Amicus Brief Urges Supreme Court To Limit Nationwide Class Actions

By Lawrence S. EbnerNovember 4, 2020
In Bristol-Myers Squibb Co. v. Superior Court of California, 137 S. Ct. 1773 (2017), the Supreme Court held that for a state court to assert “specific personal jurisdiction” over the claims of out-of-state plaintiffs in a “mass-action” suit, there must be a substantial connection between the nonresident plaintiffs’ claims and the conduct of the defendant in the state where the court is located. The Court did not address, however, whether the same jurisdictional principles apply to the claims of out-of-state class members in a federal class action.

 

More specifically, can a federal district court entertain a national or multi-state class action even though the court would have no jurisdiction over the nonresident class members’ claims if filed as individual suits?  Federal district courts are divided on this question, and whether, or how, Bristol-Myers applies. The petitioner in IQVIA, Inc. v. Mussat, No. 20-510, is asking the Supreme Court to review the class-action personal jurisdiction issue not addressed in Bristol-Myers, and hold that the principles of specific personal jurisdiction identified and applied in that also govern federal class actions.

 

I have filed an amicus brief on behalf of the Atlantic Legal Foundation urging the Supreme Court to grant review.

 

Issue Areas: Civil Justice; Class-Action Fairness; Free Enterprise

 

Case: IQVIA, Inc. v. Mussat, No. 20-510 (Sup. Ct.) (petition stage)

 

Question Presented:  Whether the principles of specific personal jurisdiction applicable to the claims of nonresident plaintiffs in a state-court mass  action also apply to the claims of nonresident members of a putative class in a federal district court class action.

 

Background:  The constitutional guarantee of due process of law requires federal and state courts to have personal jurisdiction over a defendant. Supreme Court case law recognizes two types of personal jurisdiction: (i) general (all-purpose) jurisdiction, where a corporation or individual is “at home” in the forum state, and (ii) specific (case-linked) jurisdiction, where a plaintiff’s claims must “arise out of or relate to” the defendant’s contacts with the forum state.

Bristol-Myers Squibb v. Superior Court of California, 137 S. Ct. 1773 (2017), was a prescription drug-related product liability “mass action” case filed in California state court on behalf of hundreds of aggregated named plaintiffs, many of whom resided outside of California and whose individual personal injury claims had no direct connection with the defendant’s activities in California. Applying “settled principles regarding specific jurisdiction,” the Supreme Court held that the state trial court lacked personal jurisdiction over the claims asserted by the nonresident plaintiffs because “what is missing . . . is a connection between the forum and the specific claims at issue.” 137 S. Ct. at 1781. As Justice Sotomayor noted in her dissenting opinion, however, the majority did not “confront the question whether its opinion . . . would apply to a class action in which a plaintiff injured in the forum State seeks to represent a nationwide class of plaintiffs, not all of whom were injured there.”  Id. at 1789 n.4 (Sotomayor, J., dissenting).

The plaintiff in IQVIA v. Mussat filed a putative class action in an Illinois federal district court on behalf of herself and everyone else in the United States who allegedly received certain unsolicited faxes from IQVIA, Inc. in violation of the federal Telephone Consumer Protection Act. Based on Bristol-Myers, the district court dismissed the suit for lack of personal jurisdiction. A Seventh Circuit panel (which included now Justice Amy Coney Barrett) reversed, holding that the specific jurisdiction principles applied in Bristol-Myers do not apply to nonresident class members in a federal class action. IQVIA has filed a petition for writ of certiorari urging the Supreme Court to address this issue.

ALF’s Amicus Brief:  On November 4, 2020, I filed on behalf of the Atlantic Legal Foundation an amicus brief urging the Court to grant review. ALF’s amicus brief argues that review should be granted (i) to secure uniformity of decision among federal courts concerning the effect of Bristol-Myers on federal class actions; (ii) to deter class-action forum shopping that has resulted from the Bristol-Myers decision; and (iii) to restore interstate federalism, the constitutional doctrine that each state is a coequal of all other states.

The petition for a writ of certiorari is pending before the Court.

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The Atlantic Legal Foundation is a national, nonprofit, nonpartisan, public interest law firm whose mission is to advocate for individual liberty, free enterprise, property rights, limited government, sound science in judicial and regulatory proceedings, and school choice.

Capital Appellate Advocacy founder Larry Ebner serves as Senior Vice President & General Counsel of the Atlantic Legal Foundation.