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State ex rel. Norfolk Southern Railway Co. v. Dolan

Supreme Court of Missouri, En Banc

February 28, 2017


         Original Proceeding in Prohibition

          Laura Denvir Stith, Judge

         Norfolk Southern Railway Company, a Virginia corporation, seeks a writ of prohibition directing the trial court to dismiss the underlying personal injury action brought against it under the Federal Employer's Liability Act (FELA), 45 U.S.C. §§ 51 et seq. Norfolk alleges Missouri has no personal jurisdiction over it where, as here, the injury occurred in Indiana to Russel Parker, an Indiana resident, as a result of his work for Norfolk in Indiana.

         This Court agrees that Missouri does not have specific or general personal jurisdiction over Norfolk. Though Norfolk does own and operate on railroad tracks in Missouri, the personal injury action did not arise out of, and does not relate to, Norfolk's activities in Missouri, thereby depriving Missouri of specific jurisdiction. A plaintiff may bring an action in Missouri on a cause of action unrelated to a corporation's Missouri activities if the corporation is incorporated in Missouri, has its principal place of business in Missouri, or in the exceptional case when its contacts with Missouri are so extensive and all-encompassing that Missouri, in effect, becomes another home state. None of these requirements is met here. While 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.

         This Court also rejects Parker's argument that, by complying with Missouri's foreign corporation registration statute, Norfolk impliedly consented to general jurisdiction in Missouri, as well as the argument that FELA provides an independent basis for jurisdiction over Norfolk. Missouri's registration statute does not require foreign corporations to consent to suit over activities unrelated to Missouri, and the cited FELA statute is a venue statute that does not provide an independent ground for jurisdiction of FELA cases in state courts that do not otherwise have personal jurisdiction over the defendant. The preliminary writ of prohibition is made permanent.


         The underlying action is a personal injury FELA lawsuit filed in St. Louis County by Russell Parker, a resident of Indiana, against Norfolk, a Virginia corporation with its principal place of business in Virginia. Parker alleges cumulative trauma injury sustained during his years of employment with Norfolk in Indiana.

         Norfolk annually complies with Missouri's foreign business registration statutes by registering with the state and designating an agent to receive service of process. §§ 351.574 et seq.[1] Norfolk also has brought suit and been sued in Missouri courts numerous times, but only for matters arising from or related to its activities in Missouri. Parker never worked for Norfolk in Missouri. He does not allege any negligence or other conduct or omission by Norfolk in Missouri caused the injury, nor does his petition set out any basis for specific or general personal jurisdiction over Norfolk other than his statement that Norfolk conducts substantial business and owns property in Missouri. While the record shows that Norfolk's train tracks run through Missouri, it also shows that those tracks span at least 22 states, and that the portion of Norfolk's business conducted in Missouri is only about 2 percent of its nationwide business activity.

         Norfolk moved to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction. After a hearing, the trial court overruled the motion without stating the grounds for its ruling. Norfolk then filed a petition for a writ of prohibition or, in the alternative, a writ of mandamus in the Missouri Court of Appeals. That petition was denied, and Norfolk sought the same relief in this Court. This Court issued a preliminary writ of prohibition.

         Parker argues that Missouri has both general and specific jurisdiction over Norfolk and, alternatively, that Norfolk consented to personal jurisdiction by registering to do business in Missouri and appointing a Missouri agent for service of process, or that FELA confers specific personal jurisdiction over a railroad in any state where the railroad owns or operates tracks. For the reasons set out below, this Court rejects these arguments, which often inappropriately blur the distinct bases on which each type of jurisdiction is based. Because the Court finds that none of the bases for jurisdiction alleged is supported by the record, the preliminary writ is made permanent.


