There’s No Place Like Home: United States Supreme Court Reaffirms Daimler, Sends Out-of-State Plaintiffs Packing In Two Highly Anticipated Cases

The United States Supreme Court has issued two highly-anticipated personal jurisdiction decisions limiting suits against defendants who are not “at home” in a state, or alternatively, did not commit a wrongful act in that state.

Specific Jurisdiction

“General jurisdiction” exists over a defendant only where it is “at home,” generally where it is incorporated or has its principal place of business.  “Specific jurisdiction” exists only when the claims in a lawsuit arises out of a defendant’s connection to the jurisdiction, such as selling products. The Supreme Court reaffirmed these limits on jurisdiction in Bristol-Myers Squibb Co. v. Superior Court of California, San Francisco County, No. 16-466 (June 19, 2017).

Some 678 plaintiffs (592 of whom were out-of-state residents) filed suit in California state court against Bristol-Myers Squibb Company (“BMS”), asserting various state-law claims based on injuries allegedly caused by a BMS drug called Plavix. BMS moved to quash the non-residents’ suits for lack of jurisdiction. BMS was headquartered and incorporated outside California, so there was no general jurisdiction. Despite the fact that the nonresidents had not taken the drug in California, the California Supreme Court held that California courts had “specific jurisdiction to entertain the nonresidents’ claims.”  The United States Supreme Court reversed.

The California Supreme Court had applied a “sliding scale approach to specific jurisdiction,” finding that BMS’s “extensive contacts with California” permitted a “less direct connection between BMS’s forum activities and plaintiffs’ claims than might otherwise be required.” Because the claims of both the resident plaintiffs and non-resident plaintiffs were similar and “based on the same allegedly defective product and the . . . misleading marketing and promotion of that product,” the “less direct connection” requirement as met. Thus, the court reasoned, it had personal jurisdiction over all the claims of all the plaintiffs, even in the absence of any California conduct as to the out-of-state plaintiffs.

The Supreme Court rejected this in no uncertain terms:

“Under the California approach, the strength of the requisite connection between the forum and the specific claims at issue is relaxed if the defendant has extensive forum contacts that are unrelated to those claims. Our cases provide no support for this approach, which resembles a loose and spurious form of general jurisdiction. For specific jurisdiction, a defendant’s general connections with the forum are not enough….What is needed—and what is missing here—is a connection between the forum and the specific claims at issue.”

This is true even if the defendant would suffer minimal or no inconvenience, even if the defendant has extensive contacts with the state, even if the forum had a strong interest in the application of its laws, and even if the forum state were the most convenient location for the litigation. Bristol-Myers should serve to help defendants limit the jurisdictions in which suit may properly be brought, and reduce forum-shopping in mass tort and perhaps other cases.

General Jurisdiction

On the issue of general jurisdiction, BNSF Railway Co. v. Tyrrell, No. 16-405 (May 30, 2017), the Supreme Court made clear that its 2014 ruling in Daimler AG v. Bauman precludes the exercise of general jurisdiction over a non-resident defendant unless that defendant has contacts which are so “continuous and systematic” so as to render that defendant essentially at home in the forum state. Thus, the Court rejected multiple theories on which plaintiff attempted to justify jurisdiction over BNSF in Montana.

First, it ruled that the Federal Employers’ Liability Act (“FELA”), a federal law that allows railroad workers to sue their employers for injuries that occur on the job, does not itself create a special rule authorizing jurisdiction over railroads just because they happen to do business in a particular place. Second, and most notably, the Court held that a Montana law that allows courts in the state to exercise jurisdiction over “persons found” was in violation of the Constitution. That is, even if BNSF conceded that it is “found” in Montana, the Court held that exercising jurisdiction over BNSF must still be consistent with the Due Process clause. Under its earlier decision, the Court explained, BNSF Railway can only be sued in Montana if it is “at home” there – something which normally means that the company is either incorporated in the state or has its principal place of business there.

With neither of those criteria met, the railroad was not so “heavily engaged in activity” in Montana as to present the kind of “exceptional” case in which jurisdiction could exist even outside the company’s state of incorporation and principal place of business. Thus, although BNSF could be sued in Montana for claims that are related to its business in Montana, it could not be sued there for claims that aren’t related to anything it did within the state.

Analysis

The Court’s two defense-friendly decisions on jurisdiction should bode well for defendants challenging jurisdiction, even in cases outside these specific factual contexts. General jurisdiction can only exist where a defendant is actually “at home,” and creative efforts – such as California’s “sliding scale” – will not pass constitutional muster to establish specific jurisdiction without a clear connection, such as a wrongful act, actually occurring in the forum state.

No Jurisdiction Over Out-of-State Defendant Registered to Do Business in Missouri

The Missouri Supreme Court recently held that an out-of-state defendant was not subject to jurisdiction in Missouri simply because it was registered to do business in Missouri and conducted activities there similar to those in other states. This decision reinforces the Missouri judiciary’s recent trend of limiting personal jurisdiction in cases with out-of-state defendants and is consistent with decisions around the country holding that registration does not confer jurisdiction.

