In Bristol-Myers Squibb Co. v. Superior Court, 137 S. Ct. 1773 (2017), the U.S. Supreme Court held that the California state courts lacked personal jurisdiction over claims made by out-of-state plaintiffs in a mass action, where the plaintiffs did not claim that they were harmed in California and the defendant’s relevant conduct did not occur in California. (See my June 22, 2017 blog post for a more extensive summary of the decision.) There has been some debate about whether this decision applies to a class action, and whether it applies in federal court.
A Northern District of Illinois decision recently addressed this issue in the context of a nationwide putative class action against a distributor of a dietary supplement. DeBernardis v. NBTY, Inc., 2018 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 7947 (N.D. Ill. Jan. 18, 2018). While noting that there has been a split of authority among district courts nationwide, and that it was a “close question,” the court dismissed the plaintiff’s claims to the extent they were asserted on behalf of putative out-of-state class members, explaining that:
The Court believes that it is more likely than not based on the Supreme Court’s comments about federalism that the courts will apply Bristol-Myers Squibb to outlaw nationwide class actions in a form, such as in this case, where there is no general jurisdiction over the Defendants. There is also the issue of forum shopping, which was mentioned in the Chinese DryWall case as a basis for distinguishing mass torts from class actions, but possible forum shopping is just as present in multi-state class actions.
Defendants should closely monitor developments on this important issue. It is likely worth raising not only in the context of a nationwide class action but also in a multi-state class action. Some plaintiffs’ lawyers are bringing simultaneous or serial statewide class actions individually, which avoids the impact of this decision. Another approach is for plaintiffs’ lawyers to bring a nationwide or multistate class action in a jurisdiction where the defendant is subject to general jurisdiction, such as the state of incorporation or principal place of business.