• February 13, 2017

Minnesota Litigator focuses primarily on news and comments about Minnesota civil litigation but we recently focused on the bigger picture of “dual federalism” and “subject matter jurisdiction.”

Now we look at another important issue: “personal jurisdiction.”

Since 2013, at least, we have argued that “U.S. jurisprudence on personal jurisdiction leaves something to be desired and the law needs an update.”

In a nutshell, the personal jurisdiction test looks at whether a defendant “purposefully availed itself of the privilege of conducting activities in [a particular state] and should, therefore, reasonably anticipate being haled into court therefore…” This analysis is circular, vague, and, in many cases (like this linked one), it seems, arbitrary.

According to our courts’ analyses, the answer to the “purposeful availment” question helps determine whether asserting personal jurisdiction “offends traditional notions of fair play and substantial justice.”

It is hard to articulate a more ambiguous, indefinite, and amorphous standard.

Also, as we argued previously, relying on “traditional notions” seems to be willfully oblivious to dramatic technological changes in our world. Forcing a Florida resident to litigate in Minnesota (or pick any other two states) is for obvious reasons much less onerous, “unfair,” and “offensive” in 2017 than it was in 1800 (or 1925, or even 1970, for that matter).

The question in Bristol-Myers Squibb Co. v. Superior Court is whether a non-California plaintiff can now bring a lawsuit against a non-California defendant in California state court consistent with the limits of the U.S. Constitution on personal jurisdiction.

The California Supreme Court ruled:

In sum, taking into account all of BMS’s activities in this state and their relation to the causes of action at issue here, we conclude that the second element of specific jurisdiction is met, and hence, absent a showing to the contrary by BMS, it would be consistent with due process for it to be subject to litigation in this state concerning injuries allegedly caused by its product Plavix, including those injuries occurring out of state. Not only did BMS purposefully avail itself of the benefits of California by its extensive marketing and distribution of Plavix in this state and by contracting with a California distributor and employing hundreds of California-based salespersons, resulting in its substantial sales of that product here, but the company also maintains significant research and development facilities in California. All of plaintiffs’ claims either arose from these activities or are related to those activities. The circumstance that numerous nonresident plaintiffs have filed their claims alongside those of resident plaintiffs does not alter or detract from this substantial nexus.

In our view, this is one of many legal questions that hinge on how long our court system will take to change and adapt to undeniable and irreversible social or technological changes. The question therefore is not whether it will adapt but how long it will take for them to do so.

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