BNSF Ry. Co. v. Tyrrell

Decision Date30 May 2017
Docket NumberNo. 16–405.,16–405.
Citation137 S.Ct. 1549,198 L.Ed.2d 36
Parties BNSF RAILWAY CO., Petitioner v. Kelli TYRRELL, special administrator for the Estate of Brent T. Tyrrell, Deceased, et al.
CourtU.S. Supreme Court

Andrew S. Tulumello, Washington, DC, for Petitioner.

Nicole A. Saharsky, for the United States as amicus curiae, by special leave of the Court, supporting the petitioner.

Julie A. Murray, Washington, DC, for Respondents.

Andrew S. Tulumello, Michael R. Huston, Sean J. Cooksey, Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP, Washington, DC, for Petitioner.

Fredric A. Bremseth, Bremseth Law Firm, P.C., Minnetonka, MN, Robert S. Fain, Jr., Billings, MT, Julie A. Murray, Scott L. Nelson, Allison M. Zieve, Public Citizen Litigation Group, Washington, DC, for Respondents.

Justice GINSBURG delivered the opinion of the Court.

The two cases we decide today arise under the Federal Employers' Liability Act (FELA), 35 Stat. 65, as amended, 45 U.S.C. § 51 et seq., which makes railroads liable in money damages to their employees for on-the-job injuries. Both suits were pursued in Montana state courts although the injured workers did not reside in Montana, nor were they injured there. The defendant railroad, BNSF Railway Company (BNSF), although "doing business" in Montana when the litigation commenced, was not incorporated in Montana, nor did it maintain its principal place of business in that State. To justify the exercise of personal jurisdiction over BNSF, the Montana Supreme Court relied on § 56, which provides in relevant part:

"Under this chapter an action may be brought in a district court of the United States, in the district of the residence of the defendant, or in which the cause of action arose, or in which the defendant shall be doing business at the time of commencing such action. The jurisdiction of the courts of the United States under this chapter shall be concurrent with that of the courts of the several States."

We hold that § 56 does not address personal jurisdiction over railroads. Its first relevant sentence is a venue prescription governing proper locations for FELA suits filed in federal court. The provision's second relevant sentence, using the term "concurrent" jurisdiction, refers to subject-matter jurisdiction, not personal jurisdiction. It simply clarifies that the federal courts do not have exclusive subject-matter jurisdiction over FELA suits; state courts can hear them, too.

Montana's Supreme Court, in the alternative, relied on state law, under which personal jurisdiction could be asserted over "persons found within ... Montana." Mont. Rule Civ. Proc. 4 (b)(1) (2015). BNSF fit that bill, the court stated, because it has over 2,000 miles of railroad track and employs more than 2,000 workers in Montana. Our precedent, however, explains that the Fourteenth Amendment's Due Process Clause does not permit a State to hale an out-of-state corporation before its courts when the corporation is not "at home" in the State and the episode-in-suit occurred elsewhere. Daimler AG v. Bauman, 571 U.S. ––––, ––––, 134 S.Ct. 746, 754, 187 L.Ed.2d 624 (2014) (internal quotation marks omitted). We therefore reverse the judgment of the Montana Supreme Court.

I

In March 2011, respondent Robert Nelson, a North Dakota resident, brought a FELA suit against BNSF in a Montana state court to recover damages for knee injuries Nelson allegedly sustained while working for BNSF as a fuel-truck driver. 383 Mont. 417, 419, 373 P.3d 1, 3 (2016). In May 2014, respondent Kelli Tyrrell, appointed in South Dakota as the administrator of her husband Brent Tyrrell's estate, similarly sued BNSF under FELA in a Montana state court. Id., at 419–420, 373 P.3d, at 3. Brent Tyrrell, his widow alleged, had developed a fatal kidney cancer from his exposure to carcinogenic chemicals while working for BNSF. Id., at 420, 373 P.3d, at 3. Neither plaintiff alleged injuries arising from or related to work performed in Montana; indeed, neither Nelson nor Brent Tyrrell appears ever to have worked for BNSF in Montana. Id., at 419–420, 373 P.3d, at 3.

BNSF is incorporated in Delaware and has its principal place of business in Texas. Id., at 419, 373 P.3d, at 3. It operates railroad lines in 28 States. No. DV 14–699 (13th Jud. Dist., Yellowstone Cty., Mont., Oct. 7, 2014), App. to Pet. for Cert. 63a. BNSF has 2,061 miles of railroad track in Montana (about 6% of its total track mileage of 32,500), employs some 2,100 workers there (less than 5% of its total work force of 43,000), generates less than 10% of its total revenue in the State, and maintains only one of its 24 automotive facilities in Montana (4%). Ibid. Contending that it is not "at home" in Montana, as required for the exercise of general personal jurisdiction under Daimler AG v. Bauman, 571 U.S. ––––, ––––, 134 S.Ct. 746, 754, 187 L.Ed.2d 624 (2014) (internal quotation marks omitted), BNSF moved to dismiss both suits for lack of personal jurisdiction. Its motion was granted in Nelson's case and denied in Tyrrell's. 383 Mont., at 419, 373 P.3d, at 2.

