Wednesday, March 25, 2020
Following on the heels of decisions by the D.C. Circuit and the Seventh Circuit earlier this month, the Fifth Circuit issued a decision today that touches on the relationship between personal jurisdiction and class actions in the wake of the Supreme Court’s Bristol-Myers decision. Specifically, the panel decision in Cruson v. Jackson National Life Insurance Co. addresses whether the defendant had waived its argument that the Texas district court lacked personal jurisdiction with respect to the claims of class members outside of Texas.
In the district court, the defendant (Jackson) had filed a Rule 12 pre-answer motion to dismiss for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction and failure to state a claim but did not assert a lack of personal jurisdiction until it served its answer. The district court found this constituted a waiver of the lack-of-personal-jurisdiction defense, but today’s Fifth Circuit decision disagrees. Judge Duncan’s opinion states:
“Jackson’s objection to personal jurisdiction concerned only class members who were non-residents of Texas. Those members, however, were not yet before the court when Jackson filed its Rule 12 motions. What brings putative class members before the court is certification: Certification of a class is the critical act which reifies the unnamed class members and, critically, renders them subject to the court’s power. When Jackson filed its pre-certification Rule 12 motions, however, the only live claims belonged to the named plaintiffs, all Texas residents as to whom Jackson conceded personal jurisdiction. Thus, at that time, a personal jurisdiction objection respecting merely putative class members was not ‘available,’ as Rule 12(g)(2) requires for waiver.” [Slip Op. at 9-10 (citations, internal quotation marks, and footnotes omitted)]
The Fifth Circuit did not, however, address the merits of the defendant’s personal jurisdiction argument. In footnote 7, Judge Duncan states:
“We decline Jackson’s request to address the merits of its personal jurisdiction defense for the first time on appeal. . . . Because we find that Jackson did not waive the defense, and because we vacate the district court’s certification order and remand for further proceedings, Jackson is free to raise the defense again should plaintiffs seek to re-certify a class. We express no opinion on the merits of the personal jurisdiction issue, should it be raised again on remand.”