Tuesday, May 30, 2017
SCOTUS Symposium: General jurisdiction narrows further
I am glad we started our June symposium two days early, because the Court issued four of its remaining opinions, including BNSF R. Co. v. Tyrrell, one of two personal jurisdiction cases from the April sitting.
The question was whether a state court (in this case, Montana) can exercise jurisdiction over a FELA claim for an accident that occurred in another state. The Court unanimously (through Justice Ginsburg) held that FELA itself does not answer the question because the possibly relevant statutory provision did not speak to personal jurisdiction, but only to subject matter jurisdiction (making clear concurrent jurisdiction over FELA claims) and venue (for FELA claims in federal court).The personal jurisdiction analysis therefore was covered by International Shoe. And here was see the same divide (Ginsburg for the Court, Justice Sotomayor dissenting alone) over the scope of general jurisdiction as in Daimler v. Bauman; Part III of the majority and all of the dissent are an in-miniature rehash of Diamler.
The majority reiterates several things: 1) General jurisdiction is where the defendant's contacts are so "continuous and systematic" as to be "essentially at home"; The "paradigm" of the essential home is the entity's principal place of business and state of incorporation; 3) there may be "exceptional" cases in which general jurisdiction will be available outside those two states; 4) a company doing business in many states cannot be home in all of them and the analysis must consider its in-state contacts in light of its overall activities in other states; 5) Shoe was a specific, not general, jurisdiction case, so any discussion of general jurisdiction there is dicta. The Court added something new: It pointed to Perkins as exemplifying a company essentially at home other than its state of creation and P/P/B, hinting (according to Sotomayor's dissent) that this exhausts the exceptional cases and only a similar set of facts* will qualify.
[*]Unlikely, as Japan is unlikely to invade the Philippines.
Thus, 2000 miles of track and 2000 employees in Montana is not sufficient to make BNSF essentially at home, where it is incorporated and has its PPB elsewhere and where it does similar amounts of business in other states.
The significance of this case in reaffirming the narrowness of general jurisdiction may not be clear until the Court decides Bristol-Myers. The narrowing of general jurisdiction has forced courts to find ways to expand when a contact "gives rise" or "relates to" a claim, thereby expanding specific jurisdiction.