Thursday, October 22, 2020

Pennsylvania Supreme Court Hands Down Decision on Personal Jurisdiction Issues

In the case of Hammons v. Ethicon, Inc., 7 EAP 2019 (Pa. Oct. 21, 2019) (Op. by Baer, J.), the Pennsylvania Supreme Court reviewed jurisdictional issues in a pelvic mesh products liability case.   In the end, the court affirmed a judgment in favor of the Plaintiffs on appeal.  

The case presented a jurisdictional challenge in a matter involving a lawsuit filed in Pennsylvania by an Indiana resident who had a surgical procedure performed in Indiana and who alleged injuries from an implanted pelvic mesh that was manufactured by New Jersey corporate defendants.

With regards to issues pertaining to personal jurisdiction over Defendants, the court reaffirmed the rule that a Defendant challenging personal jurisdiction has the burden of supporting that objection.   

The Court provided a detailed summary of the current status of the law pertaining to personal jurisdiction which was noted to be in a state of flux.  The Court reviewed several notable United States Supreme Court Opinions, the most recent of which was in the case of Bristol-Myers Squibb Co. v. Superior Court of California, San Francisco County137 S. Ct. 1773 (2107).   Concisely, after the Bristol-Myers case, the following three (3) elements must be met in order for specific personal jurisdiction to lie over a defendant:  

First, a defendant must have purposefully conducted activities within the forum state, or must have purposefully directed its conduct towards the forum state.  

Second, the plaintiff’s claim must arise out of or relate to the defendant’s activities in the forum state or directed towards the forum state.  

Third, overall, a finding of jurisdiction over the defendant must be fair and reasonable.  

Here, the court found that the Defendant’s suit-related contacts justified jurisdiction in that the particular Defendant supervised the design and manufacturing process of its product in Pennsylvania in collaboration with a Pennsylvania company.  The court additionally noted that this particular Defendant also worked with a Pennsylvania physician in developing and marketing the product which, in this case, was a medical product used to treat prolapsed pelvic organs.  

In other words, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court took a wider, big picture view in its analysis and determined that the case as a whole established ties between the defendant's actions in the forum state and the litigation.  See Op. at p. 36-37.

In favoring the Plaintiffs' position, as it has been wont to do, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court rejected a more narrow analysis of the jurisidictional issue as such a contrary view "could unnecessarily restrict access to justice for plaintiffs."  See Op. at p. 36.

The Majority Opinion of this 6-1 decision can be viewed HERE.

The Concurring Opinion can be viewed HERE.

The Dissenting Opinion can be viewed HERE.

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