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Beard v. Smithkline Beecham Corp.

United States District Court, D. North Dakota, Eastern Division

May 3, 2016

RACHEL BEARD, TINA BEARD, RAMONA LAWSON, individually and as Next friend of S.L., a minor, NATASHA RIGBY, individually and as next friend of A.M., a minor, MICHELLE ROLF, and TRACY LATRAILLE, Plaintiffs,
v.
SMITHKLINE BEECHAM CORPORATION d/b/a GLAXOSMITHKLINE and GLAXOSMITHKLINE, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          RONNIE L. WHITE UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         This matter is before the court on Defendant GlaxoSmithKline LLC’s Motion to Dismiss for Lack of Personal Jurisdiction or Motion to Sever and Transfer Venue (ECF No. 8). This matter is fully briefed and ready for disposition.

         BACKGROUND[1]

         Plaintiffs are the mothers and their children, who allege that the mothers ingested Paxil during their pregnancies and the children suffered birth defects as a result. See Petition, ECF No. 4, passim. Plaintiffs allege that Defendants SmithKline Beecham Corporation d/b/a GlaxoSmithKline is a Pennsylvania corporation, and that GlaxoSmithKline LLC is a Delaware limited liability company. (Petition at 1). Defendants clarify that the Petition incorrectly names “SmithKline Beecham Corporation d/b/a GlaxoSmithKline” and “GlaxoSmithKline LLC” as separate defendants. (ECF No. 9 at 2). Defendants states that on October 27, 2009, SmithKline Beecham Corporation d/b/a GlaxoSmithKline, a Pennsylvania corporation, converted to GlaxoSmithKline LLC, a limited liability company whose sole member is a Delaware corporation. (ECF No. 9 at 2). Defendant GlaxoSmithKline LLC, formerly SmithKline Beecham Corporation d/b/a GlaxoSmithKline (“GSK”), thus, is a citizen of Delaware and it maintains its corporate and administrative headquarters in Pennsylvania and North Carolina.

         In the motion before the Court, GSK submits that this Court lacks personal jurisdiction over GSK, an out-of-state defendant. GSK requests dismissal of this action or, in the alternative, severance and transfer of this action to the districts where the mother Plaintiffs were allegedly prescribed and ingested Paxil during their pregnancies.

         DISCUSSION

         I. Personal Jurisdiction

         As a basis for personal jurisdiction, the Petition alleges that “GSK transacts substantial and continuous business in Missouri, ” “received substantial revenues from the State of Missouri[, ] and/or distributed products in the State of Missouri.” (Petition, ¶¶7-8). The Petition recites the elements of the Missouri long-arm statute and committed one or more acts enumerated in the statute. (Petition, ¶7).[2] Finally, Plaintiffs allege GSK marketed, promoted and sold Paxil throughout the United States, including in the City of St. Louis, Missouri. (Petition, ¶8).[3]

         The minimum contacts necessary for due process may be the basis for either “general” or “specific” jurisdiction. Dairy Farmers of Am., Inc. v. Bassett & Walker Int'l, Inc., 702 F.3d 472, 475 (8th Cir. 2012); Johnson v. Arden, 614 F.3d 785, 794 (8th Cir. 2010). A court obtains general jurisdiction against a defendant who has “continuous and systematic” contacts with the forum state, even if the injuries at issue in the lawsuit did not arise out of the defendant's activities directed at the forum. Id. Specific jurisdiction over a defendant, on the other hand, is exercised when a state asserts personal jurisdiction over a nonresident defendant that has purposefully availed itself of the privilege of conducting business in the forum in a suit arising out of or related to the defendant's contacts with the forum. See Pangaea, Inc. v. Flying Burrito LLC, 647 F.3d 741, 745-46 (8th Cir. 2001); Johnson, 614 F.3d at 794-95. It is essential in each case that there be some act by which the defendant purposefully avails itself of the privilege of conducting activities within the forum state, thus invoking the benefits and protections of its laws. Dairy Farmers, 702 F.3d at 477; see also Hanson v. Denckla, 357 U.S. 235, 253 (1958).

