Bexis is known to say that nothing good ever comes out of Missouri, but the Missouri Supreme Court has proven him wrong.  We have long made exceptions to Bexis’ proclamation for Mark Twain, Maya Angelou, and Kansas City barbeque, and we can now add to that list the Missouri Supreme Court’s new opinion in State ex rel. Johnson & Johnson v. Burlison, No. SC96704, 2019 WL 581175 (Mo. Feb. 13, 2019), where the Missouri Supreme Court took another step toward limiting the blatant forum shopping and venue abuse to which Missouri practitioners have become accustomed.

The controversy arises from Missouri’s unique and permissive joinder rules, which have been widely used to pile scores of non-resident plaintiffs into St. Louis City (which is different from St. Louis County) by joining their claims with those of one St. Louis City resident.  You can read our take on the issue here.  As you might expect, we have bemoaned this practice as unjustified and unfair.

The Burlison opinion is a game changer for the better.  In Burlison, one St. Louis City resident filed an action in St. Louis City along with dozens of non-Missouri plaintiffs against New Jersey and Delaware defendants.  The defendants filed motions to sever the non-residents and transfer their cases to other venues, which the court denied.  Id. at *1.  After multiple amended petitions (and an equal number of overruled objections to venue), the court set one plaintiff for trial—a resident of St. Louis County (which again is different from the City).  After yet another overruled objection to venue in St. Louis City, the defendants petitioned the Supreme Court for a writ of prohibition arguing that venue in St. Louis City was improper.  Id. at *2.

The Supreme Court agreed and held that Missouri’s permissive joinder rules could not trump the standard venue rules.  That is to say, plaintiffs who cannot themselves establish venue in St. Louis City cannot enter that forum through the backdoor by joining with one St. Louis City resident.  The opinion’s discussion started strong:

The central issue in this case is whether permissive joinder of separate claims may extend venue to a county when, absent joinder, venue in that county would not otherwise be proper for each claim.  It cannot and does not.  This is evidenced not only by our Court’s rules but also nearly 40 years of this Court’s precedent.

Id. at *3 (emphasis added).  The plaintiff had argued that the venue statute (Mo. Rev. Stat. § 508.010) does not dictate one specific venue when multiple joined plaintiffs claim their injuries occurred both inside and outside Missouri.  Moreover, the joinder rule (Civil Procedure Rule 52.05(a)) allows “two of more separate causes of action” to be joined in one petition.  Id.  Thus, according to the plaintiff, he and the other plaintiffs could unilaterally choose their venue, including St. Louis City, by banding together.  Id.

The problem for the plaintiff is that his position runs directly contrary to another Missouri rule—Rule 51.01, which expressly states that the rules of civil procedure “shall not be construed to extend or limit the jurisdiction of the Courts of Missouri or the venue of civil actions therein.”  Id. (emphasis in original).  Because the plaintiff could not have established venue in St. Louis City if he had sued on his own, he was relying on a rule of civil procedure (the joinder rule) to expand venue.  The rules and precedent applying them prohibit that result:

What Rule 51.01 and the holding in Turnbough [v. Gaertner, 589 S.W.2d 290, 292 (Mo. 1979)] make clear is joinder of [the plaintiff’s] claims with the other claims alleged in the petition cannot extend venue to a county where [the plaintiff’s] claims could not otherwise be brought and pursued.  Because [the plaintiff’s] wife was first injured in St. Louis County, § 508.010.4 dictates the proper venue for [the plaintiff’s] claims is St. Louis County.  The city of St. Louis is an improper venue . . . .”

Id. at *6 (emphasis added).  The Supreme Court therefore ordered the plaintiff’s claims severed and transferred to the proper venue.

There were two long dissents, which we will not parse here.  We will say, however, that one complains that “the Court holds that no plaintiff or claim can be joined with any other plaintiff or claim unless venue can be established independently for each claim” and that “[i]n the future, numerous claims that previously could have been filed together in one action—and in one venue—must now be filed separately.”  Id. at *14.  The dissent holds this out to be a self-evidently bad thing, but we (and a majority of the Missouri Supreme Court) clearly see this as the correct and proper result.  We do not see the good in allowing large groups of unrelated plaintiffs to join their claims together in a forum with which neither they nor their claims bear any relation, and we have always wondered why courts tolerate it.  Add the Missouri Supreme Court to the list of those that will not.

