Whether a state court can exercise personal jurisdiction over a railroad company under the Federal Employees Liability Act wherever the company does business or under the Supreme Court’s precedent, Daimler AG v. Bauman, only where the company is “at home” (the principle place of business or place of incorporation)?
Two plaintiffs are suing BNSF in Montana: (a) a North Dakotan who injured his knee while working for BNSF in Washington state; and (b) a South Dakotan who lost her husband due to cancer, she says he got while working for BNSF in SD, Minnesota, and Iowa.
They are suing under the Federal Employees Liability Act, which allows railroad workers to sue their employers. They are arguing for general jurisdiction: the rail road laying down thousands of miles of tracks and having things like a Montana lobbying office create “substantial, continuous and systematic contacts with Montana. This is in contrast to specific jurisdiction, where a court can take personal jurisdiction over a defendant where the set of facts that give rise to the lawsuit occur in the forum state.
BNSF, which has its principle place of business in Texas and is incorporate in Delaware, is relying on a Supreme Court precedent, Daimler AG v. Bauman, that stands for the proposition that general jurisdiction cannot be exercised over a company where their contracts are slim and unrelated to the lawsuit.
The Montana Supreme Court agreed with the plaintiffs and held that the FELA gives state courts jurisdiction over a railroad defendant, where ever the company does business. The text of the statute says an action can be brought anywhere “the defendant shall be doing business at the time of commencing such an action.” The Montana Supreme Court pointed to legislative history that showed Congress amended the statute to include this language so that the employee would have a broad choice of forum to sue.