This post comes from the Cozen O’Connor side of the blog.

Plaintiffs and defendants have now completed briefing before the Fifth Circuit on defendants’ appeal of the $498 million verdict in the second bellwether trial of the Pinnacle hip implant MDL. Obviously, there is a lot riding on this appeal. In March, we laid out for you the manner in which defendants’ opening brief addressed certain key issues. Below, we discuss the defendants’ responses, in their reply brief, to the arguments that plaintiffs make on those key issues in their opening brief:

Design Defect Verdict: While defendants have offered a number of reasons to overturn the verdict on design defect, the survival of that portion of the verdict could very well turn on whether plaintiffs can convince the Fifth Circuit that an allegedly safer alternative design for DePuy’s metal-on-metal hip implant, a necessary element of a design defect claim, can be an entirely different product—a metal-on-polyethylene hip implant—one that is already marketed by DePuy. In our experience, an entirely different product cannot serve as an alternative design. Here is a portion of defendants’ discussion of this failing in their reply brief:

To prevail on their design-defect claims, plaintiffs were required to prove that a safer alternative design existed for the Pinnacle Ultamet. Caterpillar, Inc. v. Shears, 911 S.W.2d 379, 384 (Tex. 1995). Yet plaintiffs do not argue that the Ultamet should have been shaped differently, secured differently, made of a different metal alloy, or altered in some other way. Instead, plaintiffs argue that the safer alternative design is the Pinnacle AltrX, an existing metal-on-polyethylene hip implant. The question here is whether that metal-on-polyethylene hip implant—which already exists and, indeed, is manufactured and sold by DePuy—is an “alternative design” for the Pinnacle Ultamet, or is instead an “entirely different product.” Brockert v. Wyeth Pharm., Inc., 287 S.W.3d 760, 770 (Tex. App.—Houston [14th Dist.] 2009).

Brockert provides the answer. In Brockert, the plaintiff argued that an “alternative design” for a drug combining estrogen with progestin was a drug containing only estrogen. Id. at 769. There, like here, that proposed alternative already existed and, again like here, was manufactured by the defendant. Id. The Fourteenth Court of Appeals held that plaintiff’s claim failed because she did not show how the defendant’s drug “could have been modified or improved”; she instead argued that the drug should be an entirely different product—i.e., the one defendants already made. Id. at 770-71. . . .

Plaintiffs attempt to distinguish Brockert and Caterpillar by noting that the proposed alternatives in those cases “impaired the product’s utility.” But that is no distinction at all: plaintiffs’ proposed alternative design here would impair the Ultamet’s utility by eliminating precisely the feature that makes it distinctive and an arguable improvement over pre-existing products. Plaintiffs do not deny that metal is more durable than plastic, making metal-on-metal implants a more “attractive option for the younger, high-demand patient who was wearing out their plastic previously.” Nor do they dispute that metal-on-metal implants eliminate plastic debris. Texas law requires plaintiffs to propose an alternative design that replicates those benefits, not just any two benefits they can conjure up. In short, plaintiffs were required to propose a safer alternative design for a metal-on-metal hip implant, but they instead pointed to a different product altogether, which is precisely what Texas courts have held that plaintiffs may not do.

(Defendants’ Reply Br. at 3-6.)

Failure to Warn (Marketing Defect) Verdict: In their opening brief, defendants argued that their Instructions for Use sufficiently warned about the risks that form the basis of plaintiffs’ claims, while plaintiffs’ opening brief argues that those warnings needed to be more specific. While we believe that defendants have the better of that argument, they appear to have even stronger arguments as to plaintiffs’ failures to offer expert testimony on causation or prescriber testimony on how a different warning would have changed their decisions to use the Pinnacle metal-on-metal hip implant. Here are key excerpts from defendants’ reply brief on these issues:

[Lack of Expert Opinion]

Regardless, plaintiffs can prevail under Texas law only if they established with expert testimony that the warnings were inadequate, and they did not do so here. Plaintiffs do not dispute this requirement, instead contending that Dr. Matthew Morrey’s testimony satisfied their burden. But Dr. Morrey was never tendered or admitted as a warnings expert at trial. Plaintiffs attempt to dance around that problem by stating that they designated Dr. Morrey as a warnings expert before trial, but the district court never evaluated his qualifications to be a warnings expert or admitted him as a warnings expert, and his testimony therefore cannot carry plaintiffs’ burden.

[Lack of Prescriber Testimony]

Greer: Greer’s surgeon, Dr. Goletz, did not testify at trial. . . .

Peterson: Peterson’s surgeon, Dr. Schoch, also did not testify at trial. . . .

Christopher: Plaintiffs do not dispute that Christopher’s surgeon, Dr. Kearns, “never read an [IFU] on the Pinnacle Ultamet” and did not know what the IFU said “regarding risks for the implantation of these devices.” . . .

Klusmann: Plaintiffs assert that Klusmann’s surgeon, Dr. Heinrich, testified that additional information “would have changed how he treated Klusmann.” But Heinrich did not say he would have used a different hip implant; he said only that he would have evaluated Klusmann’s post-implant symptoms differently. Dr. Heinrich never testified that he would have used anything other than the Ultamet, and in fact testified that he was aware of the risk of metal ions attacking tissue, but used the Ultamet anyway.

Aoki: The only testimony plaintiffs cite about Aoki is her statement that Dr. Heinrich told her the Ultamet could last “up to 20 years and perhaps life.” But that testimony does not prove that Dr. Heinrich would have used a different implant if DePuy provided different warnings, especially in light of his testimony that he was aware of the Ultamet’s risks. . . . .

(Defendants’ Reply Br. at 10-14.)