We are old enough to treasure the memory of sitting in a darkened movie theater with our mother and sisters watching the original “Mary Poppins.”  We were transfixed and transported by the sheer magic of the film, and we spent the next many months playing our souvenir cast album over and over on our tiny phonograph until the record was so battered that it was lovingly retired to the shelf.   This coming weekend, fifty-plus years later, our now 84-year-mother and her three aging daughters will go together to see the new Mary Poppins “update.”  We feel excited and nostalgic about this outing, but we harbor a suspicion that there can never be another Mary Poppins.   Mary was adventurous, courageous, resourceful, mysterious, resolute, and dauntless.  She was way ahead of her time — “practically perfect in every way.”

As is the tidy personal jurisdiction and venue decision on which we report today.  In Carney v. Guerbet, LLC, 2018 WL 6524003 (E.D. Mo. Dec. 12, 2018), the plaintiff  alleged that he was injured by a linear gadolinium-based contrast agent with which he was injected, in New Jersey, before he underwent an MRI.   He filed suit in the Eastern District of Missouri asserting diversity jurisdiction and naming several corporate defendants, among them Guerbet, LLC (“Guerbet”) and Liebel-Flarsheim Company, LLC (“Liebel’).

Guerbet, LLC’s Motion to Dismiss

The plaintiff alleged that Guerbet was a Delaware LLC with is principal place of business in Indiana and that it had contracted with co-defendants Mallinckrodt, Inc. and Mallinckrodt, LLC to purchase their Missouri-based company which, the plaintiff alleged, produced the contrast agent in question.  The plaintiff alleged that the court had specific personal jurisdiction over Guerbet because the company “engaged in the business of designing, licensing, marketing and/or introducing [the contrast agent] into interstate commerce,” either directly or through third parties.  Carney, 2018 WL 6524003 at *3.  The plaintiff did not allege that he was injected with the contrast agent in Missouri, suffered his injury in Missouri, or received treatment in Missouri.  Guerbet moved to dismiss, asserting the court lacked personal jurisdiction over it.   Guerbet denied that it purchased a Missouri-based business from Mallinckrodt, that any of its members or managers resided in Missouri, that the contrast agent was produced in Missouri, that it received any sales revenue for the contrast agent in Missouri, or that it advertised in any Missouri medium or any medium targeted at Missouri.  Guerbet also submitted an affidavit attesting to the fact that its principal place of business is in New Jersey, not Indiana.

The  court cited BMS for proposition that, “[i]n order for  court to exercise specific jurisdiction over a claim, there must be an affiliation between the forum and the underlying controversy, principally,  an activity or an occurrence that takes place in the forum State. .  . . When there is no such connection, specific jurisdiction is lacking, regardless of the extent of a defendant’s unconnected activities in the State.  Even regularly occurring sales of a product in a state do not justify the exercise of jurisdiction over a claim unrelated to those sales.”  Id. at *4 (internal punctuation and citations omitted).   As such, the court emphasized, allegations that “a non-resident pharmaceutical company researches, designs, tests formulates, inspects, markets or promotes a drug within the forum state are not enough to establish specific personal jurisdiction.”  Id. (citations omitted).    The court concluded that, even if Guerbet had acquired Mallinckrodt’s Missouri-based business, which Guerbet denied, sufficient minimum contacts would not arise from that ownership to confer specific personal jurisdiction over Guerbet.  But rather than dismiss the plaintiff’s claims against Guerbet, the  court found that it was “in the interest of justice”  to transfer the case to the District of New Jersey pursuant to the transfer statute, 28 U.S.C. § 1406(a), “to avoid the costs and delay associated with requiring [the] plaintiff to refile the case in the transferee district.”  Id. at *5.

Liebel’s Motion to Dismiss

Liebel did not challenge the court’s jurisdiction over it.  Instead, it moved to dismiss for improper venue.  Under 28 U.S.C. § 1391(b), venue is proper in a judicial district in which any defendant resides if all defendants are residents of the state in which the district is located, or in a district in which a substantial part of the events giving rise to the action occurred.  If there is no district that qualifies under either of these standards, “any judicial district in which any defendant is subject to the court’s personal jurisdiction” is a proper venue for the action.

Always remember: jurisdictional objections are waivable.  If a party fails to object to a court’s exercise of personal jurisdiction over it, it waives the objection and suffers the ripple effects of that waiver.  Because Liebel did not move to dismiss for lack of jurisdiction, it waived that defense and was deemed to have submitted to the court’s jurisdiction.  In turn, because Liebel was subject to the court’s jurisdiction, venue was proper under the final catch-all provision of 28 U.S.C. § 1391(b) and Liebel’s motion to dismiss was denied.  As the court emphasized, “[i]t would defy logic to deem [a defendant] subject to [the court’s] personal jurisdiction yet dismiss the plaintiff’s claims against it for improper venue for want of personal jurisdiction.”  Id. (internal punctuation and citations omitted).

