United States: More Adventures In Personal Jurisdiction − Examining The BMS "Federal Court" Caveat

Last Updated: February 20 2018
Article by James Beck

With plaintiffs desperate to find some way to continue pursuing aggravated, aggregated product liability litigation in their favorite venues after Daimler AG v. Bauman, 134 S. Ct. 746 (2014) ("Bauman"), and Bristol-Myers Squibb Co. v. Superior Court, 137 S. Ct. 1773 (2017) ("BMS"), we thought we'd look at one likely target that we haven't spent much time on before. At the tail end of the BMS decision, the Court left open a caveat:

[W]e leave open the question whether the Fifth Amendment imposes the same restrictions on the exercise of personal jurisdiction by a federal court. See Omni Capital International, Ltd. v. Rudolf Wolff & Co., 484 U.S. 97, 102, n.5 (1987).

BMS, 137 S. Ct. at 1784. We have offered our opinion that we don't think there will turn out to be a dime's worth of practical difference between the two, due to the extent that BMS, a Fourteenth Amendment case relied on Walden v. Fiore, 134 S. Ct. 1115 (2014), which was as federal a cause of action as they come, being a constitutional Bivens action filed in federal court. We still believe that's right, but it's a bit more complicated than we thought at first, a later on in this post.

Let's start with what "federal court" means. While we've always thought that cases in federal court based on diversity jurisdiction were on the Fourteenth Amendment side of the personal jurisdiction line, we'd never researched it. It wasn't hard. Looking for cases with "diversity," "Fourteenth Amendment," and "personal jurisdiction" in the same paragraph was enough. Too much, actually – since that search produced over two thousand cases – but it didn't take long to get the answer. From the first case:

The United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida, sitting in diversity, relied on [a state longarm statute] in exercising personal jurisdiction over a [non-]resident. . . . The question presented is whether this exercise of long-arm jurisdiction offended "traditional conception[s] of fair play and substantial justice" embodied in the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.

Burger King Corp. v. Rudzewicz, 471 U.S. 462, 464 (1985). Lots of other appellate cases stand for the proposition that cases in federal court on diversity jurisdiction are governed directly by the Fourteenth Amendment. E.g., Cossart v. United Excel Corp., 804 F.3d 13, 18 (1st Cir. 2015); Philos Technologies, Inc. v. Philos & D, Inc., 802 F.3d 905, 912 (7th Cir. 2015); Creative Calling Solutions, Inc. v. LF Beauty Ltd., 799 F.3d 975, 979 (8th Cir. 2015); Carmouche v. Tamborlee Management, Inc., 789 F.3d 1201, 1203 (11th Cir. 2015); SFS Check, LLC v. First Bank, 774 F.3d 351, 355-56 (6th Cir. 2014); ClearOne Commications, Inc. v. Bowers, 643 F.3d 735, 763 (10th Cir. 2011); Metcalfe v. Renaissance Marine, Inc., 566 F.3d 324, 330 (3d Cir. 2009); Mullins v. TestAmerica, Inc., 564 F.3d 386, 398 (5th Cir. 2009); Bank Brussels Lambert v. Fiddler Gonzalez & Rodriguez, 305 F.3d 120, 124 (2d Cir. 2002); Chung v. NANA Development Corp., 783 F.2d 1124, 1125 (4th Cir. 1986); Steinberg v. International Criminal Police Org., 672 F.2d 927, 930 (D.C. Cir. 1981).

Thus, we think it's a lock that for the types of cases we typically discuss on this blog, which sound in diversity if they're in federal court, that Bauman/BMS applies to all personal jurisdiction issues. Indeed, some of the cases we read indicate (like we think) that there is no difference between the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments' Due Process clauses when it comes to personal jurisdiction. See Republic of Panama v. BCCI Holdings (Luxembourg) S.A., 119 F.3d 935, 943 n.12 (11th Cir. 1997); Akro Corp. v. Luker, 45 F.3d 1541, 1545 (Fed. Cir. 1995).

