Jurisdiction -- 2017

Abbott Labs., Inc. v. Schmidt   (Missouri Supreme Court)

Venue for multiple out-of-state plaintiffs joined in one suit

This case is about venue, or which court is the proper court to hear the case. It is complicated by the fact that the plaintiff brought suit in a court where venue was improper, but she joined her claim with those of other plaintiffs who were properly before the court. It arises out of a claim of damages from allegedly inadequate warnings on an FDA-approved prescription drug used to treat epilepsy, and a jury in the city of St. Louis awarded damages totalling $38 million.

The company appealed, claiming that her case should not have been heard by a St. Louis jury. While it is appropriate to consolidate cases involving common questions of fact or law, those cases must also satisfy statutory venue requirements. Only 2 plaintiffs actually lived in St. Louis, while 20 others were from out-of-state. The statute provides that, when a plaintiff is injured outside of Missouri, venue is proper in Missouri where the corporate defendant' registered agent is located. The trial court allowed all the cases to be joined together, even though most of the plaintiffs did not satisfy the venue requirement.

The NAM filed an amicus brief on appeal arguing that this ruling was incorrect. Just because a court may join cases together doesn't mean that the judge can ignore the express requirements of the venue statute. The purpose of the statute is in part to reduce forum shopping by plaintiffs. Ignoring the venue statute would encourage plaintiffs' lawyers "to shop aggressively for plaintiff-friendly forums and bring as many claims as possible in such venues." It would also create great uncertainty for businesses, dramatically reducing their ability to predict where they will be subjected to mass actions, Forum shopping also imposes serious burdens on the courts in St. Louis by flooding them with claims that have no ties to the city.

The 2016/2017 Judicial Hellholes report cites the City of St. Louis as the #1 judicial hellhole in the country. Because of weak venue requirements, fast trials, lax evidentiary standards, and big awards, the city has attracted many out-of-state plaintiffs.

The Missouri Supreme Court ducked the question whether venue was proper and found that even if it were improper, the defendant failed to show any event or action in the trial court that would support the conclusion that that court was less fair than the alternate jurisdiction. It affirmed the judgment.

Related Documents:
NAM Amicus Brief  (February 28, 2017)
NAM amicus brief  (February 28, 2017)


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