Verdict against J&J: Defendants’ reply brief surgically attacks plaintiffs’ arguments on why the trial court could maintain personal jurisdiction over DePuy’s parent company, J&J, as well as plaintiffs’ theories for ultimately holding J&J liable. Plaintiffs’ personal jurisdiction arguments appear to be different from those raised at trial (and therefore waived) and to rely on exhibits that, in some cases, were not even admitted at trial and acts that were not committed by J&J itself, but instead by its subsidiaries. Plaintiffs’ opening brief also struggles to support the viability of their substantive claims against J&J, including how plaintiffs can turn an affirmative defense for a non-manufacturing seller into a cause of action. Here is how defendants sum up these problems in the introduction to their reply brief:

Plaintiffs’ efforts to justify J&J’s presence in this case are no more persuasive. They abandon their previous personal-jurisdiction arguments for new ones, asking this Court to adopt a stream-of-commerce theory so expansive it would bring every parent company into any litigation involving a subsidiary. They try to buttress that argument with lengthy footnotes full of string-cites to evidence either not in the trial record or not what they claim, but super-sized footnotes are no substitute for minimum contacts, which are plainly lacking. And even if they could establish jurisdiction, plaintiffs have no viable claims against J&J. They do not point to a single Texas case holding a defendant liable in tort for a “nonmanufacturing seller” claim or an aiding-and-abetting claim, and they fail to show that J&J undertook a duty for their protection or that they relied on its performance.

(Defendants’ Reply Br. at 1.)

Highly Inflammatory, Irrelevant and Unduly Prejudicial Evidence: This is the BIG issue, the one that raised so many eyebrows as the trial moved on. In their opening brief, plaintiffs try to calm those reactions by underplaying their use of this evidence at trial and its importance to the verdict. But the defendants reply brief reacts effectively to this tactic, providing detail on plaintiffs’ repeated, not limited, used of this evidence, so much so that it formed a central component of their presentation to the jury. Here is how defendants address this issue in, once again, the introduction to their reply brief:

Plaintiffs’ defense of the inflammatory evidence they introduced at trial is to assert that each transgression was not that inflammatory. After all, they referenced Saddam Hussein in only “a handful of exchanges,” linked defendants to tobacco and asbestos companies while questioning only “one defense expert,” invoked the threat of cancer for only “three-and-a-half pages of testimony,” implied just “twice” that the Ultamet could lead to suicide, told the jury that plaintiffs considered jumping off a bridge for a mere “five lines of argument,” mentioned the thousands of other lawsuits in the MDL only “on five occasions,” and discussed transvaginal mesh lawsuits brought by “45,000 women” for only “12 lines of testimony.” The suggestion that the combined effect of all this profoundly prejudicial evidence was marginal does not pass the straight-face test; indeed, the best indication of the importance of this evidence is that fact that plaintiffs’ counsel repeated all of it in his closing statement to the jury. Inflaming the jury’s passions through irrelevant evidence was not just a happenstance but a core component of plaintiffs’ trial strategy, and the gargantuan verdict shows the success of that strategy.

(Defendants’ Reply Br. at 2.)

Next comes oral argument and then the Fifth Circuit’s decision. And that decision will, quite obviously, have a major impact on the future of an MDL that without appellate intervention appears destined to produce more and more massive verdicts.

 

Last week, the United States Supreme Court also heard argument in the “other” litigation tourist personal jurisdiction case pending before it – BNSF Railway Co. v. Tyrell, No. 16-405 (U.S. argued April 25, 2017) (“BNSF”) (link to transcript).  While BNSF mostly concerned statutory issues under the Federal Employees Liability Act (“FELA”), it does involve a personal jurisdiction question related to litigation tourism.  The Court considered it sufficiently related to BMS that it scheduled oral argument back-to-back with BMS (see here for last week’s post on the BMS oral argument).  Because we’re interested in personal jurisdiction as a constitutional check on the litigation tourism phenomenon, we’ve also taken a look at what went down during the BNSF argument.

Once again the United States government appeared as amicus supporting the defense.  Tr. at 1, 12-18.  It appears to us that the plaintiff in BNSF had an even tougher time before the Court than the plaintiffs in BMS – and that’s saying something.  Another perhaps notable aspect of the oral argument was that the Justices, particularly as to the defense and defense-supporting United States arguments, were a lot less engaged than in BMS.  These counsel actually argued for entire pages of transcript without being interrupted by questions.  Indeed, the defendant’s rebuttal argument in BNSF drew no questions at all, and thus the defense used only a fraction of its reserved time.  Id. at 43-44.  The entire BNSF transcript was 44 pages – 20 pages (almost 1/3) shorter than BMS.

Justice Sotomayor, the sole dissenter from the personal jurisdiction rationale in Daimler AG v. Bauman, 134 S.Ct. 746 (2014), seemed most animated when discussing an issue that was not even before the Court in BNSF – nonconsensual “consent” to general jurisdiction by virtue of mere registration to do business in a state.  Tr. at 4-6.  We’ve written on this Bauman dodge before, and were somewhat perplexed to see it arise in a United States Supreme Court argument – until we heard from Chief Justice Roberts:  “[T]he issue . . . was not addressed below and is not before us.”  Id. at 6.  Whew!   We thought we’d missed something significant.

The heart of the plaintiff’s argument was that FELA, in provisions that spoke only to venue (it’s a peculiar statute in that it allows plaintiffs to choose to bring federal claims in state court), somehow also authorized an expanded form of personal jurisdiction that permitted litigation tourism.  We gathered from the argument that the plaintiff was a North Dakota resident claiming workplace injuries in Washington State, id. at 40 – so of course, he sued the defendant in Montana, which was neither the defendant’s principal place of business nor its state of incorporation.

Since BNSF was a statutory case, the Court was interested in whether Congress could authorize litigation tourism by statute.  The defense response was that Congress could authorize nationwide service of process allowing expanded federal court jurisdiction, should it choose to create a federal cause of action, but that Due Process would render problematic any attempt to expand state-court personal jurisdiction to accommodate litigation tourists.  Tr. at 8.  The fundamental problem with the plaintiff’s statutory argument was put most succinctly by the Assistant Solicitor General arguing for the government:

[T]here’s a strong Federal interest in not having words that don’t say anything about service of process being interpreted to in fact say something about service of process[.  W]e have a first sentence that refers to venue only in Federal courts, and then a second sentence referring to State courts.  But all it does is to clarify that there’s concurrent jurisdiction in the State courts.  And we just don’t see how you can get to conferral of personal jurisdiction in the State courts.

Tr. at 13.

Nobody, not even Justice Sotomayor, the justice most sympathetic to litigation tourism, seemed comfortable with that argument. The statutory argument was criticized by:

Chief Justice Roberts:  Tr. at 23-24, 29-30.

Justice Ginsburg:  Id. at 19-20, 31, 40.

Justice Alito:  Id. at 25-26.