         Plaintiffs argue that GSK consented to jurisdiction by assigning a registered agent for its business. (ECF No. 12 at 3-4). As noted by Plaintiffs, the Eighth Circuit held in Knowlton v. Allied Van Lines, Inc., 900 F.2d 1196 (8th Cir. 1990) that appointment of an agent for service of process under the relevant state statute gives consent to the jurisdiction of state courts for any cause of action, whether or not arising out of activities within the state. Id. at 1200. Since that decision, however, some district courts have questioned that analysis based upon more recent United States Supreme Court precedent, such as Daimler AG v. Bauman, 134 S.Ct. 746 (2014). In Daimler, the Supreme Court held that Daimler, a company headquartered in Germany, could not be sued in California for injuries allegedly caused by the conduct of its Argentinian subsidiary when that conduct took place entirely outside of the United States.

         GSK contends that this Court lacks personal jurisdiction over it under recent United States Supreme Court precedent. (ECF No. 9 at 7). GSK states that a “[a] corporation’s continuous activity of some sorts within a state … is not enough to support the demand that the corporation be amenable to suits unrelated to that activity.” (ECF No. 9 at 7 (citing Goodyear Dunlop Tires Operations, S.A. v. Brown, 131 S.Ct. 2846, 2856 (2001)). GSK notes that courts in this district have likewise observed that they lack personal jurisdiction in similar cases involving the antidepressant Zoloft. (ECF No. 9 at 7 (citing cases)).

         In response, Plaintiffs argue that, even after Daimler, the appointment of an agent can establish personal jurisdiction. (ECF No. 12 at 6-8 (citing cases)). Plaintiffs contend that GSK consented to general personal jurisdiction by establishing a corporate agent in Missouri. Id.; see Perrigo Co. v. Merial Ltd., No. 8:14-CV-403, 2015 WL 1538088, at *7 (D. Neb. Apr. 7, 2015) (“appointment of an agent for service of process constitutes consent to jurisdiction, and the Due Process Clause is satisfied”). Plaintiffs argue that “[b]ecause of the breadth of the Missouri registration statutes, as in Knowlton and the numerous post-Daimler cases that have recognized its viability, the appointment of a registered agent in Missouri is sufficient to establish personal jurisdiction over GSK.” (ECF No. 12 at 8).

         The Court recognizes the line of older cases that have found that personal jurisdiction can be based upon having a registered agent in the forum statue. See Knowlton, 900 F.2d at 1200. This Court, however, agrees with more recent judicial precedent from the United States Supreme Court and this district that have determined that more substantial contacts are required to hale a litigant into the court’s forum. The extent of Plaintiff’s allegations is that GSK marketed and sold Paxil in Missouri. These facts are much less than was alleged in Daimler and, therefore, personal jurisdiction cannot be found here. Simply marketing and selling a product in a state does not make the defendant’s affiliations with the state so “continuous and systematic as to render them essentially at home in the forum state.” Goodyear, 131 S.Ct. at 2851; Barron v. Pfizer, Inc., No. 4:15-CV-584 CAS (E.D. Mo. filed Oct. 6, 2015); Clarke v. Pfizer, Inc., No. 4:15-CV-1072 AGF (E.D. Mo. filed Sept. 8, 2015); Keeley v. Pfizer, Inc., No. 4:15-CV-583 ERW (E.D. Mo. filed July 1, 2015); Fidler v. Pfizer Inc., No. 4:15-CV-582 RWS (E.D. Mo. filed June 25, 2015). Plaintiffs have not alleged that they were sold Paxil in Missouri or that they ingested Paxil in Missouri. In fact, Plaintiffs have not alleged any connection between Missouri and their injuries. Plaintiffs have not alleged any facts supporting a finding of personal jurisdiction and the Court finds that such jurisdiction does not exist.

         II. ...


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