         This Court has discretion to issue and determine original remedial writs. Mo. Const. art. V, § 4.1. "Prohibition is the proper remedy to prevent further action of the trial court where personal jurisdiction of the defendant is lacking." State ex rel. William Ranni Assoc., Inc. v. Hartenbach, 742 S.W.2d 134, 137 (Mo. banc 1987) (issuing a writ for the trial court's improper denial of a motion to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction). "The extraordinary remedy of a writ of prohibition is available: (1) to prevent the usurpation of judicial power when the trial court lacks authority or jurisdiction; (2) to remedy an excess of authority, jurisdiction or abuse of discretion where the lower court lacks the power to act as intended; or (3) where a party may suffer irreparable harm if relief is not granted." State ex rel. Missouri Pub. Def. Comm'n v. Waters, 370 S.W.3d 592, 603 (Mo. banc 2012). However, prohibition is only proper "when usurpation of jurisdiction … is clearly evident." State ex rel. Tarrasch v. Crow, 622 S.W.2d 928, 937 (Mo. banc 1981).[2]


         A. General Principles Governing Personal Jurisdiction.

         Personal jurisdiction is the authority of a court over the parties in a particular case. State ex rel. Kansas City S. Ry. Co. v. Nixon, 282 S.W.3d 363, 365 (Mo. banc 2009); Ins. Corp. of Ireland v. Compagnie des Bauxites de Guinee, 456 U.S. 694, 702 (1982). It is a due process requirement that limits the power of state courts over litigants. Daimler AG v. Bauman, 134 S.Ct. 746, 751 (2014); Bryant v. Smith Interior Design Grp., Inc., 310 S.W.3d 227, 231 (Mo. banc 2010). The basis of a court's personal jurisdiction over a corporation can be general - that is, all-purpose jurisdiction - or it can be specific - that is, conduct-linked jurisdiction. Daimler, 134 S.Ct. at 751. Additionally, because personal jurisdiction is an individual right, a defendant may waive jurisdictional objections by consenting to personal jurisdiction. State ex rel. Heartland Title Servs., Inc. v. Harrell, 500 S.W.3d 239, 241 (Mo. banc 2016).

         B. General Jurisdiction

         "When a State exercises personal jurisdiction over a defendant in a suit not arising out of or related to the defendant's contacts with the forum, the State has been said to be exercising 'general jurisdiction' over the defendant." Helicopteros Nacionales de Colombia, S.A. v. Hall, 466 U.S. 408, 415 n.9 (1984). In recent years, the Supreme Court has clarified the test for when the exercise of general jurisdiction over a corporation comports with due process. Daimler, 134 S.Ct. at 754; Goodyear Dunlop Tires Operations, S.A. v. Brown, 564 U.S. 915, 919 (2011). A court normally can exercise general jurisdiction over a corporation only when the corporation's place of incorporation or its principal place of business is in the forum state. Goodyear, 564 U.S. at 919; Daimler, 134 S.Ct. at 754.[3] In "exceptional cases, " general jurisdiction may exist in an additional state if the corporation's activities in that other state are "so substantial and of such a nature as to render the corporation at home in that State." Daimler, 134 S.Ct. at 761 n.19.

         Parker argues that Norfolk's "continuous and systematic" business in Missouri supports finding that Missouri has general jurisdiction over it even for cases not arising from its activities in Missouri. Prior to Daimler, this would have been a valid argument. State ex rel. K-Mart Corp. v. Holliger, 986 S.W.2d 165, 168-69 (Mo. banc 1999). But, it is no longer the law. In Daimler, the plaintiff similarly argued a large corporation's subsidiary conducting substantial and continuous business in the state as the state's largest seller of luxury cars was sufficient to establish jurisdiction. Daimler, 134 S.Ct. at 752, 758. The Supreme Court expressly rejected that argument. While Daimler did substantial and continuous business in California, it did business throughout the United States and its California business constituted only 2.4 percent of its total sales. Id. at 752. The Supreme Court held that the mere conduct of these systematic and continuous business activities in the state was not sufficient to subject the corporation to general jurisdiction in the state for all causes of action not related to that state. Id. at 761.

         Brown v. Lockheed Martin Corp.,814 F.3d 619, 627-30 (2d Cir. 2016), applied Daimler's appraisal of a foreign corporation's forum activity to Lockheed, which was sued in Connecticut for a claim not connected in any way to its Connecticut activities. Lockheed was incorporated and had its principal place of business in Maryland, but it registered to do business in Connecticut and complied with Connecticut's registration statutes requiring designation of an in-state agent to receive service of process. Id. at 622. Over the relevant time span, it generated approximately $160 million in revenue and employed between 30 and 70 people per year in Connecticut; maintained a physical presence in the state, including lease of a ...

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