In State ex rel. Norfolk Southern Railroad Co. v. The Honorable Collen Dolan, 2017 Mo. LEXIS 66 (Mo. Feb. 28, 2017) the Supreme Court of Missouri dismissed Norfolk Southern Railway Company (“Norfolk”) for lack of personal jurisdiction. The plaintiff brought suit against Norfolk for injuries he sustained while employed in Indiana. Norfolk is principally located and incorporated in Virginia. Norfolk annually complies with Missouri’s foreign business registration statutes by registering with Missouri and designating a registered agent for service of process. Norfolk conducts substantial business and owns property in Missouri. However, Norfolk also operates railroad tracks and conducts substantial business in at least 22 states and its business in Missouri accounts for only 2 percent of its nationwide business activity.

The Missouri Supreme Court determined that Norfolk was subject to neither general nor specific jurisdiction. Under the governing United States Supreme Court decision, Daimler AG v. Bauman,134 S. Ct. 746, 754 (2014), a court can normally exercise general jurisdiction over a corporation only when the corporation’s place of incorporation or its principal place of business is in the forum state. Because Norfolk was not headquartered or incorporated in Missouri, the court evaluated whether Norfolk represented an “exceptional case” where the contacts are so substantial and of such a nature as to render the corporation at home in that State.

Applying Daimler, the Missouri Supreme Court explained that such an exceptional case requires comparing the corporation’s activities in the forum state with its activities in other states through “an appraisal of a corporation’s activities in their entirety, nationwide and worldwide.” Because Norfolk’s business in Missouri constitutes only 2% percent of its total revenue and Norfolk conducts substantial business in 22 other states, the court declined to exert general jurisdiction over Norfolk.

Plaintiff argued, consistent with a multitude of rulings in Missouri’s lower courts, that Norfolk’s registration as a foreign corporation in Missouri equated to its consent to personal jurisdiction in Missouri. The court rejected this argument, holding that a foreign corporation’s business registration in Missouri “does not provide an independent basis for broadening Missouri’s personal jurisdiction to include suits unrelated to the corporation’s activities in Missouri when the usual bases for general jurisdiction are not present.”

The court also rejected multiple theories advanced by plaintiff to support specific jurisdiction over Norfolk. A court has specific jurisdiction if the defendant’s acts took place in the forum state, and here, the plaintiff pleaded no facts alleging the injury arose from Norfolk’s Missouri activities. Further, the Norfolk court found the fact that Norfolk engaged in the same “type” of business in the forum state and the state where the injury occurred irrelevant. A ruling otherwise would render every national corporation subject to specific jurisdiction in every state in which it conducted business regardless of where the injury occurred.

St. Louis Jurisdiction Determined As of Now, Not At Time of Exposure Decades Ago

A St. Louis court recently granted a defense motion to dismiss on jurisdictional grounds, which may signal an increased willingness to decline to impose jurisdiction over foreign corporations that do no currently conduct business in Missouri. The court’s analysis measured the corporation’s contacts at the present time, not at the time of exposure decades ago. This ruling is in opposition of the trend of allowing plaintiffs to forum shop in the 22nd Judicial Circuit in the City of St. Louis, which has quadrupled its asbestos-related lawsuits since 2010 and is now the fourth largest asbestos docket in the country.

In McGill v. Conwed, plaintiff allegedly sustained occupational exposure to asbestos while working as a laborer and carpenter in Kansas, Oklahoma, and Missouri from 1966 to 1976. During his deposition, plaintiff testified that his work with Conwed ceiling tiles occurred within Kansas. Conwed is not incorporated or principally located in Missouri. Conwed ceased manufacturing ceiling tiles in 1985.

As a result, Conwed moved to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction. Conwed argued that Missouri lacks specific jurisdiction because the claim does not arise out of any conduct within Missouri. Conwed argued that the court lacked general jurisdiction because Conwed ceased manufacturing operations in Missouri in 1985; has not conducted business in Missouri since that time; is not registered to do business in Missouri; has no subsidiary in Missouri; does not have a registered agent in Missouri; and does not own property or advertise in Missouri.

Conwed bolstered its argument with another recent St. Louis case, Smith v. Union Carbide, in which the court granted a motion to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction filed by DuPont, a company with greater contacts to Missouri. In that case, the claim emanated from alleged exposure to DuPont in Oklahoma, therefore defeating specific jurisdiction. While DuPont was neither incorporated nor had its principal place of business in Missouri, it had a subsidiary and registered agent in Missouri. Nonetheless, DuPont’s lack of incorporation and principal place of business in Missouri was sufficient for the court to decline to exert general personal jurisdiction.

