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Document Type

Article

Abstract

Although it is destined for the personal jurisdiction canon, the Supreme Court’s eight-to-one decision in Bristol-Myers Squibb Co. v. Superior Court does little to clarify that notoriously hazy doctrine. It does, however, significantly alter the balance of power in complex litigation. Bristol-Myers is a landmark case because it makes both mass-tort class actions and mass joinders impracticable in almost any state court outside of the defendant’s home states. With federal courts already hostile to class actions, plaintiffs who want to aggregate their claims will have to do so on the defendant’s terms: either on the defendant’s home turf or in federal multidistrict litigation (MDL). Faced with this choice, we believe that most plaintiffs will turn to MDL. The result will be the culmination of a trend toward the federalization of mass-tort litigation in MDL, which has already grown to make up an astonishing one-third of the federal civil docket. In this Article, we examine why Bristol-Myers will have this effect and explain how MDL’s hybrid structure facilitates centralized mass-tort litigation in federal court, even as the Court’s restrictive view on personal jurisdiction prevents similar aggregation in state court. MDL cuts this Gordian knot by formally adhering to the vision of vertical and horizontal federalism underlying both diversity jurisdiction and Bristol-Myers, while also paradoxically undermining that vision in service of mass resolution. As a result, even more power over mass-tort litigation will be centralized in the hands of the MDL judge and the lead lawyers the judge selects to run the litigation—a prospect that comes with both opportunities and risks.

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