Justice Sotomayor never appeared inclined to support plaintiff’s statutory argument in BNSF.  Rather, she suggested that “we could just say it [FELA §56] doesn’t apply to State courts,” id. at 37 – which was precisely where the plaintiff had sued.

So, aside from the seemingly doomed argument that FELA should be interpreted to say what it didn’t say – and apparently what no federal statute has ever provided – about personal jurisdiction/service of process, what did the argument have to say about Bauman and Due Process?

The government argued that “[i]f the Court’s decisions in Goodyear and Daimler mean anything,” it “just can’t be correct” that “a company like BNSF is subject to general personal jurisdiction in 28 or more States.”  Tr. at 14.  Justice Breyer did not “really see the difference” between Bauman and BNSF.  Id. at 38-39.  Justice Kagan tried to limit the plaintiff’s non-statutory personal jurisdiction argument to railroads being “so unique that they should be subject to general jurisdiction everywhere.”  Id. at 32.  After some hemming and hawing plaintiff agreed, id. at 34, but plaintiff seemed even more interested in a fact-specific, Montana-only exercise of Bauman personal jurisdiction.  Id. at 33, 36 (arguing that the defendant was “at home” because it had Montana “lobbyists”).  Unlike the plaintiffs in BMS, the plaintiff in BNSF was never so bold as to call for overruling Bauman.

Finally, when pushed by Justice Gorsuch, plaintiff abandoned altogether the argument that Bauman be limited to “foreign corporations.”  Id. at 41-42.

We’ve been burned making Supreme Court predictions before, but we frankly can’t see a path to affirmance for the plaintiff in BNSF.  It could well be a unanimous reversal of the Montana Supreme Court, albeit with at least one concurrence offering a different rationale (similar to Bauman).

 

The other day, the United States Supreme Court heard argument in Bristol-Myers Squibb Co. v. Superior Court, No. 16-466 (U.S. argued April 25, 2017) (“BMS”) (link to transcript).  We’ve blogged many times about the issues in Bristol-Myers-Squibb.  In BMS, the United States government, as amicus curiae, appeared in support of the defense position that personal jurisdiction did not be extend to suits in state courts brought by non-resident plaintiffs against non-resident defendants.

Here’s a description of what went down.

Justice Sotomayor, who had been the sole dissenter from the personal jurisdiction rationale in Daimler AG v. Bauman, 134 S.Ct. 746 (2014), was seemingly hostile to the defense position.  Her initial questioning suggested that not allowing an in-state resident’s successful assertion of personal jurisdiction to supply jurisdiction for out-of-state residents who simply took the same product in their home states somehow destroyed pendent jurisdiction.  Tr. at 5-6.  As we’ve discussed before, pendent jurisdiction typically applies to consolidated claims, not consolidated lawsuits.

Justice Ginsburg (author of Bauman) rode to the rescue, pointing out that general jurisdiction, and perhaps specific jurisdiction where there was a more substantial link than just using a product, would allow plaintiffs from across the country to sue in one place.  Id. at 7.

The defense position (articulated in response to a question from Justice Kagan) was that federalism, predictability, and fairness all weighed against allowing anybody and everybody who took a product to sue in a single state with no connection to the litigation beyond the presence of other, resident plaintiffs. Fairness involved extending state-specific principles – the defense mentioned choice of law, procedural standards, such as for summary judgment, expert admissibility (Daubert), and evidentiary issues – to plaintiffs from other states who had no reason to benefit from California’s peculiarly pro-plaintiff rules.  There was also whether it was fair to have 600+ separate trials in California involving non-residents.  Id. at 10-12.  Fairness, in the Due Process context, does not allow every plaintiff in the country to go forum shopping for the “least common denominator.”  Id. at 14.

There was also the issue of predictability, as discussed in Bauman.  A company incorporating in a particular state, or having a principal place of business in a particular state, such as BMS in New Jersey, expects to be sued there by anyone with a claim.  That is not the case in every other state in the country.  Id. at 15-16.

Justice Breyer asked whether Due Process principles in personal jurisdiction could affect MDL practice and class actions. The response was that federal jurisdictional issues are different, and where federal issues are involved, the minimum contacts analysis at the federal level controls, rather than rivalry between the states, with one state potentially offering more to out-of-state litigants than those litigants’ home states.  Id. at 17-19.  Justice Ginsburg wondered if Congress could expand MDL practice to include trials, and heard that MDL practice could be reserved until that change happened, and the plaintiffs’ anybody-in-any-state could nonetheless fail Due Process, as it should.  Id. at 19-20.

That concluded the defendant’s principal argument, with only Justices Ginsburg, Kennedy, Breyer, Kagan, and Sotomayor being heard from.

Then the United States argued.

The government’s position is familiar to us – because it’s always been our position – that a state cannot recreate the same “exorbitant” and “grasping” scope of jurisdiction under the “specific” rubric that Bauman rejected under the “general” rubric as incompatible with Due Process.  Neither other in-state plaintiffs nor other in-state defendants matter, as jurisdiction is personal to each party.  Tr. at 20.  Justice Ginsburg wanted to know about a California co-defendant.  Unless they were conspiring, jurisdiction is personal to each defendant.  Id. at 21. Justice Kennedy wondered if California plaintiffs could skirt due process by trying to join an out-of-state defendant to an earlier-filed suit against a California defendant by claiming “necessary party” status.  Essentially the same answer.  Id. at 22-23.

In response to Justice Sotomayor, the government stated that, given the realities of the federal system, with jurisdiction over state-law claims determined for states individually, mass torts asserting state-law claims may well not be amenable to a single aggregated forum with all plaintiffs able to sue all defendants. Not so for federal criminal prosecutions.  Id. at 23-25.

The mention of federalism brought Justice Gorsuch forward.  He wanted to know about the implications of the California rationale on other states administering their own procedures for resident tort plaintiffs.  The obvious answer was that all states have equal interest in adjudicating conduct occurring within their borders (such as drug sales and marketing).  Id. at 25-26. Justice Kagan wanted to know whether the residence of the plaintiff or the residence of the defendant was the concern.  The government’s counsel responded that either of those states had a strong interest sufficient to support jurisdiction, with the implication that other states do not.  Id. at 26.

