Posts on personal jurisdiction, or the lack of it, have been all over this blog ever since the Supreme Court decided Bristol-Myers Squibb Co. v. Superior Court. Something similar happened three years ago after the Supreme Court decided Daimler AG v. Bauman. Together, these two decisions establish that federal courts are not empowered to find a reason to assert personal jurisdiction simply because the defendant is a large company doing business nationally. General jurisdiction requires the state in which the federal court sits to be the defendant’s “home,” meaning that it was incorporated there or has its principle place of business there. Specific jurisdiction requires that the very transaction from which the plaintiff’s claims arose involve the state in which the federal court sits. Otherwise, the court should dismiss the case. These decisions hold the promise of virtually eliminating litigation tourism.
But the plaintiffs in the Pinnacle Hip Implant MDL are trying to resurrect it, if only in their own litigation. The MDL is pending in federal court in Dallas. And yet the MDL court recently held, seemingly, that it can exert personal jurisdiction against the defendants and conduct trials in every case before it, even those that have no connection to Texas.
As many of us know, MDL courts have jurisdiction over the many cases that are transferred to them, but only for pretrial purposes. The transfer does not create personal jurisdiction for trial. Cases over which the MDL court does not have such personal jurisdiction must be transferred for trial back to the originating district court—or an appropriate district court that can exert personal jurisdiction. 28 U.S.C. 1407(a).
So, how is the MDL court doing this? Well, the lack of personal jurisdiction defense is waivable. And that’s where the MDL court is hanging its robe. It ruled in its June 28, 2017 decision that the defendants waived their defense of lack of personal jurisdiction—and not just for cases already tried, but (seemingly) for every Pinnacle hip implant case that has been filed and will be filed and that makes its way to the MDL. The defendants made this perpetual waiver, according to the MDL court, during proceedings before the special master, who at the time was working to arrange the first and second bellwether trials.
The defendants vehemently disagree. They say that their waiver, given the setting and the very language that they used, was limited only to personal jurisdiction as to the cases involved in the first and second bellwether trials, not all cases and forever. They believe this so strongly that they have filed a petition for a writ of mandamus to the Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, asking that court to order that the MDL Judge cannot exercise personal jurisdiction in any of the eight cases with New York plaintiffs that the MDL court scheduled for the next bellwether trial, which starts in September.
It’s a petition for a writ of mandamus, so from the start defendants’ chances of victory are slim. But, last year, even in losing a petition for a writ of mandamus on another issue, the defendants got one of the Circuit Court judges (in a concurring opinion) to say that the MDL judge got it wrong. We’ll see what happens here. Plaintiffs must respond by the 14th. And the Fifth Circuit will almost certainly rule before September 5, when this next multi-plaintiff bellwether trial is set to begin.
The Pinnacle hip implant litigation is never without intrigue.