Missouri courts keep showing us surprisingly good things on the personal jurisdiction front. In Mitchell v. DePuy Orthopaedics, Inc., 2019 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 92621 (W.D. Missouri June 3, 2019), the plaintiff twice had a knee replacement implant while she lived in Kansas, then sued in Missouri, claiming that, after she moved there, that is where she suffered injuries and where she sought treatment for her injuries. She alleged negligence, strict liability, breach of warranty, misrepresentation, fraud — all based on the defendants’ design, license, manufacture, distribution, sale, and marketing of the medical devices. The defendants moved to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction, contending that all of the plaintiff’s claims arose out of events that took place in Kansas, not Missouri.
If any of this sounds familiar, it should. Less than a month ago we reported on another Missouri case where the plaintiff had moved in from out of state. And if it occurs to you that this is two days in a row of personal jurisdiction cases – well, congrats, you are one of our truly loyal and attentive readers.
The plaintiff in Mitchell conceded that the Missouri court lacked general jurisdiction over the defendants, but argued that specific jurisdiction existed because the plaintiff suffered injuries in Missouri, plus the defendants did plenty of marketing and selling of knee replacements in Missouri. The first point isn’t wholly silly (though it still loses), but the second one is, at least for anyone who has kept up with specific jurisdiction case law over the last five years.
The Mitchell court began by reciting the Int’l Shoe “minimum contacts” and Burger King “purposeful directing activities toward forum residents” standards. Those old standards take one only so far. But the Mitchell court also invoked a couple of more recent tests that end up deciding this case:
1. In Walden v. Fiore, 571 U.S. 277 (2014), SCOTUS held that contacts “that the defendant himself creates with the forum State serve as a basis for jurisdiction, … but contacts formed by the mere unilateral activity of those who claim some relationship with a non-resident do not.”
2. In Bristol-Myers Squibb Co. v. Superior Court of California, 137 S. Ct. 1773 (207), SCOTUS held that specific jurisdiction does not exist when the defendant’s contacts with the forum lack a connection to “the specific claims at issue.”
Armed with these precedents, the Mitchell court held that the plaintiff’s move to neighboring Missouri did not create specific personal jurisdiction. Those were the unilateral acts of the plaintiff. The defendant’s Missouri registration, advertising, and product sales were irrelevant because they bore no relationship to plaintiff’s injuries. Moreover, the plaintiff never saw the claimed advertising.
The plaintiff endeavored to evade the recently clarified specific jurisdiction doctrine by arguing that a “short drive” across a state border “should not preclude jurisdiction because, given defendants’ contacts in Missouri,” the plaintiff’s claim “could just as easily have arisen out of defendants’ activities in Missouri, rather than Kansas.” That is not a principle; it is a whine. The Mitchell court pointed out that under the plaintiff’s ‘logic,’ a national company could be sued by any resident of any state in any state. That would not only be a world without the Walden and Bristol-Myers cases, it would be a world without fair play and due process. Accordingly, the court transferred the action to Kansas. (That was the the plaintiff’s suggested alternative to flat-out dismissal, and the defendants did not oppose it.)
That is good news for the defendant, because the law in Kansas is more defense-friendly, and some would say the same about the judges and juries. It is actually good news for everyone, because as good as the barbecue is in Kansas City, Missouri, there is a place just a “short drive” to the other side of the river that is even better.