As detailed in our previous article on this issue, in Bristol-Myers Squibb Co. v. Superior Court of California, San Francisco Cty., 137 S. Ct. 1773 (June 17, 2017), the U.S. Supreme Court established limitations on personal jurisdiction over non-resident defendants in “mass actions,” effectively supporting the view that plaintiffs cannot simply “forum shop” in large class and collective actions and instead must sue where the corporate defendant has significant contacts for purposes of general jurisdiction or limit the class definition to residents of the state where the lawsuit is filed. Notably, the Supreme Court’s decision was limited to personal jurisdiction issues in state courts, which has led to a split on the question of whether, and to what extent, the Supreme Court’s analysis applies to class and collective actions pending in federal court.
In Roy v. FedEx Ground Package System, Inc., 2018 WL 6179504 (D. Mass. Nov. 27, 2018), the U.S. District Court of Massachusetts applied the Supreme Court’s Bristol-Myers analysis to a nationwide FLSA collective action and limited opt-in notices to drivers who worked in Massachusetts. In reaching its decision, the court emphasized that “[n]othing in Bristol-Myers suggests that its basic holding is inapplicable to class actions.” This view was also recently taken by the courts in Practice Management Support Services, Inc. v. Cirque du Soleil, Inc., 301 F. Supp. 3d 840 (N.D. Ill. 2018) (“It is not clear how Practice Management can distinguish the Supreme Court’s basic holding in Bristol–Myers simply because this is a class action.”) and Mussat v. IQVIA, Inc., 2018 WL 5311903 (N.D. Ill. Oct. 26, 2018) (“Whether it be an individual, mass, or class action, the defendant’s rights should remain constant.”). These decisions join the Northern District of Ohio’s decision in Maclin v. Reliable Reports of Texas, Inc., 1:17-cv-2612 (N.D. Ohio Mar. 26, 2018), which we previously reported on here.
On the other hand, other district courts have refused to apply Bristol-Myers in the class context. For instance, in Hospital Auth. of Metro. Gov’t of Nashville v. Momenta Pharms., Inc., 2018 WL 6378457 (M.D. Tenn. Dec. 5, 2018), the court denied the defendants’ motion to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction based on its conclusion that Bristol-Myers does not apply to class actions. In reaching this decision, the Court focused its analysis on the distinctions between class and mass tort actions (as was the case in Bristol-Myers). Significantly, the court noted that, in contrast to a mass tort action, the class action requirements of Rule 23 ensure that defendants have adequate due process safeguards. Similarly, in Dennis v. IDT Corp., 2018 WL 5631102 (N.D. Ga. Oct. 18, 2018), the court found that federal class actions are materially different from mass tort actions at the state level. In addition, the court pointed out that Bristol-Myers involved a state court’s exercise of jurisdiction, thus the decision was “grounded in federalism concerns that are largely inapplicable to a nationwide class action in federal court.”
It remains to be seen whether a majority view of the issue will develop and/or whether a Court of Appeals or ultimately the Supreme Court will weigh in on the issue. In the meantime, however, out-of-state defendants in nationwide and multi-state class and collective actions should continue to assert personal jurisdiction as a grounds to try to avoid forum-shopping.