Four years ago, in Bristol-Myers Squibb v. Superior Court, 137 S. Ct. 1773 (2017), the United States Supreme Court addressed an effort by plaintiffs to bring 600 product liability claims, mostly by non-Californians, in the form of a mass tort action in California state court. After analyzing the claims, the Supreme Court dismissed the non-California claimants for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. It held that due process concerns meant that a defendant could only be sued in the forum state if (1) it was subject to that state’s general jurisdiction, such as if the defendant were incorporated there or made that state its home, or (2) the claims arose out of the defendant’s contacts with the forum. We’ve touched on some of these issues in prior posts.
As a practical matter, the Court’s decision arguably limited certain types of mass litigation to claims arising within a single state. If a plaintiff wished to pursue nationwide claims, it would need to file the claim in the defendant’s home forum.
In many types of cases, this was extremely important to the defense. Under the prior rule, plaintiffs could and did bring claims either in inconvenient forums for the defendant or in locations where the law was particularly favorable to them. In some instances, plaintiffs would file claims in a remote forum even though the vast majority of claimants and virtually all witnesses resided in a different state.
In the few years since Bristol-Myers, many employers have asserted that nationwide FLSA collective actions, like mass tort claims, must either be brought in the defendant’s home state or limited to the state in which they were brought. These arguments have tended to fare better when directed to FLSA collective actions than to Rule 23 class actions. While the courts have used different reasoning, they are increasingly coming to accept the application of the Bristol-Myers ruling to FLSA collectives.
Many district courts did so almost immediately in Bristol-Myers‘ wake. E.g., Roy v. FedEx Ground Package Sys., 353 F. Supp. 3d 890 (D. Mass. 2018); Hickman v. TL Transp., LLC, 317 F. Supp. 3d 890 (E.D. Pa. 2018). But district courts have also split over the issue.
Just last week, however, the Ninth Circuit applied Bristol-Myers to vacate the certification of a Rule 23 case. Moser v. Benefytt, Inc., Case No. 19-56224 (9th Cir. Aug. 10, 2021). And yesterday, the Sixth Circuit distinguished its own prior Rule 23 authority to hold that Bristol-Myers applies to FLSA collective actions. Canaday v. The Anthem Companies, Inc., Case No. 20-5947 (6th Cir. Aug. 17, 2021). Curiously, one of the arguments posited by the dissent in this most recent case was that defendants would actually benefit from the efficiencies of nationwide collective actions, an argument few employers that have been through a collective action would ever endorse.
So what does all of this mean? While courts continue to be divided, these most recent decisions give employers a helpful tool in defending cases brought in particularly unfavorable jurisdictions or in remote locations that may increase their expenses. Personal jurisdiction can be a powerful argument either to limit a putative collective action to one state or to force the plaintiffs to bring that action in the employer’s home jurisdiction.
The bottom line: Personal jurisdiction concerns may, as a practical matter, rein in forum shopping in FLSA cases and limit claims being brought in remote forums.