On April 25, 2017, the Supreme Court held in BNSF Railway Co. v. Tyrrell, et al., 581 U.S._(2017), No. 16-405, a state court may not exercise personal jurisdiction over claims made by nonresident employees injured while working outside of the state.
Kelli Tyrrell, resident of North Dakota and administrator of her husband Brent Tyrrell’s estate, brought a Federal Employers’ Liability Act (“FELA”) suit against Brent’s employer BNSF Railway Company (“BNSF”), alleging Brent developed a fatal cancer from his exposer to carcinogenic chemicals while working for BNSF. Another employee, Robert Nelson, a resident of North Dakota, also brought a FELA suit against his employer, BNSF, alleging he sustained injuries while working for BNSF. Both Tyrrell and Nelson filed their suit in Montana state court even though neither worker was injured in Montana, BNSF is not incorporated nor headquartered in Montana, and BNSF maintains less than 5% of its work force and 6% 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 both “d[id] business” in the State within the meaning of Section 56 of the FELA and was “found within” the State within the compass of Montana Civil Procedure Rules.
The U.S. Supreme Court reversed and remanded, finding that Section 56 of FELA – which provides that “an action may be brought in a district court of the United States,” in, among other places, the district “in which the defendant shall be doing business at the time of commencing such action” – does not address personal jurisdiction over railroads, nor do any of the cases featured by the Montana Supreme Court resolve the question of personal jurisdiction. In an 8-1 opinion, the U.S. Supreme Court ultimately held that the Montana court’s exercise of personal jurisdiction under Montana state law does not comport with the 14th Amendment’s due process clause, and therefore the Supreme Court’s precedent in Daimler AG v. Baumann, controls a state court’s exercise of general jurisdiction.
Justice Sotomayor filed an opinion concurring in part and dissenting in part, stating the “comparative contacts” test set forth in International Shoe Co. v. Washington should apply instead of the “at home” test found in Daimler AG v. Bauman, and warned the holding could have the effect of limiting general jurisdiction to only the company’s principal place of business or incorporation.
This holding highlights the importance Daimler AG v. Bauman has on limiting a plaintiff’s ability to forum shop. Where a statute is silent on personal jurisdiction and the parties fail to show personal connection with the forum state, general jurisdiction using the test found in Daimler AG will be used. If Coats Group plc becomes the subject of a FELA suit, and the plaintiffs cannot show personal jurisdiction, the exercise of general jurisdiction using the “at home” test will apply and jurisdiction will be limited to the forum state with sufficient substantial contact.