The Supreme Courts of Missouri and Illinois have recently addressed the constitutional limitations on the exercise of specific personal jurisdiction. In both states, the Courts held that due process prohibits the exercise of specific personal jurisdiction over out-of-state defendants in cases where the defendant does not have sufficient minimum contacts with the forum state and in cases where the alleged injury does not arise from those contacts.
In State ex rel. LG Chem, Ltd. v. The Hon. Nancy Watkins Laughlin, 2020 Mo. LEXIS 193 (Mo. banc June 2, 2020), Plaintiff Peter Bishop brought suit against Defendant LG Chem, a Korean company, in St. Louis County Circuit Court. Bishop alleged he was injured when a lithium-ion battery manufactured by LG Chem exploded in his pocket. Bishop also alleged LG Chem sold the battery to an intermediate distributor, which independently sold the battery to a retailer of electronic cigarettes in Missouri from whom Bishop purchased the battery.
LG Chem moved for dismissal based on lack of personal jurisdiction. In opposing LG Chem’s motion, Bishop relied on Bristol-Myers Squibb Co. v. Superior Court of California, 137 S. Ct. 1773 (2017). In Bristol-Myers, the United States Supreme Court held that a state court could not exercise specific personal jurisdiction over an out-of-state defendant unless there was “an affiliation between the forum and the underlying controversy, principally…an occurrence that takes place in the forum state.” Id. at 1781. Bishop argued there was a sufficient “affiliation” between Missouri and the underlying controversy to justify the exercise of specific personal jurisdiction over LG Chem because the battery had made its way to Missouri through the third-party distributor and caused injury in Missouri. LG Chem’s motion to dismiss was denied. Ultimately, the Missouri Supreme Court found Bishop’s application of Bristol-Myers to be overbroad and held the actions of a third party, standing alone, cannot be used to satisfy the due process requirement of the specific personal jurisdiction analysis. Since the subject battery had been sold to the Missouri retailer by an independent third party, the Court directed the circuit court to vacate its order overruling LG Chem’s motion to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction.
Two days later, the Supreme Court of Illinois also issued an opinion addressing the exercise of personal jurisdiction over an out-of-state defendant, but unlike the Missouri case, the case involved claims brought by out-of-state plaintiffs. In Rios v. Bayer Corp., 2020 IL 125020 (June 4, 2020), the Court held that due process did not allow Illinois courts to exercise specific personal jurisdiction over an out-of-state defendant as to the claims of out-of-state plaintiffs for personal injuries suffered outside of the state from a device manufactured outside of the state. At issue were two cases, both filed in Madison County, Illinois, in which 180 women from more than twenty states alleged injuries related to the use of a permanent birth control device called Essure. The out-of-state plaintiffs had not had the Essure device prescribed or implanted in Illinois and had not sought treatment for their alleged injuries in Illinois. Bayer moved for dismissal of the out-of-state plaintiffs’ claims based on lack of personal jurisdiction. In response to Bayer’s motion, the out-of-state plaintiffs argued the trial court could exercise specific personal jurisdiction over Bayer for their claims because Bayer had developed, labeled, marketed and worked on gaining regulatory approval for Essure in Illinois, and the plaintiffs’ claims arose, in part, from those “minimum contacts” between Bayer and the State of Illinois.
While Bayer’s motion was pending in the trial court, the United States Supreme Court issued its opinion in Bristol-Myers. Despite the new guidance provided in Bristol-Myers, the trial court denied Bayer’s motion, relying on M.M. v. GlaxoSmithKline LLC, 2016 IL App (1st) 151909, wherein the Illinois Court of Appeals had found the exercise of personal jurisdiction over an out-of-state defendant did not violate the due process clause in product liability cases brought by out-of-state plaintiffs where clinical trials had been conducted in Illinois. Bayer appealed. The appellate court held the exercise of personal jurisdiction over Bayer by the trial court was constitutional because the out-of-state plaintiffs’ claims arose, at least in part, from Bayer’s marketing, clinical trials and physician accreditation programs related to Essure in Illinois.
Ultimately, the Illinois Supreme Court reversed the appellate and trial courts. The Court determined Bristol-Myers had foreclosed the plaintiffs’ theory of specific personal jurisdiction and concluded that the out-of-state plaintiffs’ claims did not arise out of Bayer’s activities in Illinois; therefore, due process did not allow the trial court’s exercise of specific personal jurisdiction over Bayer as to the out-of-state plaintiffs’ claims.
These cases represent the first application of the limitations on specific personal jurisdiction expressed in Bristol-Myers by each state’s Supreme Court. The conclusion reached by both Courts emphasizes the importance of conducting a comprehensive evaluation of a defendant’s contacts with the forum state immediately upon service of the summons in every instance.