In a much anticipated decision, the Supreme Court unanimously (8-0 with 2 concurrences) decided that certain resident plaintiffs injured by products originally manufactured and sold elsewhere could sue in their home states a defendant which was a nationwide company if it “purposefully avail[ed] itself of the privilege of conducting activities within the forum State.”  Ford Motor Co. Montana Eighth Judicial District Court, ___ S. Ct. ___, 2021 WL 1132515, at *4 (U.S. March 25, 2021).

The Court rejected the argument that the needed link to support personal jurisdiction must be causal in nature: the argument jurisdiction attaches “only if the defendant’s forum conduct gave rise to the plaintiff ’s claims.” This would, in a case like this, lead to locating specific jurisdiction in the State where Ford sold the car in question, or else the States where Ford designed and manufactured the vehicle. 141 S. Ct. 1017, 1026.

What is of particular interest to our readers is the Court’s re-emphasis of the meaning of Bristol-Myers Squibb Co. v. Superior Court, 137 S. Ct. 1773 (2017)(BMS), a decision recognizing that there can be no personal jurisdiction in suits brought by forum-shopping non-residents whose use of the product and alleged injuries occurred elsewhere.

Throughout Ford the Court emphasized this distinction- that the plaintiffs here were not litigation tourists.

-The suits were brought by state residents in Montana’s and Minnesota’s courts.

-Each plaintiff ’s suit arose from a car accident in one of those States.

-Ford had advertised, sold, and serviced those two car models in both States

141 S. Ct. 1017, 1028.

The Court went so far as to say “each of the plaintiffs brought suit in the most natural State.” Id. at 1031.  And, again, that was because the plaintiffs “are residents of the forum States. They used the allegedly defective products in the forum States. And they suffered injuries when those products malfunctioned in the forum States.” Id.

BMS was described as a case involving “non-resident plaintiffs” who “had not bought” the product in the forum; “neither had they used or suffered any harm from the drug there.”   The Court  found jurisdiction improper in BMS because the forum State, and the defendant’s activities there, lacked any connection to the plaintiffs’ claims. 137 S.Ct., at 1781 (“What is needed—and what is missing here—is a connection between the forum and the specific claims at issue”). The plaintiffs, the Court reiterated, were not residents of California. They had not been prescribed Plavix in California. They had not ingested Plavix in California. And they had not sustained their injuries in California. “In short, the plaintiffs were engaged in forum-shopping—suing in California because it was thought plaintiff-friendly, even though their cases had no tie to the State.”  141 S. Ct. 1017, 1030–31.

This reiteration and re-emphasis should be very useful for defendant’s sued in judicial hellholes or subject to attempts at litigation tourism.