On May 30, 2017, Justice Ginsburg delivered the majority opinion of the Supreme Court of the United States in BNSF Railway Co. v. Tyrrell, et. al. which is notable to defendants who do business throughout the country. In sum, SCOTUS reversed and remanded a decision by the Montana Supreme Court which loosely applied “general jurisdiction” to a railroad company. The opinion came down rather quickly after oral argument which occurred on April 25, 2017 and the tone was a stern reminder to state courts to follow the Goodyear (2011) and Daimler (2014) precedents.
The first issue (statutory) addressed in the opinion involves the Federal Employers’ Liability Act (FELA). The Montana Supreme Court had opined that FELA authorized personal jurisdiction in any state where a defendant was “doing business.” SCOTUS rejected that notion and held that “FELA does not authorize state courts to exercise personal jurisdiction over a railroad solely on the ground that the railroad does some business in their States.”
However, the heart of the opinion is Justice Ginsburg’s analysis regarding whether due process forbids general jurisdiction in this case. Citing the Court’s Goodyear (2011) and Daimler (2014) decisions (also authored by Justice Ginsburg) SCOTUS again held that Montana could not, consistent with due process, exercise general jurisdiction over the railroad defendant:
“BNSF, we repeat, is not incorporated in Montana and does not maintain its principal place of business there. Nor is BNSF so heavily engaged in activity in Montana “as to render [it] essentially at home” in that State. Citing Daimler, 571 U.S., at ____, 134 S.Ct. 746 at 761 (internal quotation marks omitted). As earlier noted, BNSF has over 2,000 miles of railroad track and more than 2,000 employees in Montana. But, as we observed in Daimler, “the general jurisdiction inquiry does not focus solely on the magnitude of the defendant’s in-state contacts.” Id., at ___, n. 20, 134 S.Ct.., at 762, n. 20 (internal quotation marks and alterations omitted). Rather, the inquiry “calls for an appraisal of a corporation’s activities in their entirety”; “[a] corporation that operates in many places can scarcely be deemed at home in all of them.” Ibid. In short, the business BNSF does in Montana is sufficient to subject the railroad to specific personal jurisdiction in that State on claims related to the business it does in Montana. But in-state business, we clarified in Daimler and Goodyear, does not suffice to permit the assertion of general jurisdiction over claims like Nelson’s and Tyrrell’s that are unrelated to any activity occurring in Montana.”
Justice Ginsburg reminded courts reluctant to apply precedent:
Goodyear and Daimler clarified that “[a] court may assert general jurisdiction over foreign (sister-state or foreign-country) corporations to hear any and all claims against them when their affiliations with the State are so ‘continuous and systematic’ as to render them essentially at home in the forum State.” Daimler, 571 U. S., at ___, 134 S.Ct., at 754 (quoting Goodyear, 564 U. S., at 919, 131 S.Ct. 2846). The “paradigm” forums in which a corporate defendant is “at home,” we explained, are the corporation’s place of incorporation and its principal place of business. Daimler, 571 U. S., at ___, 134 S.Ct., at 760; Goodyear, 564 U. S., at 924, 131 S.Ct. 2846. The exercise of general jurisdiction is not limited to these forums; 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.” Daimler, 571 U. S., at ___, n. 19, 134 S.Ct., at 761, n. 19.
Justice Ginsburg was joined in this opinion by Chief Justice Roberts and Justices Kennedy, Thomas, Breyer, Alito, Kagan and Gorsuch.
Notably, this is the first merits opinion in which Justice Gorsuch has participated on SCOTUS.
Justice Sotomayor concurs in part and dissents in part.