On February 28, 2017, the Missouri Supreme Court joined a growing list of tribunals to apply a strict reading of the United States Supreme Court’s seminal ruling in Daimler AG v. Bauman, 134 S. Ct. 746 (2014). In State ex rel. Norfolk So. Ry. Co. v. Hon. Colleen Dolan, No. SC95514, the Missouri Supreme Court held that Missouri courts lack the requisite personal jurisdiction, either specific or general, over a non-resident defendant, Norfolk Southern Railway Company, in a claim brought by a non-resident plaintiff who asserted a Federal Employer’s Liability Act (FELA) violation arising from his employment by Norfolk Southern in the State of Indiana. The ruling marks a significant victory for corporate defendants seeking to combat forum shopping by plaintiffs, the practice of bringing cases in jurisdictions which are more likely to provide a favorable judgment or a more lucrative verdict.
The plaintiff, Indiana resident Russell Parker, argued that Missouri courts had both general and specific jurisdiction over Norfolk based on the company’s contacts with the state. Specifically, the plaintiff cited Norfolk’s ownership of approximately 400 miles of railroad track in the state, 590 employees in the state, and approximately $232,000,000 in annual revenue from the company’s operations in Missouri. As grounds for its decision, the court found that the plaintiff’s allegations did not arise from or relate to Norfolk’s activities in Missouri so as to give rise to specific jurisdiction, nor were Norfolk’s operations in the State sufficient to give rise to a Missouri court’s exercise of general jurisdiction over a defendant such as Norfolk; a company incorporated in and with principal place of business in Virginia.
Citing the Second Circuit’s decision in Brown v. Lockheed Martin Corp., 814 F.3d 619, 627-30 (2d Cir. 2016), wherein .05 percent of the defendant’s employees and no more than .107 percent of total revenue were derived from the defendant’s activities in the state of Connecticut, the Missouri Supreme Court concluded that Norfolk’s activity in Missouri represents “a tiny portion” of the company’s business activities nationwide. Specifically, the court noted that the revenue derived from Missouri is approximately 2 percent of Norfolk’s total revenues; the tracks owned and operated in Missouri constitute approximately 2 percent of the tracks Norfolk owns and operates nationally; and the company’s Missouri-based employees account for only about 2 percent of its total employees.
The Missouri Supreme Court’s decision is particularly newsworthy for its refusal to find general personal jurisdiction based on a non-resident company’s appointment of a registered agent in the state. In its ruling, the court rejected the plaintiff’s argument that Norfolk’s compliance with Missouri’s mandatory business registration requirements for foreign corporations amounted to consent to the exercise of general personal jurisdiction by Missouri courts. To the contrary, the court held that as the relevant section of law provided only that registration is consent to service of process against non-resident corporations, “the registration statute does not provide an independent basis for broadening Missouri’s personal jurisdiction to include suits unrelated to the corporation’s forum activities when the usual bases for general jurisdiction are not present.” This finding echoes the recent ruling of the Delaware Supreme Court in Genuine Parts Company v. Cepec, 137 A.3d 123, 147 n.125 (Del. 2016), which held that a broad inference of consent based on a non-resident corporation’s registration to do business in a state would allow national corporations to be sued in every state, rendering Daimler pointless.
Further, the Missouri Supreme Court declined to go along with the plaintiff’s argument that FELA itself provides an independent basis for specific jurisdiction any place that a railroad corporation has tracks. Here too, the court rejected the contention that FELA confers specific jurisdiction on the grounds that such an interpretation would turn specific jurisdiction on its head, subjecting corporations to personal jurisdiction in every state regardless of the facts of the case or the defendant corporation’s contacts with the state.
The Missouri Supreme Court’s decision adds a significant brick in the Daimler wall, bolstering the protection it provides corporations against forum shopping and excessive litigation in magnet jurisdictions. The true measure of Daimler’s longevity will, however, come next month, as the United States Supreme Court hears oral arguments on two challenges involving the application of Daimler in BNSF Railway Co. v. Tyrrell, and Bristol-Myers Squibb Co. v. The Superior Court of San Francisco County. Stay tuned!