BNSF Railroad Co. v. Tyrrell

Justia Summary

Based on alleged work-related injuries, Nelson, a North Dakota resident, and Tyrrell, the administrator of a South Dakota estate, brought Federal Employers’ Liability Act, 45 U.S.C. 51, suits against BNSF Railroad. Neither injury occurred in Montana. Neither incorporated nor headquartered there, BNSF maintains less than five percent of its workforce and about six percent of its total track mileage in Montana. The Montana Supreme Court held that Montana courts could exercise general personal jurisdiction over BNSF because the railroad “d[id] business” in the state within the meaning of 45 U.S.C. 56. The U.S. Supreme Court reversed. Section 56 does not address personal jurisdiction over railroads but is only a venue prescription. The Montana courts’ exercise of personal jurisdiction did not comport with the Due Process Clause. Only the propriety of general personal jurisdiction was at issue because neither plaintiff alleged injury from work in or related to Montana. A state court may exercise general jurisdiction over out-of-state corporations when their “affiliations with the State are so ‘continuous and systematic’ as to render them essentially at home in the forum State.” The “paradigm” forums in which a corporate defendant is “at home” are its place of incorporation and its principal place of business. In an “exceptional case,” a corporate defendant’s operations in another forum “may be so substantial and of such a nature as to render the corporation at home in that State,” but that constraint does not vary with the type of claim asserted or business enterprise sued.