, the U.S. Supreme Court did not issue any comment Thursday in taking up the case.
“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.
The majority opinion noted that California residents were marketed Plavix directly via 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,” said Cantil-Sakauye.
The dissenting justices disagreed that specific jurisdiction had been 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,” the dissent said.
Neal Kumar Katyal of the Washington, D.C., firm Hogan Lovells is representing Bristol-Myers Squibb.
The attorney for lead plaintiff Bracy Anderson is Shayna Sacks, of Napoli Shkolnik.
The Bethesda, Md., firm Goldstein & Russell is representing the respondents, according to docket information with the Supreme Court.
Plavix is often prescribed for patients who have suffered heart attacks or strokes to prevent blood clots. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has reported, however, that Plavix can also cause serious bleeding and sometimes lead to death.
Consumers say Bristol-Myers Squibb misrepresented Plavix as providing “greater cardiovascular benefits, while being safer and easier on a person’s stomach than aspirin.”
The plaintiffs are suing for a variety of alleged injuries from taking Plavix, including bleeding ulcers, cerebral bleeding, rectal bleeding, stroke and death.