This means that, to get around Bauman/BMS, and to assert personal jurisdiction against non-resident defendants, litigation-tourist plaintiffs would have to do the opposite of what they have normally done for decades and instead plead some sort of federal claim if they have any hope of arguing that some hypothetical lesser standard of Due Process applies under the Fifth Amendment. Even assuming plaintiffs desperate enough to jettison decades of prior practice, there aren't many of these statutes around. The False Claims Act is a federal statute that authorizes nationwide service of process, see 31 U.S.C. §3732(a), but by no stretch of the imagination could it apply to the sorts of product liability/consumer fraud claims that are our opponent's stock in trade.

RICO also provides for nationwide service of process. 18 U.S.C. §1965(d). RICO has a major limitation – from the standpoint of a product liability plaintiff – in that the statute does not allow recovery of personal injury damages. Reiter v. Sonotone Corp., 442 U.S. 330, 339 (1979); see, e.g., Safe Streets Alliance v. Hickenlooper, 859 F.3d 865, 886 (10th Cir. 2017); Blevins v. Aksut, 849 F.3d 1016, 1021 (11th Cir. 2017); Williams v. BASF Catalysts LLC, 765 F.3d 306, 323 (3d Cir. 2014); Fiala v. B & B Enterprises, 738 F.3d 847, 853 (7th Cir. 2013); Jackson v. Sedgwick Claims Management Services, Inc., 731 F.3d 556, 565 (6th Cir. 2013) (en banc); Ironworkers Local Union 68 v. AstraZeneca Pharmaceuticals, LP, 634 F.3d 1352, 1364 (11th Cir. 2011); Upper Deck Co., LLC v. Federal Insurance Co., 358 F.3d 608 (9th Cir. 2004); Hughes v. Tobacco Institute, Inc., 278 F.3d 417, 422 (5th Cir. 2001); Hamm v. Rhone-Poulenc Rorer Pharmaceuticals, Inc., 187 F.3d 941, 954 (8th Cir. 1999); Bast v. Cohen, Dunn & Sinclair, PC, 59 F.3d 492, 495 (4th Cir. 1995); Laborers Local 17 Health & Benefit Fund v. Philip Morris, Inc., 191 F.3d 229, 241 (2d Cir. 1999). Even more of a drawback for purveyors of nationwide class actions, is the statute's causation requirements almost always having precluded reliance on classwide statistical evidence, as we discussed here.

Another possibility would be the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act, although MMWA also has a number of substantive drawbacks for plaintiffs, not the least of which is prescription medical products not being "consumer" goods. Kanter v. Warner-Lambert Co., 122 Cal. Rptr.2d 72, 86 (Cal. App. 2002); MHA, LLC v. Siemens Healthcare Diagnostics, Inc., 2017 WL 838797, at *2 (D.N.J. March 2, 2017); In re Minnesota Breast Implant Litigation, 36 F. Supp.2d 863, 876 (D. Minn. 1998); Goldsmith v. Mentor Corp., 913 F. Supp. 56, 63 (D.N.H. 1995); Kemp v. Pfizer, Inc., 835 F. Supp. 1015, 1024 (E.D. Mich. 1993).

In this regard, however, the citation BMS gives to the Omni Capital case is particularly ominous for MMWA plaintiffs. Omni Capital was a federal question case, alleging violations of several federal securities statutes. 498 U.S. at 99. The Court held that, even if the Fifth Amendment Due Process Clause did allow Congress to expand personal jurisdiction with a statute providing for nationwide service of process (the footnote cited in BMS was itself a caveat that the Court had "no occasion to consider the constitutional issues raised by this theory"), no jurisdiction existed because Congress had not in fact done so. "[U]nder Rule 4(e), a federal court normally looks either to a federal statute or to the long-arm statute of the State in which it sits" to determine personal jurisdiction. Id. at 105. An "implied" cause of action did not include implied nationwide service of process. "[W]e would not automatically graft nationwide service onto the implied private right of action." 484 U.S. at 107. Nor would the Court in Omni Capital go beyond the limits to service of process expressly provided in Rule 4:

We would consider it unwise for a court to make its own rule authorizing service of summons. It seems likely that Congress has been acting on the assumption that federal courts cannot add to the scope of service of summons Congress has authorized. This Court in the past repeatedly has stated that a legislative grant of authority is necessary. . . .