Justice Kagan then made an important point – that the interest of the plaintiff’s home state becomes “attenuated” where the plaintiff has abandoned his/her own state and gone elsewhere – it was “weak to say that the State has a very strong interest in protecting its own citizen that doesn’t want to be there.”  Id.  Justice Kennedy added the flip side of federalism, “State A has a very strong interest in confining State B to State B’s territorial….”  The flow was interrupted by the government’s quick agreement.  According to the Justice, states are limited territorially, whereas the federal government is not.  Id. at 27.

Justice Breyer then had a tall order − asking for the government’s “solution to mass torts.” Id. at 28.  The government’s position was that state-law mass torts can be brought according to the limits of general jurisdiction, as can MDLs.  If a “particular” mass tort is not being adequately handled by state law, Congress could step in.  Id.  Justice Ginsburg asked if the government was arguing that Congress could “create a nationwide claim.” Id. at 29.  The government agreed that Congress had that prerogative in the mass tort field.

Justice Alito asked the final question of the government, asking how it would “phrase the rule” being sought.  The government’s response:

[T]he Court could simply say in this case that for purposes of specific jurisdiction, when we’re talking about conduct that arises out of . . . activity within the forum, there has to be something that’s connected to the claim, some causal connection between the individual claim . . . and the forum, the parties in the forum.

Tr. at 30.

Then it was time for the plaintiffs to argue.

Plaintiffs asserted four bases for personal jurisdiction: (1) the defendant exploited the California market; (2) litigation in California did not create significant additional burdens on the defendant, which would be defending litigation there in any event; (3) a governmental interest in aggregating mass torts.  Counsel didn’t get to four.  Id. at 30-31.

The idea of a governmental interest in aggregating mass torts in a single state stuck in a lot of craws. Justice Kennedy wanted to know which state had that interest.  Justice Ginsburg opined that single-forum aggregation was “impossible” as long as plaintiffs get to choose where to sue.  Id. at 31-32.

Actually, plaintiffs did get to four, only several pages later. The fourth being the presence of a California defendant as an alleged nationwide distributor.  Id. at 32-33.

However, as Justice Kagan pointed out, the California distributor was not common to all plaintiffs. Plaintiffs had to admit that it was “impossible” to trace the distribution of any given individual’s pills.  Id. at 33.  That meant that the involvement of a California distributor was not a case-specific fact, but only of general significance.

Plaintiffs tried to respond to Justice Ginsburg, arguing for an interest in “allowing the litigation to be centralized,” which they asserted was preferable to litigation in multiple states.  Justice Kennedy found that statement to be “a very patronizing view of federalism” that ranked some states (such as California) over others.  “[T]hat’s not the idea of the Federal system.  The Federal system says that States are limited.” Id. at 34.  Chief Justice Roberts, and Justices Kennedy and Ginsburg agreed that plaintiffs’ reliance on the Keeton libel case was not well taken because that case involved in-state injury, and even then was “peculiar to” or “sui generis” in libel cases.” Id. at 34-36.

Interrupting plaintiffs’ explanation of why a libel rule was pertinent, Justice Kagan looked to the other side of the “v.”

Well, how about the interest of the State that Bristol-Myers resides in? In other words, they might have an interest in not having their citizens hailed [sic] into court against their will in another part of the country.

Tr. at 37. Plaintiffs disagreed and attacked the defendant’s suggestion that plaintiffs not wanting to sue in their own states could bring suit in New Jersey.

That answer led Justice Breyer to expound on the differences between general and specific jurisdiction, whereby defendants could be sued in states where they actually caused the plaintiff’s harm, but not in states where they did not. Jurisdiction thus depended on which states had a “special federalism interest” – a defendant’s “home” state having such an interest.  Id. at 37-38.

Plaintiffs responded that New Jersey as a forum meant that plaintiffs there were not suing in their home states, which overlooked the fact that they always could sue in their home states.  Plaintiffs were more interested, however, in highlighting their joinder of a California defendant.  Justice Gorsuch wasn’t impressed, finding that to be too “fact-specific” when the question before the Court was “whether we have some sort of causation requirement or permit this sliding scale business that California engages in.” Id. at 38.  He thought plaintiffs were attempting to “collapse” the prongs of “purposeful availment” and “fairness,” removing all the “bite” from the former – which “suggest[ed] some problem doctrinally” with the plaintiffs’ position. Id. at 39.

Plaintiffs rejected any causation requirement, asserting that they only needed to show “continuous and systematic exploitation” of the market and that each claim be “on the same operative facts.” Id. Justice Kagan was skeptical:

[T]hat’s like saying . . . that the claim relates to another claim that relates to contacts with the forum. . . .  I’m missing what the relationship is between an Ohio plaintiff’s claim and the defendant’s contacts with the forum that doesn’t go through another claim.

Tr. at 39. Justice Kagan thought that specific personal jurisdiction involved claims that arose from the defendant’s contacts with the state in that particular case, not on some general basis.

Plaintiff’s response that “the relevant contact is the nationwide activity” of marketing the drug.  Id. at 40.  Because the activity was national, any state in the country, such as California, could equally adjudicate the “same conduct.”  Id. at 41.  That, and don’t forget the California defendant that plaintiffs decided to sue.  If plaintiffs can find an in-state defendant to sue in whatever jurisdiction they choose, that state can assume jurisdiction over any plaintiff’s similar claim, wherever in the country that plaintiff may be located.  Id. at 41-42.

Justice Ginsburg returned to the issue of class actions – could this be a class action, and if so where could it be brought. Plaintiffs’ answer was California, because of the California defendant.  Id. at 42-43.

Plaintiffs then tried to make some hay about there being a “special master” for cases across the country.  Id. at 43-44.  However, they appear to concede that this “master” was “best regarded as Federal,” so that didn’t help much with their state-law arguments.  Id. at 44.  That concession led Justice Breyer to suggest that the “answer” to this “terrible problem for mass torts” is to “[b]ring your case in Federal court.”  Id. at 44-45.  “[T]he solution to this great mass tort problem is that’s what Federal courts are for.”  Id. at 45.  However, as Justice Ginsburg pointed out “there’s no complete diversity” since plaintiffs saw fit to join a California defendant.  Id. at 46.  However, plaintiffs “could redesign the case” to fix that problem.  Id.

Plaintiffs, of course don’t want to be in federal court, and did what they did in BMS specifically to avoid that.  So they effectively abandoned their efficiency arguments when federal court was the alternative and argued that just because there was a more efficient way didn’t mean their way violated Due Process.  “[Y]es, there are other ways to do it, but that doesn’t make the way we are doing it unconstitutional.  What the Court has talked about here is minimum due process.”  Id. at 47.