On January 19, 2017, Judge Joan Moriarty, one of two primary asbestos judges in St. Louis, granted Conwed’s motion to dismiss. Judge Moriarty agreed that no basis existed to assert special jurisdiction because the claim against Conwed did not arise out of exposure to any Conwed product or service in Missouri. Further, Judge Moriarty declined to exert general jurisdiction over Conwed, stating that “Conwed undeniably would have been amenable to suit in Missouri prior to 1985, when it did regular and systematic business in Missouri. But now it has no business in Missouri, and has not for over 30 years.” Because Conwed did not currently have systemic, continuous, and substantial connections with Missouri, there was no general personal jurisdiction. Notably, the court reached its decision without mentioning the United States Supreme Court’s ruling in Daimler AG v. Bauman, the controlling decision on personal jurisdiction.

This ruling has positive ramifications for out-of-state defendants litigating asbestos products liability claims in St. Louis. As Judge Moriarty is one of only two asbestos judges presiding in St. Louis, it can be expected that the decision in McGill v. Conwed will result in an increase in the amount of out-of-state defendants (particularly those who are not currently registered to do business in Missouri) filing and winning personal jurisdiction motions.

California Greenlights “Jurisdiction by Joinder” in Mass Tort Cases

9-1The California Supreme Court earlier this week issued an opinion that, in the words of the dissent, allows for “jurisdiction by joinder.” (Bristol-Myers Squibb Co. v. Superior Court (Anderson), Case No. S221038.) Plaintiffs with claims arising wholly outside California, against non-California defendants, may nevertheless be entitled to jurisdiction in a California court. The keys appear to be (a) whether the claims are similar to those of California residents (b) who are also plaintiffs in the suit (c) against a defendant that conducts significant activity in California as well as elsewhere. While Bristol-Myers most directly applies to large entities in mass tort cases, its rationale could well extend to any lawsuit in which a product was sold or activity conducted in multiple states. The 4-3 decision may also be the subject of a petition for certiorari to the United States Supreme Court.

“Bristol-Myers Squibb Company (BMS), a pharmaceutical manufacturer, conducts significant business and research activities in California but is neither incorporated nor headquartered here.” Eight California lawsuits were filed against it related to BMS’s drug Plavix. Plaintiffs were 86 California residents and 592 nonresidents. None of the residents purchased the drug in or from California, or had other relevant contacts with the state.

The opinion recognizes that “BMS’s business contacts in California are insufficient to invoke general jurisdiction,” because under Daimler AG v. Bauman (2014) 571 U.S. __ , 134 S.Ct. 746, 187 L.Ed.2d 624 that is restricted to a corporation’s state of incorporation or principal place of business. (We have blogged about Daimler and its progeny before: California Court rules no jurisdiction over foreign parent corporations; No in state dealings for years – no jurisdictionOut of state defendant? Out of state exposure? File suit somewhere else; Registered in Delaware Is Not At “Home” There; and A More Personal Touch: Challenge to Madison County Jurisdiction.) Bristol-Myers held, however, that “the company’s California activities are sufficiently related to the nonresident plaintiffs’ suits to support the invocation of specific jurisdiction.”

The court found that it was undisputed that there was specific jurisdiction over the California plaintiffs’ claims, and found that there should be jurisdiction over the nonresidents’ claims as well because “BMS sold Plavix to both the California plaintiffs and the nonresident plaintiffs as part of a common nationwide course of distribution.”

The California activities that Bristol-Myers found “related” to the nonresident plaintiffs’ claims: “BMS’s extensive contacts with California, encompassing extensive marketing and distribution of Plavix, hundreds of millions of dollars of revenue from Plavix sales, a relationship with a California distributor, substantial research and development facilities, and hundreds of California employees” is enough for California courts to “exercise specific personal jurisdiction over nonresident plaintiffs’ claims in this action, which arise from the same course of conduct that gave rise to California plaintiffs‘ claims: BMS’s development and nationwide marketing and distribution of Plavix.”

Bristol-Myers pointed out that the court had previously “adopted a sliding scale approach to specific jurisdiction,” such that that “the more wide ranging the defendant‘s forum contacts, the more readily is shown a connection between the forum contacts and the claim.” Specific jurisdiction is thus proper in this case because “BMS’s contacts with California are substantial and the company has enjoyed sizeable revenues from the sales of its product here — the very product that is the subject of the claims of all of the plaintiffs.”

The court identified several California interests in the joint litigation. One is that “evidence of the injuries allegedly suffered by the nonresident plaintiffs may be relevant and admissible to prove that Plavix similarly injured the California plaintiffs,” so “trying their cases together with those of nonresident plaintiffs could promote efficient adjudication of California residents’ claims.” Similarly, the court was concerned that “separating the nonresident plaintiffs from the resident plaintiffs and forcing the nonresidents to sue in other states” could result in “delays in the California proceedings that would be created by the litigation and appeals of discovery and factual conflicts in the various other forums.” A further, case-specific reason was that “California also has an interest in regulating the conduct of BMS’s codefendant, McKesson Corporation, which is headquartered in California, as a joint defendant with BMS.”

As the dissenting opinion stated: “The majority expands specific jurisdiction to the point that, for a large category of defendants, it becomes indistinguishable from general jurisdiction.” The dissent argued that “mere similarity of claims is an insufficient basis for specific jurisdiction. The claims of real parties in interest, nonresidents injured by their use of Plavix they purchased and used in other states, in no sense arise from BMS’s marketing and sales of Plavix in California, or from any of BMS’s other activities in this state.” The dissent quoted with approval a law review article on the Court of Appeal’s decision: “The claims of the California and nonresident plaintiffs are merely parallel.”

Although the majority opinion was couched in terms of “the particular circumstances of this case,” the dissent looked to the broader precedent being set.

“[T]he majority notes that BMS maintains some research facilities in California, although the majority concedes Plavix was not developed in those facilities. … This second ground of relatedness is both illogical and startling in its potential breadth. Because BMS has performed research on other drugs in California, claims of injury from Plavix may, according to the majority, be adjudicated in this state. Will we in the next case decide that a company may be sued in California for dismissing an employee in Florida because on another occasion it fired a different employee in California, or that an Illinois resident can sue his automobile insurer here for bad faith because the defendant sells health care policies in the California market?”

“As California holds a substantial portion of the United States population, any company selling a product or service nationwide, regardless of where it is incorporated or headquartered, is likely to do a substantial part of its business in California. Under the majority’s theory of specific jurisdiction, California provides a forum for plaintiffs from any number of states to join with California plaintiffs seeking redress for injuries from virtually any course of business conduct a defendant has pursued on a nationwide basis, without any showing of a relationship between the defendant’s conduct in California and the nonresident plaintiffs’ claims. The majority thus sanctions our state to regularly adjudicate disputes arising purely from conduct in other states, brought by nonresidents who suffered no injury here, against companies who are not at home here but simply do business in the state.”

The dissent took issue with other reasons proffered by the majority. While “[t]he majority argues that taking jurisdiction over the nonresidents’ claims furthers a California interest because evidence of their injuries may be admissible to help the California plaintiffs prove Plavix was a defective product,”  the dissent pointed out that “admissibility of other injuries does not depend on joinder of the other injured person.” The majority thought that joint litigation would help the California plaintiffs, but the dissent pointed out that there are many other Plavix suits in other courts around the country. “Whether or not real parties’ claims are heard together with those of the California plaintiffs, inefficiency and the potential for conflicting rulings will exist so long as actions are simultaneously pending in several state and federal courts….No mechanism exists for centralizing nationwide litigation in a state court; there is no means by which pending actions in Illinois courts, for example, can be transferred to a California court.”

The dissent also answered the question, what’s the superlative of “red herring?”

“Finally, the majority asserts that California’s interest in regulating the conduct of codefendant McKesson Corporation (McKesson), a pharmaceutical distributor headquartered in California, justifies adjudicating real parties’ claims against BMS in a California court.…Of all the majority’s red herrings, this is perhaps the ruddiest.” Because of course the question is jurisdiction against Bristol-Myers, not the co-defendant (and there was question as to its role anyway). Research indicates this is the first use of “ruddiest” in a reported California decision. It may not be the last.

As stated above, while Bristol-Myers most directly applies to large entities in mass tort cases, its rationale could well extend to any lawsuit in which a product was sold or an activity conducted in multiple states. The most significant limitation appears to be that a nonresident plaintiff still may not be able to challenge a nonresident defendant in California courts alone; the nonresident needs to find California plaintiffs with similar claims. In any event, counsel who have been advising clients that the Daimler decision forecloses claims in California courts based on general jurisdiction should re-examine that position in light of the Bristol-Myers ruling on specific jurisdiction.

How Much is too Much? Counsel’s Active Conduct in Asbestos Suit Results in Forfeiture of Jurisdictional Defense

Since the jurisdictionU.S. Supreme Court handed down Daimler AG v. Bauman 134 S.Ct. 746 (2014), personal jurisdiction defenses have experienced a renaissance in asbestos litigation.  Defendants that wish to win such arguments, however, are well advised to heed a recent ruling by Judge Gibney, who presides over Rhode Island’s state court asbestos docket.  In Bazor v. Abex Corporation et al., C.A. No. PC-10-3965 (R.I. Super. May 2, 2016), Judge Gibney issued a ruling that is instructive on what a defendant must do to preserve its right to contest jurisdiction, holding that a defense counsel’s “active conduct constitute[d] forfeiture of the defense of lack of personal jurisdiction.”  The court referred to “forfeiture” as opposed to “waiver” because the defendant had properly asserted the lack of personal jurisdiction as a special defense.

In this instance, the “active participation” included the following conduct during the two years and nine months between the filing of an answer and the motion to dismiss: filing an objection to the trial date, attending a plaintiff’s deposition, requesting and participating in the reopening of that deposition, participating in the deposition of the plaintiffs’ expert, objecting to the expert’s deposition on non-jurisdictional grounds, disclosing eight  expert witnesses, filing 15 motions in limine, supplementing its expert witness disclosure, producing two expert witnesses for depositions, responding to discovery (without preserving the defense of lack of personal jurisdiction), supplementing its expert discovery, moving to compel the production of the plaintiffs’ bankruptcy trust documents, and participating in at least ten status/settlement conferences.  In short, defense counsel’s very active participation in the litigation was so active so as to constitute “forfeiture” of a claim of lack of personal jurisdiction.

Looking to federal jurisprudence for guidance, the court focused on defense counsel’s litany of activity over several years.  Synthesizing federal decisions, the court identified two  principal elements to weigh to determine whether a defense of personal jurisdiction is forfeited: (a) the delay in asserting the defense; and (b) the “nature and extent” of the defendant’s involvement in the case.  The court noted that the first factor could be met by as little as four months’ delay; but reasoned that the second factor weighed more heavily than the mere passage of time.  With regard to the second factor, the court cited defendant’s filing of an appearance, participation in discovery, attending and taking depositions, and filing and opposing motions as evidence of active participation.  Notably, the court found that the defendant had created “substantial delay” without “a sufficiently meritorious reason” for failing to assert its defense for two years and nine months after the filing of its answer.  The level of participation appears to have been the deciding factor; with special attention brought to “the fifteen motions in limine [defendant] filed which sought merits-based rulings” and the failure to continually assert the defense throughout the course of litigation.  However, of concern is that the ruling did nothing to establish a “bright line” rule of precisely how much participation is “too much” so as to result in a forfeiture of a jurisdictional defense.

It is unclear where this decision leaves litigants who need to participate in early discovery and who also want to preserve their jurisdictional defenses.  Defendants who wish to maintain their defenses are faced with choosing from various interpretations of the Bazor decision, focusing on the assertion of their rights and carefully monitoring the level of their participation.  The decision could reasonably be read to indicate that a party may participate in discovery, but only if they continue to maintain and pursue their jurisdictional defense.  Alternatively, some parties may refuse to participate in non-jurisdictional discovery for fear of inadvertent forfeiture. This may create friction with plaintiff’s counsel when their clients are in poor health, which frequently occurs in asbestos cases across the country.  Ultimately, the lesson of Bazor may be that safest resolution for defense counsel will be to file and pursue dispositive jurisdictional motions as early in the case as possible.  At the very least, defense counsel should raise the defense in pleadings and discovery which precede the filing of the motion to dismiss on jurisdictional grounds and/or reach some sort of agreement with opposing counsel to prevent forfeiture despite some level of active participation in the case. For example, defense counsel in the asbestos litigation should obtain a stipulation that attendance at an exigent deposition does not constitute a waiver of personal jurisdiction arguments; and that stipulation should be placed on the record.

A More Personal Touch: Challenge to Madison County Jurisdiction Ordered Forward

6-7On May 25, 2016, the Illinois Supreme Court ordered the Fifth District Appellate Court of Illinois to hear Ford Motor Company’s appeal on a motion to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction, which had been denied by Honorable Judge Stephen A. Stobbs, the presiding asbestos judge in Madison County. Because Madison County has long been a magnet for out-of-state plaintiffs, this appeal could have widespread ramifications for out-of-state corporations, particularly those involved in mass-tort litigation. A ruling in favor of Ford would significantly impede plaintiffs’ ability to forum shop in plaintiff-friendly jurisdictions such as Madison County.

In Jeffs v. Anco Insulations, Inc., plaintiff alleges that the decedent was exposed to asbestos-containing products through his work as a union insulator at various sites. Decedent worked at the Ford plant in Michigan for six weeks in the 1970’s, but was not exposed to any Ford product or facility in Illinois.

In June 2015, Ford moved to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction. Ford relied primarily on the United States Supreme Court’s ruling in Daimler AG v. Bauman, which established that a court may assert jurisdiction over a foreign corporation “only when the corporation’s affiliations with the State in which suit is brought are so constant and pervasive as to render [it] essentially ‘at home’ in that forum State.” (This is an issue that we have blogged about before – California Court rules no jurisdiction over foreign parent corporations; No in state dealings for years – no jurisdictionOut of state defendant? Out of state exposure? File suit somewhere else; and Registered in Delaware Is Not At “Home” There.) Under the Daimler analysis, a corporation is generally “at home” only at its place of incorporation or principal place of business. Because Ford’s state of incorporation is Delaware and its principal place of business is in Michigan, Ford argued that the court could not impose jurisdiction.

In November 2015, Judge Stobbs denied Ford’s motion. Despite the standard articulated in Daimler, Judge Stobbs ruled that Ford is subject to jurisdiction in Illinois due to its substantial contacts with the state. Judge Stobbs noted that Ford conducts business in Illinois, owns real property in Illinois, has employees in Illinois, and has acquiesced to jurisdiction in Illinois in previous suits. Judge Stobbs further found that Ford provided “unequivocal consent to jurisdiction in Illinois” by virtue of its Illinois business license and appointment of a registered agent to accept process. To further bolster his decision, Stobbs relied on Ford’s recently filed brief in a separate case, Folta v. Ferro Engineering, in which Ford explicitly acknowledged its significant operations and monetary investments in Illinois.

After Judge Stobbs issued his ruling, Ford sought leave to appeal the decision. On February 10, 2016, a three member panel of the Fifth District denied Ford’s petition. Undeterred, Ford filed a motion for a supervisory order with the Illinois Supreme Court, which the court granted. A supervisory order is granted only in limited circumstances when the lower court acted in excess of its authority or abused its discretionary authority. As such, the granting of this supervisory order suggests that the Illinois Supreme Court finds Ford’s position meritorious.

A ruling in favor of Ford would undoubtedly be followed by an onslaught of personal jurisdiction motions, particularly for those out-of-state defendants caught in the web of Madison County asbestos litigation. Most of the active defendants have little or no connection with Illinois, and many cases involve non-Illinois exposures. In the interim, it remains to be seen whether Judge Stobbs will entertain any additional personal jurisdiction motions or simply stay them pending a ruling from the Fifth District Appellate Court.

Registered in Delaware Is Not At “Home” There: Not Enough For General Jurisdiction

4-21Earlier this week, the Supreme Court for the State of Delaware ruled that a corporation registered in Delaware was nevertheless not subject to general jurisdiction in Delaware. Genuine Auto Parts v. Cepec. This was a decision of some substance, generating a written opinion of some 44 pages responding to the arguments and briefs of not only the plaintiff and defendant, but also several amicus curiae briefs. This is an issue that we have blogged about before (California Court rules no jurisdiction over foreign parent corporations; No in state dealings for years – no jurisdiction; and Out of state defendant? Out of state exposure? File suit somewhere else).

The court framed the issue succinctly:

This interlocutory appeal raises the singular issue of whether Delaware may exercise general jurisdiction over a foreign corporation for claims having nothing to do with Delaware, as price for the corporation agreeing simply to be able to do business in Delaware.

Cepek reversed the decision of the court below, finding that Daimler AG v. Bauman, 134 S. Ct. 746 (2014) “fundamentally undermined” earlier jurisprudence regarding jurisdiction.

Daimler makes plain that it is inconsistent with principles of due process to exercise general jurisdiction over a foreign corporation that is not “essentially at home” in a state for claims having no rational connection to the state.

This was so despite the existence of a Delaware long-arm statute and a Delaware registration statute that had previously been interpreted as effectuating a “consent” to general jurisdiction by foreign corporations registering in Delaware. This is a recurring argument for the plaintiffs’ bar in its efforts to evade or limit Daimler. Cepek explicitly addressed this issue and found that the weight of authority is that registration or similar activity is not enough to evade Daimler.

The plaintiffs’ selection of Delaware as the location of filing may have been driven by the fact that 5 of 7 defendants present in the case were incorporated in Delaware. But Genuine Auto Parts is a Georgia corporation and the alleged exposures occurred in Georgia. Genuine Auto Parts had registered in Delaware and appointed an agent for service of process in Delaware. Plaintiffs argued that by registering in Delaware, Genuine Auto Parts had “consented” to general jurisdiction and prior cases in Delaware supported this contention. Plaintiffs argued that this “consent” rendered this case immune to an application of the logic of Daimler.

This decision is important for at least three reasons. First, the Supreme Court for the State of Delaware acknowledged that Daimler “made a major shift in our nation’s personal jurisdiction jurisprudence” that superseded the numerous prior decisions upon which the plaintiffs relied.

Second, the court supports its decision with strikingly pro-business language, stating:

Every state in the union, and the District of Columbia, has enacted a registration statute that requires foreign corporations to register to do business and appoint an in-state agent for service of process. As the home of a majority of the United States’ largest corporations, Delaware has a strong interest in avoiding overreaching in this sensitive area. If all our sister states were to exercise general jurisdiction over our many corporate citizens, who often as a practical matter must operate in all fifty states and worldwide to compete, that would be inefficient and reduce legal certainty for businesses. Human experience shows that “grasping” behavior by one can lead to grasping behavior by everyone, to the collective detriment of the common good. (emphasis added)

Third, where does this leave the plaintiffs’ bar in multi-defendant cases? For some reason, plaintiffs did not want to file this case in Georgia where the exposure occurred and the plaintiffs were located. It would seem logical that they would then pick a jurisdiction that was “home” to a majority of the defendants. This decision says that if they do so select, they may jeopardize their ability to pursue at least some defendants. What is the answer for the plaintiffs who want to pursue multiple defendants? One response is “file where the exposure occurred.” But what if the exposure occurred in several different states? This is just one of several issues that are yet to be worked out. In the meantime, the lack of clarity seems to inure to the benefit of at least some defendants.

Out-of-State Defendant? Out-of-State Exposure? File Suit Somewhere Else: Defendants Escape Jurisdiction in California Asbestos Case

On August 11, 2015, Judge Emilie Elias of the Superior Court for the County of Los Angeles granted 5 separate motions to quash on grounds that may be available to many non-California defendants. The case, Malek v. Blackmer Pump Co., involved a plaintiff who now resides in California, but for whom all the alleged exposures occurred while plaintiff resided in Iran. The moving parties relied on Daimler AG v. Bauman (2014) 134 S. Ct. 746, which, as this blog has previously reported (here and here), holds that jurisdiction rests only (1) where the tort occurred or (2) where the defendant is “at home,” such as where it has its principal place of business. Daimler held that a California court may not exercise general jurisdiction over a foreign company solely due to the in-state activities of its subsidiaries, but the principle is not limited to cases involving parent and subsidiary corporations.

The moving parties in this case, including John Crane, Inc., Fisher Controls, RJ Reynolds and Exxon Mobil, all are readily acknowledged to be “doing business” in California, but are not “at home” in California, so under the guidelines of Daimler California lacks special jurisdiction over them. Plaintiffs’ counsel, Weitz & Luxenberg, filed oppositions and argued the motions.

Judge Elias discussed with counsel the potential challenges that her ruling may present. Plaintiff’s counsel commented that they may be obliged to sue the dismissed defendants in other jurisdictions where they are “at home.” This presents the potential for multiple cases for the same plaintiff against different defendants in different jurisdictions. Nevertheless, Judge Elias felt she was bound by Daimler and subsequent California decisions, both federal and state.

For example, in Senne v. Kansas City Royals Baseball Corp., the Northern District of California made clear that the concept of “at home” in the context of general jurisdiction should be construed very narrowly – observing Daimler’s emphasis that merely [even] engaging in a “substantial, continuous and systematic course of business” is not enough to establish general jurisdiction.

Similarly, in BNSF Ry. Co. v. Superior Court, the California Court of Appeal applied Daimler in a directly analogous asbestos personal injury case to reverse the trial court’s exercise of general jurisdiction over a defendant with admittedly substantial and continuous business in California. Although the California Supreme Court has granted review and thereby depublished this decision, its rationale is likely to be followed, as it was in Malek.

For those cases in which asbestos plaintiffs seek to file suit in a jurisdiction in which they cannot establish special jurisdiction (i.e. where the tort occurred), and in which the target defendants are not “at home,” these authorities and the recent order of Judge Elias present significant challenges. At least in Los Angeles going forward, one can expect defendants to seriously consider motions to quash for their corporate defendants incorporated elsewhere and with corporate offices elsewhere.

No In-State Dealings For Years? No Jurisdiction

We previously analyzed the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Daimler A.G. v. Bauman and its effects on California personal jurisdiction law. We have been following the progress of courts applying this significant decision. Federal courts have now begun applying Bauman in the context of asbestos personal injury lawsuits, many hundreds of which are filed in state and federal courts each year in California alone.

The potentially far reaching impact of Bauman is demonstrated by the recent order of Judge Barry Ted Moskowitz of the United States District Court, Southern District of California.  The moving papers argued that there was a lack of personal jurisdiction over the defendant, a pump manufacturer defendant in a mesothelioma case, and the court agreed.  The defendant pump manufacturer had apparently sold pumps to a contractor for installation on Navy ships at shipyards in CA.  Admittedly the order of Judge Moskowitz relies upon the specific facts of the case, but the court’s analysis suggests that similar results may be found in favor of other defendants.

The court explained that there are two types of personal jurisdiction: general and specific.  Specific jurisdiction arises when the defendant’s contacts with the forum state gave rise to the suit.  Here, the plaintiffs did not claim that specific jurisdiction existed.   One could postulate specific jurisdiction, for example, in a case in which the pump was worked upon in the forum state, but apparently such facts did not exist in this case.

The court then moved to an assessment of general jurisdiction.  The court found that the evidence presented did not demonstrate that the defendant was “essentially at home” in California so as to establish general jurisdiction.  The court considered “all of the defendant’s contacts with the forum state over a period of years prior to the filing of the complaint,” commenting that typically courts have examined “a defendant’s contacts with the forum state over a period of three to seven years prior to the filing of the complaint.”

As in all asbestos cases, the exposure in question occurred decades ago, and in later years the contacts which the defendant in question had with California dwindled to nothing.  Indeed the evidence showed that the defendant had only one transaction in the state of California after 1986.

Not every defendant will be able to demonstrate such minimal contacts with the forum state as applicable in the instant case.  But how much contact will be necessary to show that a defendant is “essentially at home” in the forum state?  It would seem that many defendants may be in a position to argue that they are not.  No doubt other defendants will be testing the limits of this new standard for general personal jurisdiction whenever they sued in a forum other than the place where the alleged tortious conduct occurred.  We look forward to following the progress of such cases.

California Court Rules: No Jurisdiction Over Foreign Parent Corporations

This week in Young v. Daimler AG, the California Court of Appeal held that there is no general personal jurisdiction over foreign companies in California whose only “connections” to the state are the activities of its legally separate but wholly owned subsidiaries. This is the first appellate case in California applying the U.S. Supreme Court’s January 2014 decision on this issue, Daimler AG v. Bauman (2014) 134 S.Ct. 746.

Young is particularly significant because it abrogates an entire theory of general jurisdiction law in California — the “representative services doctrine” — and gives out-of-state and foreign defendants welcome protection from lawsuits in California, even if they have in-state subsidiaries doing substantial business. It is important to note that this case did not involve any other theory of jurisdiction, such as an “alter ego”-type of theory holding a foreign parent subject to jurisdiction in California, where its corporate formality-ignoring subsidiary operates.

The representative services doctrine, set forth in Sonora Diamond Corp. v. Superior Court (2000) 83 Cal.App.4th 523, held that general personal jurisdiction could be asserted over a foreign defendant if its in-state subsidiary performed “a function that is compatible with, and assists the parent in pursuit of, the parent’s own business.” In other words: “[I]f a parent uses a subsidiary to do what it otherwise would have done itself, it has purposely availed itself of the privilege of doing business in the forum. Jurisdiction over the parent is therefore proper.” This may describe many foreign parent-domestic subsidiary relationships, but the U.S. Supreme Court held in Bauman that it does not confer personal jurisdiction, and Young agrees.

This is not the only such case before the Court of Appeal on this very issue — Daimler AG v. Superior Court (Pierson) is scheduled for oral argument on August 18, 2014. Young and Pierson involve the same question, arising out of the same fact pattern: May a California state court exercise general personal jurisdiction over a foreign company, solely due to the in-state activities of its subsidiaries? Young, applying the U.S. Supreme Court’s Bauman decision, answered “no.” The California Supreme Court unanimously ordered in March 2014 that the Pierson plaintiffs show cause why service of summons on Daimler should not be quashed in light of Bauman. Pierson is before a different Court of Appeal district (the Third, in Sacramento) than was Young (the First, in San Francisco), but Pierson is likely to be decided the same way.

Young and Pierson are product liability cases involving Jeep vehicles manufactured by DaimlerChrysler before Chrysler’s split from Daimler AG and bankruptcy. Both plaintiffs pursued their claims against Daimler AG as the ultimate parent of DaimlerChrysler at the time the vehicles in question were manufactured.

In Young, the plaintiffsasked the court to apply the Ninth Circuit’s then-current decision in Bauman v. DaimlerChrysler Corp. (2011) 644 F.3d 909, which held that general jurisdiction over Daimler AG was appropriate in California because of the extensive activities of its indirect subsidiary Mercedes-Benz USA. This case cited the representative services doctrine as the source of its holding, that is, Mercedes-Benz USA’s activities in California were so important to Daimler AG that general jurisdiction over Daimler AG was appropriate.

In reversing the Ninth Circuit, the U.S. Supreme Court held in Bauman that the representative services doctrine “rested primarily on [the] observation that [American subsidiary] MBUSA’s services were ‘important’ to Daimler, as gauged by Daimler’s hypothetical readiness to perform those services itself if MBUSA did not exist. Formulated this way, the inquiry into importance stacks the deck, for it will always yield a pro-jurisdiction answer[.] . . . The Ninth Circuit’s agency theory thus appears to subject foreign corporations to general jurisdiction whenever they have an in-state subsidiary or affiliate, an outcome that would sweep beyond even the ‘sprawling view of general jurisdiction’ we rejected in” other cases.

Applying Bauman, Young affirmed the trial court’s grant of Daimler AG’s motion to quash service of summons and agreed that because Daimler AG itself did not do business in California, there was no general personal jurisdiction: “In our view, appellant’s argument impermissibly ‘elide[s] the essential difference between case-specific and all-purpose (general) jurisdiction. . . . Indeed, the test endorsed in Bauman . . . whether a foreign defendant is ‘essentially at home in the forum state’—focuses on the defendant’s significant corporate presence in the forum.”

Young recognized that this means the representative services doctrine is essentially dead: “While the Bauman II Court questioned the formulation and application of the Ninth Circuit’s agency test [the representative services doctrine], in the end it assumed agency and still concluded that MBUSA’s California contacts were insufficient to confer general jurisdiction in California.” This is hugely important to multistate and international businesses. Such defendants cannot be sued in California, even if their subsidiaries do substantial business in California. Young is a clear rejection of the representative services doctrine and the opinion did not limit the application of its decision to the particular facts of the case before it.

Out-of-state and foreign businesses participating in California’s economy through subsidiaries are common. Such businesses must remain careful to ensure that their subsidiaries observe corporate formalities and remain legally separate. Overall, however, Young brings California general jurisdiction law in line with U.S. Supreme Court precedent and will make establishing jurisdiction over out-of-state and foreign defendants significantly more difficult in the future.