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Supreme Court Ruling Affects Drug Lawsuit Plaintiffs

Supreme Court Ruling Affects Drug Lawsuit Plaintiffs

A June Supreme Court ruling is likely to change significantly the opportunities available to prospective drug lawsuit plaintiffs. In an 8-1 ruling in BRISTOL-MYERS SQUIBB CO. v. SUPERIOR COURT OF CALIFORNIA, SAN FRANCISCO COUNTY, ET AL. the Supreme Court ruled that either the individual plaintiff or the defendant corporation must have a significant connection to the venue in which the claim is filed.

This development could dramatically change recent practices in product liability litigation in which plaintiffs are able to sue large corporations in any state in which other plaintiffs have brought similar claims. In the Bristol-Myers case the Court ruled that plaintiffs from outside of California did not have standing to bring suit in California against Bristol-Myers, a Delaware company, headquartered in New York, with a significant presence in New Jersey. The plaintiffs in these cases are filing suit against Bristol-Myers for injuries suffered as a taking Plavix.

In recent months Pennsylvania has been an especially attractive venue for plaintiffs filing complex product litigations suits of all types, but it is this practice which could come to an end with the Supreme Court’s decision. The Court ruled that this type of “attenuated” personal jurisdiction will no longer be possible.

The initial impact of that ruling has been felt in Missouri where a judge last month dismissed 53 claims against Johnson & Johnson, the manufacturer of the anti-psychotic drug Risperdal. U.S. District Judge Stephen Limbaugh cited the Supreme Court ruling determining that neither he nor the State of Missouri had jurisdiction over out of state plaintiffs.

Kelsey Buckholtz, a spokesperson for Janssen, a subsidiary of Johnson & Johnson, did not indicate whether the company would pursue a similar strategy in opposing the Pennsylvania lawsuits, but supported the Supreme Court’s ruling in California:

“We believe the District Court in the Eastern District of Missouri acted appropriately in dismissing these 53 lawsuits by non-Missouri plaintiffs based on the recent Supreme Court decision. The District Court decision was clear that neither the state court nor federal court has jurisdiction over nonresidents’ claims.”

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