The strength of this longstanding assumption, and the network of statutory enactments and judicial decisions tied to it, argue strongly against devising common-law service of process provisions at this late date for at least two reasons. First, since Congress concededly has the power to limit service of process, circumspection is called for in going beyond what Congress has authorized. Second, as statutes and rules have always provided the measures for service, courts are inappropriate forums for deciding whether to extend them. Legislative rulemaking better ensures proper consideration of a service rule's ramifications within the pre-existing structure and is more likely to lead to consistent application.

Id. at 109-10 (citations and footnotes omitted).

Thus, unlike the FCA or RICO, MMWA falls into the same category as the securities statutes in Omni Capital – it contains no provision for expanded service of process of any sort. Alisoglu v. Central States Thermo King of Oklahoma, Inc., 2012 WL 1666426, at *3-4 (E.D. Mich. May 11, 2012); Bluewater Trading LLC v. Fountaine Pajot, S.A., 2008 WL 2705432, at *2-3 (S.D. Fla. July 9, 2008), aff'd, 335 F. Appx. 905, (11th Cir. 2009); Weinstein v. Todd Marine Enterprises, Inc., 115 F. Supp. 2d 668, 671 (E.D. Va. 2000); see Walsh v. Ford Motor Co., 807 F.2d 1000, 1012, 1018-19 (D.C. Cir. 1986) (reversing decision that "veered off course" by "regard[ing] Magnuson-Moss as an Act intended to facilitate nationwide class actions"). What that means for Magnuson-Moss plaintiffs is:

The end result of Omni is to require a court to apply in federal question cases such as this case where there is no provision authorizing nationwide service of process a personal jurisdiction test very similar to that used in diversity cases: Where a federal court's subject matter jurisdiction over a case stems from the existence of a federal question, personal jurisdiction over a defendant exists if the defendant is amenable to service of process under the forum state's long-arm statute and if the exercise of personal jurisdiction would not deny the defendant due process.

Alisoglu, 2012 WL 1666426, at *4 (citations and quotation marks omitted) (emphasis added).

While the current version of Rule 4 was amended to address the specific situation presented in Omni Capital – an overseas defendant ostensibly not amenable to service of process in any state (see Rule 4(k)(2)) – plaintiffs who sue defendants (like our clients) that are amenable to suit in some states are subject to state-law limitations on service of process unless a federal statute expressly allows otherwise:

  1. Territorial Limits of Effective Service.

    1. In General. Serving a summons or filing a waiver of service establishes personal jurisdiction over a defendant:

      1. who is subject to the jurisdiction of a court of general jurisdiction in the state where the district court is located;
      2. [special rules for third party practice − not relevant to personal injury plaintiffs – and indispensable parties – ditto]; or
      3. when authorized by a federal statute.

(Emphasis added).

Thus, under both controlling precedent and the language of Rule 4, our opponents should not be able to utilize federal causes of action to evade Bauman/BMS – unless they can plead into some statute (like the FCA or RICO) that provides nationwide service of process – and those other statutes have attributes that preclude their use in product liability. Getting back to Walden v. Fiore, this interplay between personal jurisdiction and Rule 4 is what ultimately led to the application of Fourteenth Amendment personal jurisdiction principles in what was a federal question case. Bivens is an implied right of action (similar to Omni Capital in that respect), thus no statutory expansion of personal jurisdiction was available, and a state long-arm statute subject to the Fourteenth Amendment was the only other option for the plaintiff, even with a federal cause of action involved:

Federal courts ordinarily follow state law in determining the bounds of their jurisdiction over persons. This is because a federal district court's authority to assert personal jurisdiction in most cases is linked to service of process on a defendant "who is subject to the jurisdiction of a court of general jurisdiction in the state where the district court is located." Fed. Rule of Civ. Proc. 4(k)(1)(A). Here, Nevada has authorized its courts to exercise jurisdiction over persons "on any basis not inconsistent with ... the Constitution of the United States." Thus, in order to determine whether the Federal District Court in this case was authorized to exercise jurisdiction over petitioner, we ask whether the exercise of jurisdiction comports with the limits imposed by federal due process on the State of Nevada.

