General Jurisdiction Over Bayer Denied in Missouri
Posted: January 18, 2018
As we’ve written here before, courts have been grappling with the difficult personal jurisdiction questions presented by large mass tort cases for some time now. The Supreme Court of Missouri’s opinion in Bayer Corporation v. Moriarty, SC96189 (December 19, 2017) continues this development.
Bayer was sued in Missouri state court by ninety-two plaintiffs claiming they were injured by one of its birth control devices. The vast majority of the plaintiffs live outside Missouri. Those plaintiffs do not claim injury in the state nor do they claim they purchased the products here. So Bayer moved to dismiss their claims for lack of personal jurisdiction. The trial court denied that motion, finding that Bayer was present in Missouri and had consented to jurisdiction in its courts.
The Supreme Court of Missouri granted Bayer’s request for a writ of prohibition – a mechanism available to stop a trial court from exceeding its jurisdiction – and reversed. It held that neither of the two avenues to personal jurisdiction were available for the non-resident plaintiffs. Specific personal jurisdiction was foreclosed by Bristol-Myers Squibb because there was no nexus between the non-resident plaintiffs’ claims and Bayer’s connections to Missouri. And the argument for general jurisdiction fared no better. After the 2014 decision inDaimler there are basically two types of states where a defendant can sued any time for any reason: where it is headquartered and where it is incorporated. For Bayer, Missouri is neither.
The Bayer plaintiffs made two other arguments, both of which were rejected. They tried to squeeze their claims down the narrow path left open in Daimler for general jurisdiction in “exceptional cases” where the corporation is “essentially at home in the forum.” But even recognizing the substantial business Bayer does in Missouri, the Supreme Court of Missouri declined to say Bayer is “at home” here. To hold that it is would make Bayer subject to general jurisdiction nearly everywhere it does business and defeat the point of Daimler. Though the court didn’t guess at what “at home” might look like in practice, Bayer’s business in Missouri isn’t it.
The plaintiffs also argued that by registering to do business in Missouri, Bayer had consented to personal jurisdiction here. To the court, this contention amounted to an end run around constitutional limits on personal jurisdiction set down in cases like Daimler, so it was rejected, too.
The Bayer plaintiffs live on though. The Supreme Court of Missouri noted that they intended to file an amended petition and conduct discovery on an alternative theory of personal jurisdiction that, they claim, will show the necessary nexus between their claims and Bayer’s connections to Missouri. Time will tell.
Practice Tip This case is a good example of the limited review appellate courts exercise in the extraordinary writ process. The Court declined to weigh in on the validity of the plaintiff’s new jurisdictional theory because the trial court had not yet been presented with it. While on direct appeal the court might have taken up a purely legal question bound to arise on remand, doing so in a writ of prohibition wouldn’t make much sense. After all, it’s impossible to halt an extra-jurisdictional act (which is what writs of prohibition are for) that hasn’t happened yet.