Instead, the court granted Liebel’s alternative motion to transfer venue to the District of New Jersey, holding that the transfer was appropriate under 28 U.S.C.  § 1404(a) because the convenience of the parties, the convenience of the witnesses, and the interests of justice were best served by transfer.

And so, in the wake of statutes and precedents correctly applied, the case ended up where it belonged in the first place.  We like this decision.  We’ll let you know how we feel about “Mary.”

You can waive remand.  That’s Lexecon, Inc. v. Milberg Weiss Bershad Hynes & Lerach, 523 U.S. 26 (1998).  But, if you agree to remand, you’re going back whence you came.  So said the Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation earlier this month in In re: Biomet M2A Magnum Hip Implant Products Liability Litigation, 2018 WL 6426830 (JPML Dec. 6, 2018).

That’s pretty much all the 4-paragraph opinion says on this issue of first impression.  The JPML cannot “redirect the remand” to a non-originating court.  What the opinion doesn’t tell is why the request was being made in the first place.  So, we did a little digging.  At issue were three cases selected for remand from this MDL.  The Chadwick case had been originally filed in state court in New Jersey and subsequently removed to federal court.  Plaintiffs included as a defendant a company whose sole role in relation to the device at issue was to supply raw materials.  That company, a New Jersey company, was the only thing establishing venue in New Jersey.  Memo. Of Law in Support of Motion of Defs. To Vacate Conditional Remand Order, No. TXS/4:14-cv-00232, Dkt. No. 12-1 (JPML), at 2-3.  Plaintiff is a resident of Wyoming and Biomet is an Indiana company.  The New Jersey defendant filed a motion to dismiss based on the immunity afforded raw material suppliers under the Biomaterials Access Assurance Act (“BAAA”).  Feels like the New Jersey company was present simply to allow some forum shopping by plaintiff.  Prior to remand, however, plaintiff agreed to dismiss the raw material supplier and with that dismissed the only link to New Jersey.  Id.

The second case, Carter, was filed in the Southern District of New York before being transferred to the MDL.    Plaintiff Carter, however, lived in Virginia and had surgeries in Virginia and North Carolina.  Her complaint does not include any allegation why venue would be appropriate in New York.  Id. at 3-4.  Similarly, the plaintiff in the Richards case filed suit in the Southern District of Texas, but she resides and had surgery in cities that fall in the Northern District of Texas.  Id. at 4.

At the time of remand, the MDL judge was willing to grant the parties’ request that these three cases be transferred to appropriate venues that were not their originating courts.  However, in the suggestion of remand, the judge concluded that he had no authority to grant the relief requested by the parties and listed the remand jurisdiction for each case as the original transferor courts.  Id. at 5.

Defendants argued that the logic of Lexecon should apply.  In effect, that there was no difference between waiving remand to the transferor court to allow trial to take place in the MDL and waiving remand to the transferor court to allow trial to take place in a different, but appropriate venue.  Id. at 6.  Defendants also made the points that denying the request now was simply inefficient because they would file change of venue motions post-remand that were highly likely to succeed and that at least as to New Jersey and New York there were also personal jurisdiction issues.  Residents of Wyoming and Virginia were suing Indiana companies in New Jersey and New York.  And that hasn’t been allowed since Daimler AG v. Bauman, 571 U.S. 117 (2014).

But the JPML was unpersuaded finding that the statute, 28 U.S.C. § 1407(a), afforded it “no discretion.”  The only remand destination allowed is the original transferor court, even if the parties agree that jurisdiction is improper.  In re: Biomet, at *1. 

So, other than this now being the rule of law, to us it is also indicative that Congress did not contemplate the current forum shopping practices.  Cases should be remanded from where they came because they should have been filed in appropriate jurisdictions from the outset.  But, we know that’s not the reality.  We are optimistic that the issue will be resolved correctly post-remand, but where venue is so clearly not present, we don’t see the harm in arming the JPML with the tools to get the job done.

Hope springs eternal. At least that is what the optimists say, and while we would like to see the bright side of the Missouri Supreme Court’s split opinion on venue in Barron v. Abbott Laboratories, Inc., No. SC 96151, 2017 WL 4001487 (Mo. Sept. 12, 2017), we are having trouble this morning finding our rose-colored glasses.  The court’s ruling that a black box warning on the exact condition at issue is “irrelevant” does not help either.

Faithful readers will recognize Barron v. Abbott Laboratories from our list of worst opinions of 2016.  The Missouri Court of Appeals’ opinion in Barron affirming a $38 million verdict came in at #3 on that list.  What did that opinion do to warrant such distinction?  You might call it a twofer:  The court upheld an unfair application of Missouri’s unique and unexplainable venue rules, plus held that a black box warning that warned of the exact risk at issue was sufficiently inadequate to sustain a failure-to-warn verdict and punitive damages.  We discussed that opinion here.

