By Mary Kate Mullen on February 12, 2018
Two recent Eastern District of Missouri cases examined the same issue, yet the court reached opposite results. In Lewis v. Johnson & Johnson and Jinright v. Johnson & Johnson, the court considered whether subject matter jurisdiction or personal jurisdiction should be decided first. Subject matter jurisdiction concerns the court’s ability to hear cases based on their claims and amount of controversy. Federal courts have subject matter jurisdiction when the case involves a federal question or when there is complete diversity of citizenship between litigants and the amount in controversy exceeds $75,000. Lewis v. Johnson & Johnson, No. 4:16-CV-01882-NCC, 2017 WL 951797, at *3 (E.D. Mo. Mar. 10, 2017). Federal courts have personal jurisdiction when defendants are residents of the court’s state or when the conduct at issue arises out of the defendants’ contacts within the forum and relates to the specific claims, forum, and relationship between the plaintiff and defendant. In Lewis, the court found that it lacked subject matter jurisdiction and remanded the case to state court. However, in Jinright, the court held that Missouri lacked personal jurisdiction over nonresident plaintiffs and thus dismissed the claims over nonresident plaintiffs. Jinright v. Johnson & Johnson, Inc., No. 4:17CV01849 ERW, 2017 WL 3731317, at *4 (E.D. Mo. Aug. 30, 2017).
In Lewis and Jinright, plaintiffs filed lawsuits in the Circuit Court of the City of St. Louis, Missouri. Both sets of plaintiffs alleged that defendants’ talc-based products caused them to develop ovarian cancer. Plaintiffs were citizens and residents of Missouri, New Jersey, California, and other states. Defendants, Johnson & Johnson and Imerys, were citizens and residents of New Jersey, Delaware, and California. After the plaintiffs filed their lawsuits, Defendants removed the cases to federal court on the basis of diversity jurisdiction under U.S.C. § 1332. In federal court, Defendants filed motions to dismiss claims by non-Missouri residents for lack of personal jurisdiction, while Plaintiffs simultaneously argued that the cases be remanded to state court for lack of subject matter jurisdiction due to incomplete diversity of citizenship.
In Lewis, relying on the Supreme Court’s reasoning in Ruhrgas AG v. Marathon Oil Co., 526 U.S. 574 (1999), the court reasoned that, in most cases, subject matter jurisdiction should be decided first because it often “will involve no arduous inquiry.” Additionally, the court explained that, in the interests of “expedition and sensitivity to state courts’ coequal stature,” subject matter jurisdiction should be decided prior to personal jurisdiction. In analyzing the Lewis claims and parties, the court found that subject matter jurisdiction was straightforward, while personal jurisdiction involved a more complex analysis. Thus, the court heard the plaintiffs’ motion to remand first and found that the federal court lacked subject matter jurisdiction because there were plaintiffs “who alleged to be citizens of New Jersey and California—where Defendants were also citizens.”
In Jinright, when determining which motion to hear first, the court acknowledged that federal courts typically resolve issues regarding subject matter jurisdiction before personal jurisdiction. However, the court noted that an exception exists when personal jurisdiction is straightforward and subject matter jurisdiction is “difficult, novel, or complex.” Here, the court reasoned that personal jurisdiction was straightforward and that remanding the case to state court to have it removed again to federal court “would be a waste of judicial resources.” Thus, in light of the Supreme Court’s decision in Bristol-Myers Squib Co. v. Superior Court of California, San Francisco County, 137 S.Ct. 1773 (2017), the court held that Missouri did not have personal jurisdiction over the non-Missouri plaintiffs and granted dismissal over nonresident Plaintiffs’ claims. Because the Court granted dismissal of the nonresident plaintiffs’ claims, the remaining plaintiffs and defendants were then diverse from one another and the Court had subject matter jurisdiction, this plaintiffs’ motion for remand was denied.
What does this mean for pending cases?
With two practically identical cases reaching opposite results, it is important that defendants facing multi-plaintiff lawsuits review the strengths and weaknesses of the jurisdictional motions. Often times, it will benefit defendants for the court to consider personal jurisdiction before subject matter jurisdiction. Defendants should consider suggesting that the court analyze jurisdictional issues like Jinright and dismiss claims involving non-resident plaintiffs. Specifically, defendants should consider emphasizing that personal jurisdiction is “straightforward and presents no complex question of state law”. Additionally, defendants can argue that personal jurisdiction should be decided before subject matter jurisdiction due to efficiency and lack of judicial resources.
Questions remain whether the Eastern District of Missouri will continue deciding jurisdictional issues under the new Jinright analysis. In the Southern District of Illinois, the court has adopted Jinright and has dismissed claims against non-resident plaintiffs. BeRousse v. Janssen Research & Dev., LLC, No. 3:17-CV-00716-DRH, 2017 WL 4255075, at *5 (S.D. Ill. Sept. 26, 2017) (relying on Jinright to grant defendants’ motion to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction); Douthit v. Janssen Research & Dev., LLC, No. 3:17-CV-00752-DRH, 2017 WL 4224031, at *5 (S.D. Ill. Sept. 22, 2017) (relying on Jinright to grant defendants’ motion to dismiss claims against non-resident plaintiffs). Currently, these cases are pending appeal by the 7th Circuit. See Louis Clendaniel, Sr. v. Janssen Research & Dev., LLC., No. 17-cv-03204 (7th Cir. filed Oct. 24, 2017). If the 7th Circuit adopts Jinright, it is likely that courts will more widely adopt Jinright and analyze personal jurisdiction before subject matter jurisdiction.