U.S. Supreme Court Amicus Brief of Civil Procedure Professors in Support of Respondents, Bristol-Myers Squibb Company v. California, No. 16-466
44 Pages Posted: 20 Apr 2017 Last revised: 5 Jun 2017
Date Written: April 19, 2017
Petitioner Bristol-Myers Squibb argues that specific personal jurisdiction “exists only where the defendant’s contacts with the forum caused the plaintiff’s alleged injuries and the resulting suit.” Pet. Br. 17 (emphasis added). This has never been the law. While general jurisdiction may be amenable to narrowly defined categories, specific jurisdiction is not. Ever since this Court’s pathmarking decision in International Shoe Co. v. Washington, specific jurisdiction has been a far more flexible inquiry into the relationship among the forum, the defendant, and the dispute. This is as it should be. Requiring that specific jurisdiction rest on a strict causal link between the defendant’s forum-state contacts and the plaintiff’s claims provides no new benefits. Yet it would create uncertainty, risk destabilizing the system of litigation in both state and federal courts, and cast doubt on several of this Court’s earlier personal jurisdiction decisions.
The current law, as established by this Court, is well calibrated both to ensure an appropriate forum for lawsuits and to prevent unfairness to defendants. To affirm the decision of the California Supreme Court in this case, the Court need only hold that Petitioner has purposefully availed itself of the privilege of conducting activities in California (which no one disputes), Respondents’ claims relate to Petitioner’s California contacts (which is barely, if at all, disputed), and California’s assertion of jurisdiction is reasonable (which Petitioner has effectively conceded (Pet. App. 35a)). No more need be said.
The purpose of this brief is to explain why Petitioner’s proposed causation rule is a historical, inconsistent with the principles of personal jurisdiction, potentially destabilizing, and unnecessary to protect defendants from abusive exercises of state power. In short, this Court should decline to adopt petitioner’s proposal and should leave the law on specific jurisdiction unchanged for three reasons.
First, this Court has never relied on a causation requirement to endorse — or reject — a state’s exercise of personal jurisdiction over a defendant. In fact, for this Court to do so would be inconsistent with a number of cases in which this Court found — or all involved assumed — that there was personal jurisdiction over claims against the defendant that were not caused by its forum-state contacts.
Second, changing course now by adopting a causation requirement would lead to disruptive, inefficient, and unfair results — in both simple and complex litigation, and in both state and federal courts. A new causation test would throw into doubt even chestnuts of the first-year jurisdictional curriculum, like World-Wide Volkswagen v. Woodson. And it could wreak havoc with the way courts resolve our most complicated and economically important disputes, like the extensive litigation arising out of the ongoing Volkswagen “Clean Diesel” scandal.
Third, it is unnecessary to take that risk in order to protect defendants from litigating in an unfair forum. Indeed, in this case, Petitioner has not even argued that California is an unfair place to litigate. To the extent that Petitioner’s concern is being haled into an inconvenient or distant forum, those concerns are already addressed in this Court’s requirement that any exercise of personal jurisdiction be reasonable. And in cases where another court is manifestly more appropriate, defendants may move to transfer the case or dismiss on forum non conveniens grounds. To the extent that Petitioner’s concerns relate to the law a court applies, such concerns are covered by each state’s choice-of-law rules and the constitutional restrictions on those rules. To the extent that Petitioner’s concerns relate to a state’s hostility towards out-of-state corporations, such concerns are addressed by diversity jurisdiction. Remedies for any such bias are therefore best left to Congress in defining the right to remove and the subject-matter jurisdiction of the federal courts. Finally, to the extent that Petitioner’s concerns are that the cases are being litigated against it at all — as Petitioner candidly admitted before the Court of Appeal — those concerns are not covered by the Due Process Clause.
Keywords: Personal Jurisdiction, Specific Jurisdiction, Complex Civil Litigation, MDL, Multidistrict Litigation, Due Process, Product Liability
JEL Classification: K40, K41
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation