Supreme Court Rules Against Out-of-State Plavix Patients Suing BMS in California

June 20, 2017

The Supreme Court of the United States has determined that a group of nonresident plaintiffs may not sue Bristol-Myers Squibb (BMS) in California state court, as neither these patients nor the pharmaceutical company reside in that state. The ruling could have important implications for lawsuits seeking compensation for alleged harms.

The Supreme Court of the United States has determined that a group of nonresident plaintiffs may not sue Bristol-Myers Squibb (BMS) in California state court, as neither these patients nor the pharmaceutical company reside in that state. The ruling could have important implications for lawsuits seeking compensation for alleged harms.

According to the opinion delivered by Justice Samuel Alito, a civil action suit was brought by 678 plaintiffs who alleged that the blood thinner Plavix had harmed their health. BMS, the manufacturer and seller of Plavix, is based on the East Coast, and “did not develop […] create a marketing strategy [...] [or] manufacture, label, package, or work on the regulatory approval of the product in California.” Essentially, the only Plavix-related action taken by BMS in California was to sell the drug, resulting in $900 million in sales between 2006 and 2012.

The 8-1 ruling in the nation’s highest court, with only Justice Sonia Sotomayor dissenting, overturned a prior ruling from the California Court of Appeal, which found that California state courts had specific jurisdiction over the claims, although all but 86 of the plaintiffs were not state residents. The California Supreme Court had previously agreed with the appeal court that jurisdiction existed because BMS had “wide ranging” contacts with the state and because “both the resident and nonresident plaintiffs’ claims are based on the same allegedly defective product.”

The Supreme Court did not find merit in these claims, pointing out that none of the nonresident plaintiffs were prescribed Plavix by physicians in California, nor did their injuries occur or necessitate treatment while they were in California. BMS did not undertake any research on Plavix in California, but the plaintiffs argued that it had conducted unrelated research there, which the justices called irrelevant.

“What is needed—and what is missing here—is a connection between the forum and the specific claims at issue,” the opinion stated.

The majority opinion dismissed fears that the decision would prevent plaintiffs from multiple states from entering a consolidated suit in states that have jurisdiction over the accused party or from having plaintiffs in each state sue together. “Our straightforward application in this case of settled principles of personal jurisdiction will not result in the parade of horribles that respondents conjure up,” it admonished.

However, these were the concerns expressed by Sotomayor in her dissenting opinion, where she argued that the ruling “will make it difficult to aggregate the claims of plaintiffs across the country whose claims may be worth little alone.” The approach of filing separate lawsuits in each state “will result in piecemeal litigation and the bifurcation of claims,” she cautioned. Sotomayor also raised the question of how plaintiffs could bring a suit against multiple defendants with headquarters in different states or against a defendant not headquartered in the country.

Despite the objections of Sotomayor, the majority ruling sets a precedent that will have important implications for product liability lawsuits against the pharmaceutical industry and others.