The Missouri Supreme Court has now affirmed this result, and it is still unfair on multiple levels. Let’s start with venue.  The only claims at issue in this trial were those brought by a Minnesota plaintiff against an Illinois defendant under Minnesota law.  Of course, the Minnesota plaintiff found her way to the City of St. Louis by filing a complaint there with 24 plaintiffs from 13 different states, including four from Missouri. Barron, 2017 WL 4001487, at *1.  This is a tactic we often see and to which we object.  But the angle that seems to be unique under Missouri procedure is that venue is proper in the county where any plaintiff “was first injured.” Id. at *5 (concurring opinion).  That means that any plaintiff—including the Minnesotan who got her claims to trial—can piggyback his or her way into any Missouri county where any co-plaintiff “was first injured,” even though neither her claims nor the defendant have any identifiable relationship to that forum.

Even the Missouri Supreme Court in Barron could not defend this rule, but instead affirmed the plaintiff’s verdict on the basis that the trial court’s refusal to transfer venue caused the defendant no prejudice. Id. at *2.  Query how a verdict this size on these facts would not demonstrate prejudice.  Regardless, we find it interesting that a four-judge majority of the Missouri Supreme Court dodged the merits.

Which leads to a ray of hope. Three judges filed a concurring opinion stating that once the trial court determined that each Plaintiff’s claims should be tried separately, it was error for the court not to sever and transfer claims for which venue was no longer proper. Id. at *7.  In other words, venue is not a static inquiry.  When the trial court determined that the claims should be tried separately, it “necessarily decided there are no further gains in efficiency of expeditiousness to be had from the joinder.” Id. at *6.  At that point, “the trial court has discretion to deny a subsequent or renewed motion to sever only in the rarest of circumstances” and “an abuse of discretion in denying such a motion will be patently prejudicial.” Id. The concurring opinion further faulted the majority for applying a “no prejudice” standard because a defendant

will never obtain relief without showing the elusive, undefined, and likely unprovable prejudice that the principal opinion demands. I am unwilling to countenance such an immediate, improper, and easily avoided outcome.

Id. at *7. Sure, it’s a concurring opinion, but it calls out the unworkable situation that Barron has reinforced.  We will take this four-to-three decision as endorsing efforts for reform.

Missouri-based defendants should take particular interest. The United States Supreme Court’s BMS opinion clamping down on personal jurisdiction should reduce the number of out-of-state plaintiffs suing non-Missouri defendants in Missouri.  But the joinder problem remains where personal jurisdiction is not an issue.  As the concurring opinion noted, “Even though the use of a Rule 52.05(a) joinder to combine multiple in-state and out-of-state plaintiffs in a single action largely will be prevented in the future by Bristol-Myers Squibb Co. v. Superior Court, [137 S. Ct. 1773 (2017)], . . . the use of Rule 52.05(a) to join the claims of multiple Missouri plaintiffs in a single petition will (and should) still occur.” Barron, at *4.  Missouri’s joinder rules therefore discriminate against Missouri defendants, who will remain subject to Missouri’s joinder rules while out-of-state defendants will less often be around.  This is another reason why reform should finally occur.

Now, how about the warnings? When a boxed warning—the strongest warning permitted under the FDCA—warns of the complication about which the plaintiff is complaining, it should be adequate as a matter of law.  Period.  You can read more on this here.  In Bannon, the Supreme Court did not set forth what the black box warning said, so we will:  “[THE DRUG] CAN PRODUCE TERTOGENIC EFFECTS SUCH AS NEURAL TUBE DEFECTS (E.G., SPINA BIFIDA).  ACCORDINGLY, THE USE OF [THE DRUG] IN WOMEN OF CHILDBEARING POTENTIAL REQUIRES THAT THE BENEFITS OF ITS USE BE WEIGHED AGAINST THE RISK OF INJURY TO THE FETUS.”  The plaintiff in Barron alleges she was born with spina bifida, which is right there in the warning—in all caps, and boldface, and surrounded by box.  To make matters worse, the Missouri Supreme Court held that the black box warning was “not relevant” to punitive damage. Id. at *4.  Quibble if you will over whether a black box warning is adequate as a matter of law.  But where the basis for liability is an alleged failure to warn, there is no way to explain how a clear and prominent warning on the exact complication at issue can be “not relevant.”  We will leave it at that.

So is there room for hope? As we observed in connection with another Missouri case a few weeks ago, time will tell.  Whatever the future holds, we are betting that Barron v. Abbott Laboratories will be in the running for the worst opinions of 2017.  Time (and Bexis) will tell.