A Win for Corporate Defendants in the Fight to Limit Personal Jurisdiction
An opinion out of Missouri offers optimism that courts are beginning to limit personal jurisdiction over a non-resident defendant. In State ex rel. Norfolk Southern Railway Co. v. Dolan, Russell Parker, an Indiana resident, filed suit in St. Louis County, Missouri, against his employer, Norfolk Southern, under the Federal Employer’s Liability Act. Parker, alleged injuries sustained while working in Indiana for Norfolk Southern, a Virginia-based corporation.
The Missouri Supreme Court held that Missouri lacked specific and general personal jurisdiction over Norfolk Southern. As to specific personal jurisdiction, the plaintiff argued that Missouri had jurisdiction because Norfolk Southern engaged in the same “type” of railroad business activities in Missouri as it does in Indiana, where his injuries occurred. The court held that there was no support for the proposition, stating:
Just because a company like Ford, for example, sells cars in Iowa and in California, does not mean there is jurisdiction in California for injuries that occurred in Iowa simply because Ford engages in the same “type” of activity—selling cars—in both states. … To say this same conduct confers specific jurisdiction over suits the facts of which have no relationship to the forum state would be to turn specific jurisdiction on its head. There would never be a need to discuss general jurisdiction, for every state would have specific jurisdiction over every national business corporation.
Turning then to general personal jurisdiction, the court held that a plaintiff may bring suit in Missouri on a cause of action unrelated to a corporation’s Missouri activities if the corporation:
a) is incorporated in Missouri;
b) has its principal place of business in Missouri; or
c) when its contacts with Missouri are so extensive and all-encompassing that Missouri, in effect, becomes another home state.
Plaintiff’s only possible jurisdictional hook for Norfolk Southern was Option C. The court, however, rejected this argument, finding that “[w]hile Norfolk does substantial and continuous business in Missouri, it also conducts substantial and continuous business in at least 21 other states, and its Missouri business amounts to only about 2 percent of its total business. This is insufficient to establish general personal jurisdiction over Norfolk.”
Finally, the court also rejected the plaintiff’s argument that, by complying with Missouri’s foreign corporation registration statute, Norfolk Southern implicitly consented to general jurisdiction in Missouri. The court held that Missouri’s registration statute does not require foreign corporations to consent to suit over activities unrelated to Missouri.