Chief Justice Roberts then changed the subject, looking for a “simple” jurisdictional rule.  Id.  A sliding scale, suggested in Plaintiffs’ papers, where some percentage of out-of-state plaintiffs passed muster, whereas a smaller (unstated) percentage would not, would be hard to administer.  Plaintiffs’ response was that everything should be decided “case-by-case” and Due  Process imposed no “categorical rule.”  Id. at 48.  The Chief rejoindered, “but you’re articulating a rule that requires businesses trying to figure out where to do business and plaintiffs where to sue,” so what was the line? Id. Plaintiffs were unable – or unwilling − to give one.  Justice Kagan then took Plaintiffs’ reluctance to its logical conclusion:

[O]n your theory, it could be zero California plaintiffs, because . . . [y]ou told me . . . that an Ohio citizen’s claim arises out of the contacts in California is because the contacts in California are really nationwide contacts. And if that’s so, it’s met regardless of whether there are any California plaintiffs are not.

Tr. at 50. “Right,” Plaintiffs agreed.  Id.

Perhaps sensing that he had gone too far, Plaintiffs’ counsel started to backtrack, but Justice Sotomayor wouldn’t let him.  She asked for Plaintiffs’ definition of “relating to.”  Id. at 52.  Getting the expected definition, which involved only the “same conduct,” without any causation requirement, that led Justice Sotomayor to comment, “[s]o is that a yes to Justice Kagan’s question about it wouldn’t matter if there were no California plaintiffs?”  Id.  Plaintiffs’ response was that the first prong of Due Process (fairness, we think) would be satisfied, but not the reasonableness prong.  Justice Gorsuch followed up:

[If you don’t need a single plaintiff to satisfy the first prong of the due process inquiry, again, what function does that first prong have left to do?  Why doesn’t it all just run into the second fundamental fairness test?

Tr. at 53.  After some word salad, Plaintiffs got to their basic point – they were seeking a redefinition of Due Process – apparently a return to Pennoyer v. Neff, 95 U.S. 714 (1877), so that California could adjudicate claims against any defendant, to the extent that the defendant had property in the state.  Thus, they asked that both Bauman and Goodyear Dunlop Tires Operations, S.A. v. Brown, 564 U.S. 915 (2011), be overruled.  Tr. at 53–54.

Notwithstanding these arguments, Plaintiffs denied that they were trying to accomplish through specific jurisdiction what Bauman had – in the middle of the case – eliminated under the rubric of general jurisdiction.  All well and good, Justice Breyer thought, but what is the one-sentence basis for personal jurisdiction in this case?  The answer, “You’re already here on this claim, and there is nothing unfair about having you . . . with respect to another plaintiff, because that plaintiff could quite clearly get you estopped.”  Id. at 56.  Justice Breyer summed it up, “[s]o once I’m here, I can now sue him.”  Id.  Plaintiffs then discussed “nonmutual offensive collateral estoppel.”  Id. at 57.

Chief Justice Roberts did not seem convinced.  “[T]he same thing’s going to happen in every other State.  I don’t see that it increases the efficiency at all.”  Id.  Plaintiffs responded by returning to bootstrap argument – that because we chose to join a California defendant, that gave California a leg up over any other state.  Id. at 58.  After further discussion of MDLs, Plaintiffs finished their argument by asserting their maximalist position − restoring Pennoyer, at least as an alternative basis of jurisdiction:

It doesn’t seem unfair to me to say his clients did almost a billion dollars’ worth of business in the State of California. They have enormous assets that they have placed in the State.  That they could be held liable up to the extent of those assets is not a violation of due process.

Tr. at 60.

In rebuttal, defendant pointed out that joinder of the California defendant was a red herring, since Plaintiffs admitted they could not prove that defendant distributed any particular plaintiff’s medication.  It is “plainly unconstitutional to exert [sic] jurisdiction over one defendant based on the activities of another.”  Id. at 62.  An out-of-state defendant could be liable to actual California residents for any injuries they suffered – for the entire $918 million in sales (Plaintiffs’ “almost one billion”), but those in-state injuries don’t confer jurisdiction in other, distinct cases with different, non-resident plaintiffs.  In response to Justice Sotomayor’s question, the defense clarified that it didn’t matter who distributed any particular pill in California, the defendant’s manufacture of then was what established specific jurisdiction as to in-state residents.

The defense pointed out that, under CAFA, federal jurisdiction was already available.  The reason these claims were in state court was that Plaintiffs deliberately structured them to avoid CAFA, by “filing less than a hundred claims in each action.”  Id. at 63.  So Plaintiffs themselves brought about the inefficiency of which they complain.  Finally, the defendant ended with a plea for “business predictability.”  Id. at 64.

What do we think?  Predictions are always dangerous, particularly if they involve the future.  However, we sensed no groundswell on the Court to overturn decades of personal jurisdiction precedent and return to Pennoyer.  In fact, we don’t think that the lineup will be much different from Bauman – which was an 8-1 decision from 2014.  Eight-1 decisions just aren’t overruled that soon after being decided.  The Plaintiffs’ efficiency arguments are undercut by their original forum-shopping.  Their fairness arguments are undercut by the fact that every plaintiff could sue in his or her home state, or if aggregation were important, where the defendant is “at home.”  The California court’s mid-course correction from general to specific jurisdiction after Bauman was decided does look like a “backdoor” move to avoid that precedent – which Plaintiffs alternatively seek to overrule.  Our gut tells us that the votes are there to reverse, perhaps with a statement like that in PLIVA, Inc. v. Mensing, 564 U.S. 604 (2011), that Congress can act to federalize mass torts (like it did interstate tort class actions under CAFA) if it so chooses.

In any event, we’ll know if we’re on target – or just all wet – in a couple of months at the most.

Today’s guest post is from friend-of-the-blog Sarah Bunce, a partner at Tucker Ellis.  It’s about the 8th Circuit finally having before it aspects of the effects of the current, bizarrely applied Missouri joinder and venue rules (see here) on federal jurisdiction.  Not only is it about time, though, it may be past time.  By the time that the 8th Circuit gets around to deciding the case, either (1) the Missouri Supreme Court might have overturned the current reading of those rules, (2) the United States Supreme Court may held the exercise of personal jurisdiction allowed by those rules unconstitutional, or (3) the Missouri legislature might have rewritten the rules to eliminate the basis for the current bizarre judicial rule constructions.  But, in any event, that there’s finally movement on another piece of the litigation puzzle.

