Last week business took us to South Florida. Thank you business, as it was 50 degrees warmer in Miami than it was in our frigid Philly suburb. We always love the Sunshine State, but we especially love it in January and February. We love it, even though Florida is the target of many barbs about how it is the home of much News of the Weird. Adam Carolla has his “Florida or Germany” game, where contestants must decide which of those two places is the residence of some recent report of human craziness. An episode of John Oliver’s Last Week Tonight show hardly seems complete without a reference to a Florida outrage.
But sometimes Florida gets it right. The Southern District of Florida got personal jurisdiction right in Goldstein v. Johnson & Johnson, No. 18-20341 (S.D. Fla. Jan. 21, 2019). The plaintiff claimed that Levaquin caused him to suffer an aortic heart tear, valve, which necessitated open heart surgery. He sued defendants who arguably had something to do with making and selling the product, but also – possibly out of a desire to include and harass a bigger player — sued a defendant, J&J, that did not actually have anything to do with making or selling the product. J&J was a holding company. It did not have any relevant contacts with Florida. Consequently, J&J moved to dismiss the case against it for lack of personal jurisdiction.
To support its motion to dismiss, J&J submitted an affidavit from a corporate employee who could speak to organization structure. The affidavit stated that J&J (a) is a New Jersey corporation with its principal place of business in New Jersey; (b) is a holding company for J&J subsidiaries, all of whom operate independently of J&J; and (c) is neither registered nor qualified to do business in Florida; (d) does not ship any products into Florida; and (e) does not design, manufacture, market or distribute any product at all. This affidavit did such a good job of undermining potential jurisdiction over J&J that it shifted the burden to the plaintiff to show personal jurisdiction.
And it turns out that the plaintiff had nothing. At least, the plaintiff had no facts. The plaintiff submitted no counter-affidavit. All that the plaintiff had was a whole lot of jaw-boning about how J&J’s “ubiquitous brand name and various products bearing the J&J logo distributed throughout Florida warrant the assertion of personal jurisdiction over J&J.” That’s not a legal argument; that’s wishful thinking. It smacks more of demagoguery than analysis. The bad news for the plaintiff is that the court preferred analysis. In deciding whether J&J is “at home” in Florida (the way it is in New Jersey), the court focused on J&J’s lack of any “offices, employees, bank accounts, or other assets” within the state. Under the Bauman framework, there was no basis to assert general jurisdiction over J&J.
What about specific jurisdiction? The plaintiff still had nothing. J&J did not do any business in, nor ship any products into, Florida. As mentioned above, J&J did not design, manufacture, market, or sell any product whatsoever because it is a “mere holding company.” It functions as an entirely distinct entity from its subsidiaries. The plaintiff did not dispute any of these crucial facts. Instead, the plaintiff was content to argue that because J&J’s “product brand name on multiple products” is distributed in Florida, J&J should expect to be “hailed into court in this state.” Wrong. No case supports that argument. The Goldstein court identified no basis to assert specific jurisdiction over J&J.
Inevitably, the plaintiff’s back-up argument was to request jurisdictional discovery. But it was a half-hearted request, embedded within a footnote of its opposition brief, and that sort of subterranean maneuver does not constitute a “formal motion or other showing as to scope of any proposed jurisdictional discovery request.” In any event, the plaintiff failed to specify with sufficient particularity what jurisdictional discovery could reveal, even if the court granted the plaintiff’s request.
J&J was dismissed from the case, and the plaintiff’s request for jurisdictional discovery was denied.
We are usually sorry to depart Florida, but we doubt J&J grieved over its departure from the Goldstein case.