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April 13, 2017

Motley Rice files amicus brief on behalf of Public Justice ahead of U.S. Supreme Court arguments on plaintiffs’ access to out-of-state courts

On behalf of Public Justice P.C., a national public interest law firm, Motley Rice has filed an amicus brief in the U.S. Supreme Court seeking to preserve a California Supreme Court ruling protecting the ability of impacted out-of-state plaintiffs to join in mass tort claims filed in state courts where they don’t reside.   

The brief, written by a team led by Motley Rice attorney Louis Bograd, was filed April 7, 2017. Motley Rice attorney Anne McGinness Kearse, who currently serves as the President of the Public Justice Foundation Board, is co-counsel on the brief, along with Leslie Brueckner of Public Justice and Rebecca Phillips of Robins Cloud LLP.

Motley Rice filed the brief in opposition to medical drug manufacturer Bristol-Myers Squibb, which has asked the U.S. Supreme Court to limit the exercise of personal jurisdiction to states in which the defendant’s conduct was a proximate cause of the plaintiffs’ alleged injuries.

In the amicus brief, Motley Rice defended plaintiffs’ rights, arguing for the U.S. Supreme Court to affirm the California court’s ruling under the principle of “fair play and substantial justice” that has guided the Court’s personal jurisdiction jurisprudence ever since the landmark 1945 case International Shoe Co. v. Washington. The brief argued that the exercise of personal jurisdiction here is entirely consistent with Supreme Court precedents permitting suits in state court by out-of-state plaintiffs. The brief further argued that state courts have a long history of overseeing similar multi-state mass tort litigations and are well-equipped to do so.

The brief was filed after Bristol-Myers Squibb urged the Court to reverse a California Supreme Court ruling in a case involving personal injuries allegedly caused by the company’s anti-clotting medicine, Plavix. The state court had ruled that out-of-state plaintiffs should have access to California courts for claims that “arise out of or relate to” the manufacturer’s activities in the state, including its national marketing and promotional campaigns, and national labeling practices that influenced prescribing physicians and consumers across the country.

Under Bristol-Myers Squibb’s “extreme approach,” the brief stated, “a court is prohibited from exercising jurisdiction over a non-resident defendant on a ‘non-proximate’ cause of action, no matter how extensive the defendant’s contacts with the forum state; how related the cause of action to the defendant’s activities in the state; how many benefits the defendant has gleaned from its business in the forum; and regardless of whether the defendant may already be ‘haled’ into the forum court on identical claims.”    

The brief continued, “the result that BMS seeks in the name of ‘efficiency’ would deprive many plaintiffs of the fairest and most expeditious forum for resolution of their claims. For many mass tort plaintiffs facing life-threatening injuries, the delays encountered in cumbersome federal MDLs can effectively cut-off their access to any meaningful relief.”

The U.S. Supreme Court is scheduled to hear arguments in the case, Bristol Myers Squibb v. Superior Court, on April 25.

Read the full amicus brief.