We have written a lot about personal jurisdiction. We certainly haven’t lacked for defense favorable decisions since Bristol-Myers Squibb Co. v. Superior Court, 137 S. Ct. 1773 (2017). Its impact has been felt in many contexts – class actions, innovator liability, litigation tourism. And, as we discussed in our post here, “stream of commerce” jurisdiction has also taken a significant hit post-BMS. Today we add another case to the growing precedent that “purposeful availment” rather than the “fortuitous” conduct of third persons is (i) a difficult standard to meet and (ii) is required to establish jurisdiction.
In Morgan v. Trokamed GmbH, 2018 WL 4388457, at *1 (W.D. Wis. Sep. 14, 2018), plaintiff, a citizen of Wisconsin, sued the German manufacturer and the North American distributor of a Class II medical device used in laparoscopic surgery. The manufacturer moved to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction and both the plaintiff and the distributor opposed. It was undisputed that the manufacturer had no offices or employees in Wisconsin, no representative of the manufacturer had ever visited Wisconsin, and the manufacturer doesn’t ship products to Wisconsin. Id. at *2. So, for plaintiff to make a prima facie showing of specific jurisdiction, she had to show that the German company had “purposefully availed” itself of conducting business in Wisconsin. The court analyzed each of plaintiff’s allegations of contact.
Exclusive distribution agreement: Plaintiff’s first argument was a straight-forward stream of commerce theory. The manufacturer gave the distributor exclusive rights to sell the manufacturer’s medical devices in the U.S., Canada, and Mexico. Based on that, the manufacturer should have reasonably expected its products to be sold in all 50 states. Id. But, as the court points out, that’s the same argument made by Justice Ginsburg in her dissent in J. McIntyre Mach., Ltd. v. Nicastro, 564 U.S. 873 (2011). But, the plurality (Kennedy, J.) and concurring (Breyer, J.) opinions found nationwide transmission insufficient to confer jurisdiction tethered only to a prediction that a defendant should have known its product would reach a specific state. Id. at *3.
Plaintiff tried to distinguish Nicastro by arguing that the manufacturer here exhibited more control over the distributor, but the court found nothing in the distribution agreement that showed targeting of Wisconsin particularly. The agreement covered the U.S. as a whole and did not direct the distributor to sell the devices in Wisconsin which is “the type of control that matters under a personal jurisdiction analysis.” Id. at *4.
Sales Volume: Plaintiff next tried to distance herself from Nicastro by pointing out that the plurality and the concurrence relied on the small number of sales of the product to New Jersey in deciding personal jurisdiction was lacking. Id. But, plaintiff here could only identify 2 sales of the manufacturer’s medical device in Wisconsin. Id. So, she focused on disposable components (blades and valves) of the device that she claims the distributor “regularly” sent to Wisconsin. This argument failed for several reasons, including that plaintiff neglected to produce any evidence that the components were manufactured by the German defendant. Id. at *5. Plaintiff also doesn’t allege that her injury had anything to do with the component parts, “so those sales would have a more tenuous connection with her claims.” Id. Finally, plaintiff still had no evidence that the manufacturer was aware it had customers in Wisconsin at the relevant time. Plaintiff alleged that the manufacturer became aware of its Wisconsin customers in 2015, but plaintiff “does not explain how knowledge that [the manufacturer] had in 2015 could serve as the basis for an exercise of jurisdiction for a claim arising out of 2014 injury ad a [device] sale made years earlier.” Id.
Instructions for Use: Relying on Justice Breyer’s concurrence in Nicastro that offering “special state-related . . . advice” might be enough to confer jurisdiction, plaintiff alleged that the manufacturer “established channels of advice” via its warranty and Instructions for Use. Id. at *6. What plaintiff missed, however, is that the instructions “direct the customer to send the device to [the distributor] for repairs,” the instructions have the distributors contact information and logo, and state that the device is a product of the distributor. “No one reading the [instructions] would know that he or she should contact [the manufacturer] for any reason.” Id. at *7.
FDA Approval: Perhaps the most significant part of the opinion is the court’s conclusion that “the process for FDA approval does not provide a basis for exercising jurisdiction in a particular state.” Id. We’ve talked about this in the context of innovator liability, where the innovator may be the NDA holder, but they didn’t sell or distribute the product used by plaintiff. If the brand defendant didn’t sell the product at issue, but rather a different product to different people, and FDA-approval isn’t enough – what’s left on which to base specific jurisdiction?
Plaintiff also tried to use post-approval FDA communications to establish purposeful contacts. In response to a request from the FDA, the manufacturer had its distributor update all the instructions and send them to all customers. During this process, the manufacturer received a list of all of the U.S. customers for its devices. Id. at *8. Not only did this process take place after plaintiff’s alleged injury (after the relevant time period), it still relates only to the manufacturer’s contacts with the U.S. as a whole, not with Wisconsin. Id.
The bottom line: The facts alleged by [plaintiff], may reveal an intent to serve the U.S. market, but they do not show that [the manufacturer] purposefully availed itself of the [Wisconsin] market. Id. at *9 (quoting Nicastro).