As always, our guest poster is entitled to 100% of the credit, and any blame, for what follows.

***********

While most of us wait anxiously for the Supreme Court to hear the issue of litigation tourism at the end of this month in Bristol-Myers Squibb Co. v. Superior Court of California, the Eighth Circuit got a sneak peek on April 5 when it heard oral argument in Robinson v. Pfizer Inc.  Although the Eighth Circuit may well defer decision until the Supreme Court decides the issue, the background of this case and its potential impact on the future of litigation tourism in the Eighth Circuit—particularly in the Eastern District of Missouri—is worth noting.

For those of us who have attempted to remove multi-plaintiff “litigation tourist” complaints from the City of St. Louis to the Eastern District of Missouri, the Eastern District’s response is all too familiar. With the exception of the faint glimmer of hope from Judge Webber in Addelson v. Sanofi S.A., 2016 WL 6216124 (E.D. Mo. Oct. 25, 2016), the court has been rather hostile to such removals, swiftly remanding case after case for lack of subject matter jurisdiction.

The decision in Robinson v. Pfizer Inc. is no exception.  There, sixty-four plaintiffs (only four of whom were Missouri residents) joined in filing suit against Pfizer Inc. in the City of St. Louis alleging injuries as a result of ingesting Lipitor.  As any defendant would do, Pfizer removed the case to the Eastern District of Missouri.  Pfizer argued, under Ruhrgas, the court should first decide personal jurisdiction and dismiss the out-of-state plaintiffs for lack of personal jurisdiction, which would result in complete diversity between the remaining parties.  Pfizer also argued that even if the court considered subject matter jurisdiction first, there would be diversity in light of the fraudulent joinder of the out-of-state plaintiffs.

In granting plaintiffs’ motion for remand, the Robinson court would hear none of it.  Skipping directly to the issue of subject matter jurisdiction, the court (incorrectly) characterized Pfizer’s argument as one based on fraudulent misjoinder rather than fraudulent joinder.  Ignoring entirely the issue of whether there was personal jurisdiction over defendant to support each individual plaintiff’s claims, the court instead viewed the “real issue” to be whether plaintiffs’ claims were properly joined under Rule 20.  Finding the joinder of all sixty-four plaintiffs’ claims proper, the court ordered the case remanded to state court for lack of subject matter jurisdiction.

As those of us who have tried (and failed) to successfully remove multi-plaintiff complaints to the Eastern District of Missouri are keenly aware, this is where the story usually ends. Because these remand orders are not appealable, we’re stuck in an infinite loop of removing cases and being remanded, hoping that the next time will be the time the court decides personal jurisdiction first or thoughtfully considers the fraudulent joinder doctrine (or maybe stays the case pending transfer to an MDL).

But that’s where things get interesting in Robinson.  Plaintiffs (maybe a little too greedily, hindsight being what it is) sought attorney’s fees and costs under 28 U.S.C. § 1447(c), which grants courts the authority to order payment of costs and fees incurred as a result of the removal.  The Robinson court obliged.  Citing nine other cases involving Pfizer and referencing “at least twenty-five other cases” in the district that had been remanded for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, the court determined that, in light of the “repeated admonishments and remands,” Pfizer had no objectively reasonable basis for seeking removal and plaintiffs were entitled to costs and expenses.  Robinson v. Pfizer Inc., 2016 WL 1721143, at *4 (E.D. Mo. April 29, 2016).

This was just the hook that Pfizer needed. While the remand order was not appealable, the sanction order was.  So Pfizer appealed.  In challenging the sanctions and defending its right to remove as objectively reasonable, Pfizer cited Daimler and Goodyear and argued that the Eastern District of Missouri was repeatedly and consistently ignoring those holdings.  Thus, while the removal itself technically may not be before the Eighth Circuit, in the course of ruling on the sanctions issue the Eighth Circuit will have the opportunity to consider the due process merits involved.

And the oral argument demonstrated that the issue of sanctions cannot be divorced from the underlying issue of the removal of multi-plaintiff complaints involving out-of-state plaintiffs. This is because to decide whether the court abused its discretion in awarding costs and fees, the Eighth Circuit necessarily must decide if it was objectively reasonable for Pfizer to challenge the joinder of these plaintiffs and the lack of personal jurisdiction over the out-of-state plaintiffs’ claims.

The Eighth Circuit panel recognized that Pfizer might have had better luck with its argument in other jurisdictions, and on two occasions the panel questioned why the district court had cited only other Eastern District authority and not any authority from other jurisdictions. (Indeed, there is much contra authority outside of the Eastern District of Missouri. See, e.g., Simmons v. GlaxoSmithKline LLC (In re Zofran (Ondansetron) Prods. Liab. Litig.), 2016 WL 2349105 (D. Mass. May 4, 2016); Liggins v. Abbvie Inc. (In re Testosterone Replacement Therapy Prods. Liab. Litig.), 2016 WL 640520 (N.D. Ill. Feb. 18, 2016).)  The Eighth Circuit panel also seemed attuned to the underlying issue of allowing joinder to substitute for personal jurisdiction in these multi-plaintiff complaints, referring to it as “osmotic jurisdiction.”

At the end of rebuttal Pfizer requested that the court not only reverse the sanctions order, but also correct the error of law on personal jurisdiction perpetuated in the Eastern District of Missouri—expressly asking the Eighth Circuit to confirm that when looking at personal jurisdiction, it must be done plaintiff by plaintiff. If the Eighth Circuit accepts the invitation, it may be the final nail in the coffin for litigation tourism in the Eastern District of Missouri.

The Defendant/Petitioner has filed its merits brief in the U.S. Supreme Court in BMS v. Superior Court.  This is the case where the California Supreme Court expanded specific personal jurisdiction beyond recognition by basing specific jurisdiction on a pharmaceutical company’s forum contacts involving different products and people other than the plaintiffs.  We wrote about the opinion and its problems here, here, and here, and the opinion came in at number one on our 2016 worst ten list.

