Cut Down to Size: Court Applies Bristol-Myers Squibb to Strike Class Definition Asserting Claims of Nonresident Class Members in TCPA Junk Fax Class Action

In Mussat v. IQVIA, Inc., 2018 WL 5311903 (N.D. Ill. Oct. 26, 2018) Judge Virginia M. Kendall of the Northern District of Illinois held that Bristol-Myers Squibb applies to Rule 23 class actions, and consequently struck the Plaintiff’s class definition to the extent it sought to assert junk fax TCPA claims on behalf of class members who weren’t residents of Illinois, and didn’t receive a fax there.

Before diving in here, I’ll give you a quick orientation (and you can read some prior coverage here too).  Bristol-Myers Squibb is a 2017 Supreme Court case holding in the context of a mass tort action that – where the defendant is a non-resident of the forum state – the court does not have specific jurisdiction over the claims of any nonresident plaintiffs against that nonresident defendant.  Bristol-Myers Squibb Co. v. Superior Court of California, 137 S.Ct. 1773 (2017).  But the Court “left open” the issue of whether the rule applies in the context of Rule 23 class actions, and courts remain divided over this question.

Now back to our regularly scheduled programming.

Mussat is a putative nationwide TCPA junk fax class action in which the Plaintiff – a resident of Illinois – sued the Defendant – a nonresident Delaware corporation – for faxes the Plaintiff received in the state.  The Defendant moved to strike Plaintiff’s class definition to the extent it sought to include claims of nonresident class members.  It argued that based on Bristol-Myers Squibb, the Court did not have specific jurisdiction over the claims of the nonresident class members because the claims “do not arise out of, or relate to, IQVIA’s contacts with Illinois.”

The Court did not flinch in granting the motion.  It quickly and unequivocally announced it was:

[J]oin[ing] the litany of other courts in this District and elsewhere to hold that the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment precludes the exercise of personal jurisdiction over a defendant in a putative class action where nonresident, absent members seek to aggregate their claims with an in-forum resident, even though the defendant allegedly injured the nonresidents outside of the forum.

All right!

And the Court’s reasoning behind its conclusion was solid.  It found no basis to discriminate between mass actions and class actions in applying the core Due Process considerations that formed the basis of the Bristol-Myers holding:

Following the Supreme Court’s lead in Bristol-Myers and applying its core reasoning here, due process, as an instrument of interstate federalism requires a connection between the forum and the specific claims at issue.  This recognition bars nationwide class actions in fora where the defendant is not subject to general jurisdiction.  Whether it be an individual, mass, or class action, the defendant’s rights should remain constant.

That last sentence is music to our ears, and bears repeating:  whether it be an individual, mass, or class action, the defendant’s rights should remain constant.  Now, where’s the function to add some lights and sirens to this sentence?  The best I was able to do was make the font red…

The court went on to really hammer this point in the context of the Rules Enabling Act (the Act which gave the judicial branch the power to promulgate the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, which of course includes Rule 23):

[T]he Constitution and state law guide the personal jurisdiction analysis, which affects only the forum where this suit may be brought.  That consequence does not run afoul of the Rules of the Enabling Act.  Conversely, faithfully interpreting the Act here ensures the consistent and uniform application of defendants’ due process rights in class actions under Rule 23, as compared to the maintenance of individual or mass actions.  This construction ensures that Rule 23 – a rule of procedure subject to the Act’s limitations – does not violate the Act by extending the personal jurisdiction of the federal courts to “abridge, enlarge or modify” a “substantive right.”

Powerful stuff.

Judge Kendall recognized that there’s now a “litany” of cases applying Bristol-Myers.  So what makes this case special?  Well, aside from those great passages discussed above, the Mussat ruling stands out for the remedy sought by the defendant, and granted by the court.  Instead of just dismissing the case – as we’ve seen before – the court took a scalpel and excised the part of the case over which it lacked specific jurisdiction.  The court applied a thoughtful (and correct) solution to the jurisdictional issue before it that was based upon the well-reasoned application of the core Due Process principals articulated in Bristol-Myers.

Let’s hope for more outcomes like this in TCPAland.

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