Court Says Out-of-State Victims May Sue in California

California’s highest court upheld the rule of law that out-of-state victims can join California residents in suing a pharmaceutical company in California State Court where the claims and injuries are similar. This decision held that Bristol Myers Squibb, already being sued by hundreds of California residents for its marketing of the popular drug Plavix, is subject to suit by out of state victims as well. This recent Opinion is welcomed by plaintiff litigation firms across the country. Napoli Shkolnik PLLC was at the forefront of the battle to hold big pharmaceutical companies accountable for their products and the severe injuries they cause.

The California Supreme Court upheld a lower court’s ruling that although the company’s business contacts in the state weren’t sufficient to invoke general jurisdiction, which enables a court to exercise jurisdiction over a defendant no matter the subject of the litigation, state courts have specific personal jurisdiction over the company in light of the nature of the action and the company’s activities in California.

In considering the question of jurisdiction, the California Supreme Court first conceded Monday that BMS did not have significant business operations in California to meet the purposes of general jurisdiction, since most of its business is conducted outside of the state.

Four of the seven California Supreme Court justices diverted at that point, finding that California courts do hold specific jurisdiction over the pharmaceutical company.

But the state supreme court agreed that specific jurisdiction existed. Bristol-Myers’ “nationwide marketing, promotion and distribution of Plavix created a substantial nexus” between nonresidents’ claims and its California conduct, wrote Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye in a  majority opinion joined by Justices Goodwin Liu, Leondra Kruger and Mariano-Florentino Cuellar.

“Where a forum seeks to assert specific jurisdiction over an out-of-state defendant who has not consented to suit there, this fair warning requirement is satisfied if the defendant has purposefully directed his activities at residents of the forum and the litigation results from alleged injuries that arise out of or relate to those activities,” Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye

The majority tamped down fears the ruling would turn California into a mass torts destination, noting questions of specific jurisdiction would still turn on the “nature and quality of the defendant’s activities in the state.”

Three dissenting judges, led by Justice Kathryn Wedegar, reached a different conclusion, noting the decision granted specific jurisdiction entirely on the fact that Plavix was sold in California. The majority “sanctions our state to regularly adjudicate disputes arising purely from conduct in other states” in a manner “inconsistent with the limits set by due process,” Wedegar wrote. Shklonik said the cases would now move forward in the lower court, where California plaintiffs’ claims have been proceeding toward a series of early trial dates set to start in 2017. BMS was not immediately available for comment.

This Opinion ensures that affected individuals can hold large corporations responsible for their misleading marketing, promotion and distribution of dangerous & defective drugs and products. Napoli Shkolnik PLCC attorneys have been appointed to leadership positions in numerous litigations nationwide.

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