As expected, the Petitioner pharmaceutical company has put forth compelling arguments that the California Supreme Court’s version of specific jurisdiction runs against binding precedent and is an all-around bad idea. The Petitioner is also joined by a number of amici, most notably the United States of America.  (You can view all the briefs on the SCOTUSblog here.)  If we have been critical of the Solicitor General in the past, we will voice no concern this time around.  The SG hit the nail on the head, and the United States’ brief reinforces the Petitioner’s very strong arguments—and adds another, which we will get to in a minute.

First, the briefs. The general thrust of both briefs is that the California Supreme Court’s “sliding scale” approach to specific jurisdiction impossibly contradicts binding precedent.  A court simply court cannot base specific jurisdiction on a defendant’s forum contacts involving other individuals and other products, no matter how intense those contacts are.

For the Petitioner, it comes down mainly to one concept—proximate causation. That is to say, for a claim to “arise from or relate to” a defendant’s forum contacts, the defendant’s activities in the state must be a proximate cause of the plaintiff’s lawsuit.  Take, for example, this opening salvo:

The [California Supreme Court] concluded that Bristol-Myers could be haled into California on respondents’ claims merely because Bristol-Myers sold Plavix to other persons and developed other products in the State.

            That is not how specific jurisdiction works.  Since International Shoe Co. v. Washington, 326 U.S. 310 (1945), this Court has made clear time and again that “specific or case-linked” jurisdiction requires a causal connection between the defendant’s forum conduct and the litigation. Goodyear Dunlop Tires Operations, S.A. v. Brown, 564 U.S. 915, 919 (2011).  That bedrock requirement ensures that a common connection links the defendant, the forum, and the litigation; that States do not assert jurisdiction over matters occurring and directed entirely outside their borders; and that any litigation to which a defendant is subject is a direct and foreseeable consequence of its in-state activities.  Courts cannot dispense with this causation requirement because a defendant has wide-ranging contacts with a State.  Only general jurisdiction allows that, and then only where the defendant is at home.

Petitioner’s Br. at 2. This is (or at least should be) an uncontroversial description of specific jurisdiction, and the Petitioner draws from it that specific jurisdiction requires a “causal connection” between the defendant’s forum contacts and the plaintiff’s claims. Id. at 14.

Continue Reading Solicitor General Urges Supreme Court to Reverse California’s Ill-Conceived Version of “Specific Jurisdiction”

This is a follow-up to our post last week on the Missouri Supreme Court’s momentous personal jurisdiction decision in State ex rel. Norfolk Southern Railway Co. v. Dolan, ___ S.W.3d ___, 2017 WL 770977 (Mo. Feb. 28, 2017) (“NSRC”).  We stated last week, and we continue to believe, that NSRC will ultimately kill litigation tourism in Missouri.

However, it won’t be easy.  Nothing ever is against the rich and entrenched litigation industry.

As we would expect, the other side is talking out both sides of its mouth about NSRC.

On one hand, in the ongoing legislative push for a statutory fix to the bizarre and unfair way that courts have interpreted Missouri’s venue and joinder rules (see our post here), those supporting the other side of the “v.” are already claiming that the venue/joinder reform bill (H.B. 460 – which will be on the House floor this week) is no longer necessary; that NSRC supposedly “fixed” everything.

On the other hand, and essentially simultaneously, in the multi-plaintiff mass tort litigation that is the main reason tort reform is so desperately needed, they’re doing the opposite –  trying to get around NSRC by claiming “pendent party” jurisdiction as a result of the very same venue/joinder problems that venue/joinder reform and H.B. 460 is intended to fix.

Talk is cheap.  Watch what they do, not what they say.

They can’t have it both ways. In fact, they can’t have it either way.  The plaintiffs’ first position is garbage, and the second is devoid of legal support.

For the reasons stated in our original post, H.B.460 remains necessary after NSRC.  NSRC established that personal jurisdiction over non-resident corporations by non-resident plaintiffs over injuries not arising in Missouri is unconstitutional under the Due Process clause.  There is no general personal jurisdiction because the defendant is not “at home.”  There is no specific personal jurisdiction because out-of-state injuries to out-of-state plaintiffs are not “related to” a defendant’s Missouri activities.  There is no “consent” merely by registering to do business.

But as good as it was, NSRC was not a mass tort case.  Rather, it was an individual litigation tourist plaintiff suing a single non-resident corporation.  NSRC thus had no occasion to address either the 99-plaintiff misjoined tort complaints that have become the bane of Missouri product liability practice or the 99-defendant complaints that are typical of asbestos (and some other) product liability litigation.  Eliminating those abuses are at the core of H.B. 460, meaning that the reforms proposed in H.B. 460 remain every bit as necessary as before.  As we discussed, the court of appeals in Barron v. Abbott Laboratories, Inc., ___ S.W.3d ___, 2016 WL 6596091, at *13 (Mo. App. Nov. 8, 2016), invited the legislature to correct the venue/joinder rules, and that is exactly what H.B. 460 will do.

Continue Reading More on Missouri – What To Expect and Not To Expect After Norfolk Southern v. Dolan

If we’d learned about State ex rel. Norfolk Southern Railway Co. v. Dolan, No. SC95514, slip op. (Mo. Feb. 28, 2017) (“NSRC”), earlier, this would have been a breaking news post – but make no mistake about it, this is big news.  Unanimously, the Missouri Supreme Court has, for all intents and purposes, put an end to Missouri’s notorious litigation tourism industry (about a month before the Legislature would have done the same).

NSRC is a railway accident case, not a product liability action, but the jurisdictional facts are familiar to anyone interested in Missouri jurisdiction and venue issues. An out-of-state litigation-tourist, personal-injury plaintiff sued a large out-of-state corporation in Missouri state court (county not stated, but we can guess) over injuries not suffered in Missouri. NSRC, slip op. at 2-3.  The Missouri Supreme Court made three major rulings:  (1) no general jurisdiction exists over the non-resident corporate defendant because it was not “at home” in Missouri; (2) no specific jurisdiction existed because the litigation tourist’s injuries did not “relate to” the defendant’s Missouri activities; and (3) the defendant’s compliance with the Missouri statute governing corporate registration did not constitute “consent” to general personal jurisdiction.