Walden, 134 S. Ct. at 1121 (citations and quotation marks to Bauman omitted). Walden is Supreme Court precedent demonstrating that Rule 4(k)(1)(A) imports the Fourteenth Amendment's – and thus Bauman/BMS – Due Process analysis into federal causes of action unless a federal statute expressly provides otherwise. Thus, plaintiffs can't get away from Bauman/BMS even by raising federal statutory causes of action like MMWA that don't authorize nationwide service of process.

Finally, even if plaintiffs somehow grab the BMS-caveat brass ring, and find some federal statute that provides for expanded service (and thus expanded personal jurisdiction), they would run squarely into the principle discussed in Dick Dean's prescient guest post of a few weeks back – "[j]ust because there is specific jurisdiction over one claim . . ., that is insufficient to find specific jurisdiction over all claims." This guest post cites the relevant cases holding that personal jurisdiction must be determined on a claim-by-claim basis, so we won't repeat them here.

We'll add only that this claim-by-claim precedent is incompatible with any novel expansion of "pendent jurisdiction" (which has been a subject matter jurisdiction concept) to allow courts to hear otherwise Bauman/BMS-barred claims because one claim somehow squeaks through. Recent cases rejecting "pendent jurisdiction" as an end run around Bauman/BMS include: Lexington Insurance Co. v. Zurich Insurance (Taiwan) Ltd., ___ F. Supp.3d ___, 2017 WL 6550480, at *3 (W.D. Wis. Dec. 21, 2017); Greene v. Mizuho Bank, Ltd., ___ F. Supp.3d ___, 2017 WL 7410565, at *4-5 (N.D. Ill. Dec. 11, 2017); Spratley v. FCA US LLC, 2017 WL 4023348, at *7 (N.D.N.Y. Sept. 12, 2017); Famular v. Whirlpool Corp., 2017 WL 2470844, at *6 (S.D.N.Y. June 7, 2017); MG Design Associates, Corp. v. Costar Realty Information, Inc., 224 F. Supp.3d 621, 629 (N.D. Ill. 2016), partially reconsidered on other grounds, 267 F. Supp.3d 1000 (N.D. Ill. 2017); In re Testosterone Replacement Therapy Products Liability Litigation, 164 F. Supp.3d 1040, 1048-49 (N.D. Ill. 2016); In re: Bard IVC, 2016 WL 6393596, at *4 n.4 (D. Ariz. Oct. 28, 2016); In re: Zofran (Ondansetron) Products Liability Litigation, 2016 WL 2349105, at *5 n.5 (D. Mass. May 4, 2016); Demaria v. Nissan, Inc., 2016 WL 374145, at *7-8 (N.D. Ill. Feb. 1, 2016); Tulsa Cancer Institute, PLLC v. Genentech Inc., 2016 WL 141859, at *4 (N.D. Okla. Jan. 12, 2016); Hill v. Eli Lilly & Co., 2015 WL 5714647, at *7 (S.D. Ind. Sept. 29, 2015); In re Plavix Related Cases, 2014 WL 3928240, at *9 (Ill. Cir. Aug. 11, 2014).

Notably, most of these rejections of pendent jurisdiction come in the context of unsuccessful attempts to maintain nationwide class actions after Bauman/BMS. The jurisdictional noose is tightening around litigation tourists. It is important that they not be given any wiggle-room by virtue of the "federal court" caveat in BMS.

Disclaimer: Any resemblance between the substance of this post and that of a certain recent, wrongly-decided case out of the Northern District of California is purely intentional.

This article is presented for informational purposes only and is not intended to constitute legal advice.

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