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Covington v. Janssen Pharmaceuticals, Inc.

United States District Court, E.D. Missouri, Eastern Division

August 10, 2017

ANNETTE COVINGTON, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
JANSSEN PHARMACEUTICALS, INC., et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          STEPHEN N. LIMBAUGH, JR. UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         This case comes before the Court on defendants' motion to dismiss the claims of the out-of-state plaintiffs for lack of personal jurisdiction (#4), the plaintiffs' motion to remand (#14), and the plaintiffs' motion to stay any proceedings in conjunction with the defendants' motion to dismiss pending resolution of the plaintiffs' motion to remand (#16). The plaintiffs' motions are fully briefed by the parties. However, the plaintiffs chose not to respond to the defendants' motion to dismiss, instead choosing to file their motion to stay proceedings. Regardless, the motions are ripe for disposition.

         I.Background

         This action, filed on March 8, 2017 by 54 plaintiffs from 26 states, was originally filed in Missouri state court. The plaintiffs allege that they, or the children or incapacitated persons whom they represent as next friends, were injured from the use of a prescription drug researched, designed, developed, tested, labeled, packaged, distributed, marketed and sold by the defendants called Risperdal and/or Invega. Only one plaintiff alleges that the child or incapacitated person whom she represents as next friend, ingested, and/or was harmed by one of the medicines in the state of Missouri. The Non-Missouri plaintiffs, or those who do not have any connection to the state of Missouri, do not allege that they were prescribed Risperdal or any of its variants in Missouri, ingested the same in Missouri, or were injured in Missouri. Even so, the plaintiffs contend that they are properly joined because all of the plaintiffs' claims “arise out of the same series of transactions and occurrences, and their claims involve common questions of law and fact.”

         The defendants removed the action on May 31, 2017, contending that this Court has proper diversity jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1332(a). However, on the face of the complaint, diversity jurisdiction does not exist because the parties are not completely diverse. At least one plaintiff shares citizenship with at least one defendant. Because of this, the defendants contemporaneously moved to dismiss the claims of all out-of-state plaintiffs for the alleged lack of personal jurisdiction over their claims. If granted, complete diversity would exist and this court would have proper jurisdiction - both personal and subject matter - over this action.

         Instead of responding to the defendants' motion to dismiss, the plaintiffs moved to stay proceedings relating to that motion and moved the Court to remand the action to state court. In the event that plaintiffs' motion to stay is not granted, the plaintiffs move the Court to grant limited jurisdictional discovery. In their motion to remand, the plaintiffs claim that this Court lacks diversity jurisdiction and therefore lacks subject matter jurisdiction. They maintain that this Court should exercise its discretion to address their subject matter jurisdiction challenge before addressing the defendants' challenge of personal jurisdiction over the non-Missouri plaintiffs. The plaintiffs cite many cases from this district that remanded similar actions by choosing to address subject matter jurisdiction before personal jurisdiction. But these cases were decided before Bristol-Myers Squibb v. Super. Ct. of Cal., 137 S.Ct. 1773 (2017).

         II.Discussion

         A. Jurisdictional Discretion

         As both parties agree, there is “no unyielding jurisdictional hierarchy” and it is within the Court's discretion whether to address subject matter jurisdiction or personal jurisdiction first. See Ruhrgas AG v. Marathon Oil Co., 526 U.S. 574, 578 (1999). In exercising discretion to determine which issue to consider first, “courts should consider the interests of judicial economy, weigh the preclusionary effect on ruling on that issue that could travel back and bind the state court, and decide the more straightforward issue first.” Siegfried v. Boehringer Ingelheim Pharm., Inc., No. 4:16-CV-1942 (CDP), 2017 WL 2778107, at *2 (E.D. Mo. June 27, 2017) (citing Ruhrgas, 526 U.S. at 585-86). Where the parties disagree, however, is which analysis - subject matter jurisdiction or personal jurisdiction - presents the more straightforward issue that should be addressed first.

         Historically - and especially in this district - courts generally have addressed subject matter jurisdiction first because in most instances it “involve[d] no arduous inquiry.” Ruhrgas, 526 U.S. at 587. See Siegfried, 2017 WL 2778107, at *2 n.2. In fact, the Ruhrgas Court plainly held that “we recognize that in most instances subject-matter jurisdiction will involve no arduous inquiry” and “[is] often . . . the most efficient way of going.” Ruhrgas, 526 U.S. at 587 (internal quotation omitted). However, the Court also held that when “a district court has before it a straightforward personal jurisdiction issue presenting no complex question of state law, and the alleged defect in subject-matter jurisdiction raises a difficult and novel question, the court does not abuse its discretion by turning directly to personal jurisdiction.” Id. at 588.

         The plaintiffs claim that the personal jurisdiction analysis is much more complex and fact dependent than the subject matter jurisdiction analysis because the subject matter jurisdiction analysis in this case is well established and easily resolved. In support, the plaintiffs contend that the defendants' “sole basis for removal rests on a theory that has been repeatedly rejected by the Judges in this District, i.e., fraudulent joinder based upon an alleged lack of personal jurisdiction.” Indeed, courts in this district addressing fraudulent joinder “have found that personal jurisdiction requires a more fact-intensive inquiry than the straightforward legal issue of subject-matter jurisdiction.” Dorman v. Bayer Corp., No. 4:16-CV-601 (HEA), 2016 WL 7033765, at *1 (E.D. Mo. Dec. 2, 2016).[1]

         However, these cases were decided before Bristol-Myers Squibb v. Super. Ct. of Cal., 137 S.Ct. 1773 (2017) and State ex rel. Norfolk S. Ry. Co. v. Dolan, 512 S.W.3d 41 (Mo. 2017) (en banc). These decisions “make the personal jurisdiction issue in this case much easier to decide.” Siegfried, 2017 WL 2778107, at *2. As noted by Judge Perry in Siegfried, “[r]emanding this case for lack of complete diversity, only to have the case removed again later once the non-Missouri plaintiffs are dismissed, would be a waste of judicial resources.” Id. Further, analyzing the challenge to personal jurisdiction first avoids any issues relating to fraudulent joinder. Id. “Personal jurisdiction is now the more straightforward inquiry” and should be addressed first as it “is in the interests of judicial economy and expeditiousness.” Id. at *3 (internal citations omitted). See also Turner v. Boehringer Ingelheim Pharm., Inc., No. 4:17-CV-1525 (AGF), 2017 WL 3310696, at *2 (E.D. Mo. Aug. 3, 2017); Jordan v. Bayer Corp., No. 4:17-CV-865 (CEJ), 2017 WL 3006993, at *2 (E.D. Mo. July 14, 2017).

         Because this Court finds that addressing defendants' challenge to personal jurisdiction presents the more straightforward inquiry under recent court decisions, the Court will exercise its discretion to address that issue before addressing any challenge to subject matter jurisdiction.

         B. ...


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