Out of the Quandary: Personal Jurisdiction Over Absent Class Member Claims Explained

22 Pages Posted: 10 Oct 2019 Last revised: 4 Mar 2020

Date Written: September 28, 2019


Since the Supreme Court’s decision in Bristol-Myers Squibb Co. v. Superior Court of California, San Francisco County, litigants and lower courts have wrestled with the issue of whether a federal court must be able to exercise personal jurisdiction with respect to each of the claims asserted by absent class members in a class action and if so, what standard governs that jurisdictional determination. This issue is rapidly coming to a head and is poised for inevitable resolution by the Supreme Court in the near future, as multiple circuit courts have heard appeals from district courts that have reached varying conclusions on this point.

To provide guidance both to the circuit courts facing this issue, as well as to the Supreme Court once it is squarely presented with the question, this Essay provides the proper analysis that courts should employ respecting the ability of federal courts to adjudicate the claims of absent class members. To wit: A federal court’s authority to render a binding judgment against a defendant is currently constrained — by rule — to be coterminous with that of the courts of general jurisdiction in the fora in which they are located. Such constraints — which emanate from the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment — mandate that the claims of absent members of a certified class must either arise out of or be related to the defendant’s contacts with the forum, or be brought in a forum in which the defendant could be subjected to general jurisdiction. Prior to class certification, the claims of absent class members are not properly before the court and thus are not subject to dismissal; however, in anticipation of the requirement that only those class members whose claims can satisfy applicable Fourteenth Amendment standards may properly be included within the definition of the class that is certified, a district court may strike from the complaint the allegations pertaining to the claims of absent class members who will be unable to meet these standards in response to a motion to strike. In lieu of that approach, defendants may opt to urge the district court to limit the definition of the class certified to the claims of absentees that meet Fourteenth Amendment constraints; to the extent the court certifies a class that includes the claims of absent class members that do not meet these constraints, the defendant may appeal the certification decision on that ground.

Keywords: personal jurisdiction, territorial jurisdiction, federal courts, due process, fourteenth amendment, fifth amendment

JEL Classification: K00, K1, K10, K19, K4, K40, K41, K49

Suggested Citation

Spencer, A. Benjamin, Out of the Quandary: Personal Jurisdiction Over Absent Class Member Claims Explained (September 28, 2019). Review of Litigation, Vol. 39, 2019, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3461113 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3461113

A. Benjamin Spencer (Contact Author)

William & Mary Law School ( email )

South Henry Street
P.O. Box 8795
Williamsburg, VA 23187-8795
United States

HOME PAGE: http://https://law2.wm.edu/faculty/bios/fulltime/spencer.php?mapstat=1

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