First, general jurisdiction.  Due process under Daimler AG v. Bauman, 134 S. Ct. 746, 751 (2014), requires that a corporation be “at home” in the state in question.  While the defendant conducted “continuous and systematic” business in Missouri (and in 21 other states), that business “represents a tiny portion of [defendant’s] entire nationwide business.” NSRC, slip op. at 8.  Game over on general jurisdiction . Bauman “observed that finding a corporation at home wherever it does business would destroy the distinction between general and specific jurisdiction.”  Id. at 9.

Continue Reading Litigation Tourism Ended In Missouri

The United States Supreme Court today granted certiorari in Bristol-Myers Squibb Co. v. Superior Court.  Here is a link to the order.  The California Supreme Court decision in this case was our worst case for all of 2016.  Here is our description of what the Supreme Court has just agreed to review:

Bristol-Myers-Squibb v. Superior Court, 377 P.3d 874 (Cal. 2016). Ultimately (and fortunately) there was not much contest for the worst drug/device product liability decision of the year.  The highest court of the largest state in the country – check.  Direct defiance of United States Supreme Court precedent on a significant constitutional issue – check.  Significant impact on the litigation of mass torts – check.  In Bauman, the Supreme Court condemned “exorbitant exercises” of general jurisdiction that do not “permit out-of-state defendants to structure their primary conduct with some minimum assurance as to where that conduct will and will not render them liable to suit.”  Such “unacceptably grasping” “[e]xercises of personal jurisdiction [are] so exorbitant” that they “are barred by due process.”  The paradigm of such overly “grasping” jurisdiction is that which “would presumably be available in every other State in which a [defendant’s] sales are sizable.”  So the California Supreme Court promptly fashions a theory of “specific” jurisdiction that allows masses of plaintiffs, anywhere in the country, to sue a drug company (and presumably any other large corporation), as long as one Californian (or, here, 86 of 678) is suing over the same conduct.  The reason?  Because the defendant does significant general business in California.  If your reaction is that BMS simply shifted the pre-Bauman “continuous and substantial” jurisdiction standard from general jurisdiction to specific jurisdiction, you would be right.  We haven’t seen such blatant defiance of Supreme Court precedent in our bailiwick since the First Circuit in Bartlett (2012-1), and that one headed up our bottom ten, too.  Here’s hoping for a similar result in the Supreme Court.  We chronicled California sliding to the bottom of the slippery slope here and here.

If our side wins this, then we’ll see a significant reduction in both the size and reach of litigation in all those places where we don’t want to be. We’ll be following this closely.

This is the second time in two years that we have written the Drug and Device Law Christmas blogpost. Last year, your dedicated blogger posted on Christmas Day a nice little piece on innovator liability that we are sure you all read while listening to Andy Williams, drinking egg nog, and roasting chestnuts on an open fire (note: If you would rather not light an open fire, a gas grill is a very capable substitute for roasting chestnuts, if that is your thing.) If you did not read our post last year, we forgive you.  And whether you read us regularly or just pop in from time to time to read about preemption, please accept our holiday greetings and our undying gratitude.  To all our readers, Happy Holidays from the DDLB!

Our gift to you on this Friday, December 23, 2016, is a blogpost discussing a topic on which we have not written a lot—alter ego personal jurisdiction.  That is when a court takes jurisdiction over a corporation based on the forum contacts of a corporate subsidiary.  We wrote about a district court rejecting alter ego jurisdiction here, but there is not much else discussing the subject in detail in the archive. That could be because successful examples of alter ego jurisdiction are exceedingly rare.  The most common scenario is where plaintiffs sue an alleged corporate wrongdoer and try to hale into court not only the alleged wrongdoer, but also its out-of-state corporate parent.  Their motivation is not a mystery:  Plaintiffs want more defendants, larger balance sheets, and deeper pockets to reach into.  And if the corporate parent has a recognizable “big” name, that’s all the better.

Unfortunately for plaintiffs and fortunately for the defense, this transparent ploy rarely works, and it did not work in a recent hip replacement case, Goldthrip v. Johnson & Johnson, No. 15-00651-KD-B, 2016 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 170801 (S.D. Ala. Dec. 8, 2016).  In Goldthrip, the plaintiffs sued not only the company that made and sold the hip implant, but also its corporate parent.  There were, however, two problems:  First, the plaintiffs sued in Alabama, but the parent corporation was a New Jersey company.  Second, the parent corporation neither made nor sold products; it was a holding company, as parent companies often tend to be. Id. at **2-4.

Continue Reading Alter Ego and Agency – A Different Spin on Jurisdiction

We do a lot of grousing on this blog, but we acknowledge that there is much for which we should be thankful.  This legal business permits us to keep our minds lively and our fingernails clean.  Even the rotten decisions aren’t totally awful; they force us to stay busy, offer a fine target for snark, and it is beyond glorious when logic and justice eventually triumph and eradicate the offending ruling.  (We’re looking at you Conte.  Your days are numbered.)

The Supreme Court’s decision in Bauman is an example of the beneficent arc of history.  After decades of doctrinal incoherence on personal jurisdiction, under which a large corporation could pretty much be sued anywhere for anything, SCOTUS restored common sense by holding that a court could exercise general personal jurisdiction over a corporation only if that corporation was “at home” in that jurisdiction – which pretty much was limited to the place of incorporation or principal place of business.  We blogged about Bauman more than once, but you can start here.  Around the same time as Bauman, SCOTUS issued the Walden v. Fiore opinion, which limited specific jurisdiction over corporations to cases where the corporation’s conduct targeted the jurisdiction and gave rise to the action in that jurisdiction.  Simple, right?

Wrong, says the California Supreme Court.  Bristol-Myers Squibb Co. v. Superior Court was a classic exercise in mass tort litigation tourism, as plaintiff lawyers cobbled together a group of plaintiffs who claimed that they had been injured by ingesting Plavix.  Out of 678 plaintiffs, only 86 lived in California.  The other 592 plaintiffs neither lived in California nor sustained any injury there.  It is not as if those plaintiffs knocked back Plavix after enduring the scary experience of Space Mountain at Disneyland or the Angels’ ineptitude at the Big A in Anaheim.  None of the Plavix was manufactured in California.  Clearly, the plaintiff lawyers had engaged in transparent forum-shopping, hoping that their non-California plaintiffs would benefit from pro-plaintiff California jurors and rulings.

Continue Reading Amicus Briefs Not So Friendly to California Supreme Court’s Dreadful BMS Personal Jurisdiction Decision