August 01, 2018 Articles

Analyzing Specific Jurisdiction in Class Actions: The Open Questions Left by Bristol-Myers Squibb

By Pravin Patel, Corey Brady, and Daniel Guernsey

Important threshold questions for class action plaintiffs are where to file suit and how to define their putative class. The U.S. Supreme Court’s application of specific jurisdiction principles in Bristol-Myers Squibb Co. v. Superior Court of California, 137 S. Ct. 1773 (2017), has cast doubt on the answers to these questions for class action plaintiffs, defendants, and courts. In fact, since Bristol-Myers was decided last year, courts around the country have split sharply on two fronts: whether it applies to federal courts and whether it applies to class actions. There is now no uniform specific jurisdiction analysis when a putative class of plaintiffs who were allegedly injured in different states file in a state where the defendant is not “at home”—let alone if that putative class action is filed in federal court.

This article begins with a close look at Bristol-Myers, including Justice Sotomayor’s dissent. Then it analyzes the competing positions that have taken root in different courts regarding Bristol-Myers’s applicability to federal courts and class actions, in order to aid practitioners and courts in navigating this unsettled territory. It concludes with a table depicting the breakdown among circuits.

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