July 14, 2017 — U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor cited the work of University of Houston Law Center Assistant Professor D. Theodore Rave in her dissenting opinion in Bristol-Myers Squibb Co. v. Superior Court of California, San Francisco County.
The case involved 86 California residents and 592 non-resident plaintiffs who sued Bristol-Myers Squibb over alleged injuries from the drug Plavix. Bristol-Myers Squibb argued that, despite selling millions of Plavix pills in California, the California state court did not have the jurisdiction to preside over claims from the 592 non-residents because their alleged injuries were not "caused by" the company's California contacts.
Rave's brief argued that requiring the strict causal connection between the plaintiffs' claims and the defendant's contacts with the state that Bristol-Myers Squibb advocated could cause uncertainty and undermine settled expectations about jurisdiction in both simple and complex cases in federal and state courts. It also argued that Bristol-Myers Squibb's proposal would be inconsistent with the court's seminal 1945 decision on jurisdiction in International Shoe Co. v. Washington, and urged the court to reject a strict causation test.
The brief was co-authored by Temple University Beasley School of Law Professor Pamela K. Bookman, University of California, Berkeley School of Law Professor Andrew Bradt, Cornell Law School Professor Zachary D. Clopton and Maggie Gardner, a current professor at Cornell Law School and formerly of Harvard Law School.
The Supreme Court reversed and remanded the judgment of the California court in an 8-1 decision delivered by Justice Samuel Alito on June 19. Although the court held that courts in California did not have the proper jurisdiction to adjudicate claims by the out-of-state plaintiffs, it did not adopt Bristol-Myers Squibb's proposed causation rule, as Sotomayor pointed out in dissent, citing Rave's brief.
"I fear the consequences of the Court's decision … will be substantial," Sotomayor added in her dissent. "The majority's rule will make it difficult to aggregate the claims of plaintiffs across the country whose claims may be worth little alone. It will make it impossible to bring a nationwide mass action in state court against defendants who are "at home" in different States. And it will result in piecemeal litigation and the bifurcation of claims. None of this is necessary."