United States: Direct-Filed MDL Case On Thin Ice For Personal Jurisdiction

Last Updated: November 6 2019
Article by Eric Alexander

We are writing about a case that does not involve drugs or devices because it runs through some of the very same personal jurisdiction issues we have warned about post-Bauman. Adams v. NHL, MDL No, 14-2551, Case No. 15-cv-00472 (SRN/JSM), 2019 WL 5079980 (D. Minn. Oct. 10, 2019), is a case from the NHL concussion MDL. We make a hokey hockey joke in the title not to minimize the alleged injuries in the cases in this MDL, but to harken back to the hokey titles in The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show, the titular characters of which were from Frostbite Falls, Minnesota. Frostbite Falls was fictional, as were the alleged general and specific jurisdictional ties of the Adams case to Minnesota. "Why is personal jurisdiction over a defendant being litigated in an MDL case?" you ask. Well, the plaintiff—a Canadian citizen proceeding pro se—filed directly in the MDL and the defendant reserved its right to contest jurisdiction when it accepted service for direct filed cases. That is a fine practice pointer to start us off. Another, implicit along the way, is that it is still not a good idea to go pro se even when there is an MDL and template complaints are available to use when asserting claims without much individualization of the pleading.

In the posture of a motion to dismiss on lack of personal jurisdiction, to which the pro se plaintiff did not respond, the complaint becomes close to the sole focus of the inquiry. Plaintiff alleged injuries sustained during more than a decade of playing—and fighting—in the NHL for a series of teams not based in Minnesota, but did not allege any injuries sustained in Minnesota. It does not look like he alleged much about Minnesota at all, presumably because he was unaware that he would have to establish a Minnesota court's jurisdiction over the NHL in general or his various claims in particular. While he sued after Bauman, it looks like the complaint he used did not consider the decision’s impact or, perhaps, operated under the mistaken assumption that direct filing in an MDL would obviate the need for personal jurisdiction over the defendant in the MDL court. In any event, the NHL claims its headquarters and principal place of business are in New York—and plaintiff did not respond to contradict that claim. (For those of you wondering, the old Minnesota NHL franchise, the North Stars, headed down to Dallas before the plaintiff entered the league and the new Minnesota NHL franchise, the Wild, entered the league while the plaintiff was still playing. While it seems likely, therefore, that plaintiff played in Minnesota and maybe took a jarring hit or worse on the ice there, it was not in the record.)

With that background, the court walked through both general personal jurisdiction and specific personal jurisdiction under what are, by now, pretty familiar Supreme Court and Eighth Circuit standards. General personal jurisdiction was fairly straightforward on the unopposed record. The NHL is at home in New York not in Minnesota, something plaintiff "appears to tacitly agree with" because the complaint treats the NHL as a foreign corporation. While the complaint alleged franchises in Minnesota and a number of other states (and the District of Columbia?), it offered nothing to conclude that that the NHL was "essentially at home" in Minnesota. While T.J. Oshie and many other Minnesotans in the NHL might consider Minnesota the home of hockey in the United States, the business entity called the National Hockey League is not subject to general personal jurisdiction there.

The specific personal jurisdiction analysis was similarly determined by the lack of Minnesota-specific allegations in the complaint and the lack of a response by the plaintiff. The key thing to understand about the specific jurisdiction analysis under the current, post-¬BMS landscape is that jurisdiction is supposed to be determined claim-by-claim. So, while plaintiff asserted negligence and fraud claims, claimed specific injuries and damages, and even the need for future medical monitoring, none of that was tied to Minnesota. No acts or omissions by the NHL in Minnesota were alleged to have hurt him and no injuries were allegedly sustained there. In the absence of actual ties between the claims and the state in which plaintiff sought to maintain his suit, the general considerations about the interest of the forum state and convenience of the parties were not enough to establish specific personal jurisdiction over the non-resident defendant.

The result here was dismissal without prejudice. Whether plaintiff files again somewhere with general or specific personal jurisdiction over the NHL, whether the case will end up back in the MDL again, and whether any re-filed case are (or maybe Åre, depending on the next forum) for another day. For now, the re-affirmation that personal jurisdiction principles apply to MDL defendants is potentially useful for our usual client base.

This article is presented for informational purposes only and is not intended to constitute legal advice.

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