After consolidating the two cases, the Montana Supreme Court held that Montana courts could exercise general personal jurisdiction over BNSF. Id., at 429, 373 P.3d, at 9. Section 56, the court determined, authorizes state courts to exercise personal jurisdiction over railroads "doing business" in the State. Id., at 426, 373 P.3d, at 7 (internal quotation marks omitted). In addition, the court observed, Montana law provides for the exercise of general jurisdiction over "[a]ll persons found within" the State. Id., at 427, 373 P.3d, at 8 (quoting Mont. Rule Civ. Proc. 4 (b)(1) (2015)). In view of the railroad's many employees and miles of track in Montana, the court concluded, BNSF is both "doing business" and "found within" the State, such that both FELA and Montana law authorized the exercise of personal jurisdiction. 383 Mont., at 426, 428, 373 P.3d, at 7–8 (internal quotation marks omitted). The due process limits articulated in Daimler, the court added, did not control, because Daimler did not involve a FELA claim or a railroad defendant. 383 Mont., at 424, 373 P.3d, at 6.

Justice McKinnon dissented. Section 56, she wrote, is a federal-court venue prescription, and also confers subject-matter jurisdiction on state courts in FELA cases, concurrent with federal courts. Id., at 435–437, 373 P.3d, at 13. But § 56, she maintained, does not touch or concern personal jurisdiction. Ibid. Furthermore, she concluded, Daimler controls, rendering the Montana courts' exercise of personal jurisdiction impermissible because BNSF is not "at home" in Montana. 383 Mont., at 433–434, 373 P.3d, at 11–12.

We granted certiorari, 580 U.S. ––––, 137 S.Ct. 810, 196 L.Ed.2d 596 (2017), to resolve whether § 56 authorizes state courts to exercise personal jurisdiction over railroads doing business in their States but not incorporated or headquartered there, and whether the Montana courts' exercise of personal jurisdiction in these cases comports with due process.

II

Nelson and Tyrrell contend that § 56's first relevant sentence confers personal jurisdiction on federal courts, and that the section's second relevant sentence extends that grant of jurisdiction to state courts. Neither contention is tenable. Section 56's first relevant sentence concerns venue; its next sentence speaks to subject-matter jurisdiction.1

A

The first sentence of § 56 states 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." In Baltimore & Ohio R. Co. v. Kepner, 314 U.S. 44, 62 S.Ct. 6, 86 L.Ed. 28 (1941), we comprehended this clause as "establish[ing] venue" for a federal-court action. Id., at 52, 62 S.Ct. 6. Congress, we explained, designed § 56 to expand venue beyond the limits of the 1888 Judiciary Act's general venue provision, which allowed suit only "in districts of which the defendant was an inhabitant." Id., at 49, 62 S.Ct. 6 ; see Act of Aug. 13, 1888, § 1, 25 Stat. 434. Nowhere in Kepner or in any other decision did we intimate that § 56 might affect personal jurisdiction.

Congress generally uses the expression, where suit "may be brought," to indicate the federal districts in which venue is proper. See, e.g., 28 U.S.C. § 1391(b) (general venue statute specifying where "[a] civil action may be brought"); J. Oakley, ALI, Fed. Judicial Code Rev. Project 253–290 (2004) (listing special venue statutes, many with similar language). See also Kepner, 314 U.S., at 56, 62 S.Ct. 6 (Frankfurter, J., dissenting) ("The phrasing of [ § 56 ] follows the familiar pattern generally employed by Congress in framing venue provisions.").

In contrast, Congress' typical mode of providing for the exercise of personal jurisdiction has been to authorize service of process. See, e.g., 15 U.S.C. § 22 (Clayton Act provision stating that "all process in [cases against a corporation arising under federal antitrust laws] may be served in the district of which [the defendant] is an inhabitant, or wherever [the defendant] may be found"); § 53(a) (under Federal Trade Commission Act, "process may be served on any person, partnership, or corporation wherever it may be found"). See also Omni Capital Int'l, Ltd. v. Rudolf Wolff & Co., 484 U.S. 97, 106–107, 108 S.Ct. 404, 98 L.Ed.2d 415 (1987) (discussing statutes that authorize (or fail to authorize) nationwide service of process). But cf. Schlanger v. Seamans, 401 U.S. 487, 490, n. 4, 91 S.Ct. 995, 28 L.Ed.2d 251 (1971) (though "Congress has provided for nationwide service of process" in 28 U.S.C. § 1391(e) (1964 ed., Supp. V), that statute was meant to expand venue, not personal jurisdiction). Congress uses this terminology because, absent consent, a basis for service of a summons on the defendant is prerequisite to the exercise of personal jurisdiction. See Omni Capital, 484 U.S., at 104, 108 S.Ct. 404.

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