SCOTUS Personal Jurisdiction Case Likely to Limit Nationwide Mass/Class Actions in State Courts

by Jeff Sovern

Yesterday, SCOTUS decided the Bristol-Meyers case, limiting the power of state courts to exercise specific personal jurisdiction over out-of-state defendants in cases brought by out-of-state plaintiffs.  State courts can still hear cases, including nationwide class actions, through their general jurisdiction over defendants, as long as the defendant is essentially at home in the forum state, meaning that it is incorporated or has its principal place of business in the forum state.  The Court also made clear that it was not addressing the specific jurisdiction of federal courts, though as federal courts in most cases exercise the same amount of personal jurisdiction as the states in which they sit, the case is likely to have an impact on federal court personal jurisdiction as a practical matter. What about nationwide mass or class actions against defendants that are not at home in the same states?  Will the case end nationwide class or mass actions in state courts using specific jurisdiction? Here's an excerpt from Alison Frankel's column titled Class action fallout from SCOTUS specific jurisdiction opinion?:

[A]ccording to Loyola Law School professor Adam Zimmerman, we should expect defendants in nationwide or multistate class actions in federal court to cite the Bristol-Myers Squibb decision to try to squelch claims by out-of-state plaintiffs. It may be that class action plaintiffs will be forced to file statewide cases instead of nationwide or even multistate class actions, Zimmerman said.

"I wouldn't say the opinion is definitive but you can't help but think that's where we're going," said Zimmerman, who signed an amicus brief by civil procedures professors backing the plaintiffs suing Bristol-Myers.

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