Meyers v. GlaxoSmithKline LLC Plaintiffs’ Laywer’s Statement

U.S. Supreme Court Rejects Drug Industry’s Challenge to Important Personal Jurisdiction Opinion in Meyers v. GlaxoSmithKline

(October 2, 2017) — Today the United States Supreme Court let stand a consequential decision authorizing specific personal jurisdiction over out-of-state drug manufacturers for claims of out-of-state plaintiffs in states where the manufacturers conduct clinical trials on the drugs in question. The decision the U.S. Supreme Court let stand confirms the right of state courts to regulate the conduct of pharmaceutical manufacturers who perform clinical trials in the state. M.M. ex rel. Meyers v. GlaxoSmithKline LLC, 2016 IL App (1st) 151909, 61 N.E.3d 1026,  appeal denied sub nom.  M.M. v. GlaxoSmithKline LLC, 65 N.E.3d 842 (Ill. 2016). Rejecting GSK’s argument that specific jurisdiction in Illinois was improper because GSK conducted clinical trials on the drug at issue, Paxil, in 43 other states as well, the Illinois Appellate Court held that whether a manufacturer’s in-state contacts are meaningful for the purpose of specific personal jurisdiction “depends entirely on their relation to the Plaintiffs’ causes of action, and not at all on a percentage-based comparison between how much related conduct occurred outside of Illinois.” M.M. ex rel. Meyers 69. Thus, personal jurisdiction was found proper in Illinois over GSK with respect to out-of-state plaintiffs’ claims where GSK admitted “a tiny sliver” of its clinical trials on the drug in question occurred in Illinois. See id. 22.

Meyers should help level the playing field with drug manufacturers whose resources dwarf those of any individual plaintiff. “Piecemeal litigation spread across numerous states raises the cost, considerably, to the collective plaintiffs…” Meyers 75. Such piecemeal litigation harms consumers. The Meyers decision undermines industry’s hope that Daimler AG v. Bauman, 134 S. Ct. 746 (2014) (which curtailed general jurisdiction) and Bristol-Myers Squibb Co. v. Superior Court of California, San Francisco Cty., 137 S. Ct. 1773, 198 L. Ed. 2d 395 (2017) (which curtailed specific jurisdiction) signaled the end of significant pharmaceutical litigation outside defendants’ home states. Meyers restores some degree of fairness to consumers injured by drug manufacturers’ concealment of dangers they know their products pose.

Under Meyers, drug manufacturers remain subject to suit in each state in which they engage in conduct (for example, clinical trials) giving rise to plaintiffs’ failure to warn claims. After finding in 2015 that personal jurisdiction was proper over GSK regarding the out-of-state plaintiffs’ claims based on the Illinois component of the clinical trials, Cook County Judge Larry G. Axelrood encouraged GSK to petition for permission to appeal, expressing the hope that “if it goes up and case law is made, it will give us a better understanding and better standard . . . .” The appellate court agreed to hear the appeal and affirmed that plaintiffs from Florida, Colorado, Virginia, Michigan, and Wisconsin could invoke the jurisdiction of the Illinois courts where GSK (formed in Delaware and maintaining headquarters in North Carolina and Pennsylvania) conducted clinical trials on the drug at issue in Illinois. GSK then asked the Illinois Supreme Court to intervene, but it refused. Thereafter, GSK asked the U.S. Supreme Court to intervene, and it likewise refused. Throughout the proceedings, not a single judge expressed any support for GSK’s unreasonably narrow interpretation of the Due Process Clause.

The industry recognizes the importance of the Meyers decision. The Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) and the U.S. Chamber of Commence filed amicus briefs urging the Supreme Court to reverse the Meyers opinion. Pharmaceutical companies engage in clinical trials in nearly every state. Under Meyers, defendants will be subject to personal jurisdiction in the states where they conduct those activities. In its amicus brief, the United States Chamber of Commerce recognized that under Meyers a product manufacturer is subject to jurisdiction for product-related claims in every state where development or testing occurred.

While the industry does not like the result, the result makes perfect sense. Drug manufacturers treat multi-center clinical trial data as a unitary whole and aggregate the data collected in various states to reach statistically significant conclusions. The portions of the clinical trials that occur in a particular state, however small, cannot be separated from the rest. And because inadequate clinical trials naturally lead to inadequate warnings, failure to warn claims arise from or relate to those trials. The National Institutes of Health provides a useful database of privately and publicly funded clinical studies conducted around the United States at clinicaltrials.gov.

Even before today’s action by the U.S. Supreme Court, the Meyers decision had already been applied in California to permit out-of-state plaintiffs to sue an out-of-state defendant based on clinical trials the defendant conducted in California. Dubose v. Bristol-Myers Squibb Co., No. 17-CV-00244-JST, 2017 WL 2775034 (N.D. Cal. June 27, 2017); Cortina v. Bristol-Myers Squibb Co., No. 17-CV-00247-JST, 2017 WL 2793808 (N.D. Cal. June 27, 2017). The Meyers decision has also been applied outside the pharmaceutical context. In a case alleging negligent commercialization of a genetically modified seed, a federal district court held the defendant’s practice of field testing the genetically modified trait in the forum was sufficient to confer personal jurisdiction over the out-of-state defendant for the claims of out-of-state plaintiffs. In re Syngenta Mass Tort Actions, No. 3:16-CV-00255-DRH, 2017 WL 2117728, at *4 (S.D. Ill. May 15, 2017).

Kenneth Brennan of TorHoerman Law represents the Plaintiffs. Robert Peck of the Center for Constitutional Litigation also represented the Plaintiffs before the U.S. Supreme Court.