In a series of end-of-term decisions by the Supreme Court, one decision has quietly made it harder for plaintiffs from diverse states to sue an out-of-state defendant in a class action lawsuit. The case, titled Bristol-Myers Squibb v. Superior Court, alters the rules governing the procedures whereby a particular state’s courts can exercise jurisdiction over litigants who do not live in that state. Before we discuss the case at issue, we’ll first give a general overview of how courts decide which cases they can hear.
A Primer on Personal Jurisdiction
In International Shoe v. Washington, the Supreme Court held that a particular state court (known as the “forum state”) could exercise jurisdiction over out-of-state defendants if the defendant had “minimum contacts” with the state. In subsequent cases, the court found that there are two ways of finding “minimum contacts.” The first is “general jurisdiction,” which requires the defendant to have “systematic and continuous contacts” with the forum state such that the defendant is at “home” in the state. If the defendant’s actions meet this test, then he or she can be sued for any actions in the state. The second is “specific jurisdiction,” which allows lawsuits against an out-of-state defendant only if the suit “arises out of or relates to the defendant’s contact with the forum” state.