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Abstract

In June 2017, the U.S. Supreme Court tightened the specific jurisdiction doctrine when it dismissed several plaintiffs’ claims in a mass tort action against pharmaceutical company Bristol-Myers Squibb (BMS) for lack of personal jurisdiction. The action was brought in a California state court and involved several hundred plaintiffs alleging that they were injured by Plavix, a drug BMS manufactures. The Supreme Court held that California could not constitutionally exercise personal jurisdiction over BMS as to the nonresident plaintiffs, who did not have an independent connection to California. While the nonresident plaintiffs argued that California had specific jurisdiction because their claims were identical to the California residents’ claims (with the only difference being that their experience with Plavix occurred in other states), the Court held that these claims did not arise out of BMS’s contacts with California, but rather out of BMS’s contacts with the particular states in which these plaintiffs were injured. In so holding, the Court emphasized that enabling California to exercise jurisdiction in this context would infringe on the sovereignty of other states—more specifically, the states who housed the nonresident plaintiffs involved in the action. This Note explores whether class actions should be bound by this decision. The fundamental question, then, is whether class actions are meaningfully distinguishable from mass tort actions such that they avoid Bristol-Myers’s reach.

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