Missouri Supreme Court Decision on Personal Jurisdiction
The plaintiff, Russell Parker, sued his former employer, Norfolk Southern Railway Company (“Norfolk”), in the state of Missouri, seeking damages for cumulative trauma sustained during his years of employment in the state of in Indiana. Norfolk initially filed a motion to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction, which the trial court overruled. Norfolk then filed a petition for a writ of prohibition or, in the alternative, a writ of mandamus with the Missouri Court of Appeals. When the Court of Appeal upheld the trial court’s ruling, Norfolk sought the same relief in Supreme Court. The Supreme Court, sitting en banc, reversed, and held that the trial court lacked personal jurisdiction over Norfolk. The oral argument can be heard here. The full decision can be found by clicking here.
The court first rejected Parker’s contention that Norfolk was subject to general jurisdiction in Missouri. The plaintiff claimed that Missouri courts could exercise general jurisdiction over Norfolk because it “conducts substantial business and owns property in Missouri.” However, the Court held that Norfolk’s contacts with the state were insufficient to establish general jurisdiction. The court acknowledged that Norfolk owns track in Missouri, but also recognized that the portion of track within Missouri accounts for only two percent of Norfolk’s nationwide business activity. The court further noted that Norfolk is a Virginia corporation with its principal place of business in Virginia, and that Norfolk owns track in twenty-one other states. The court, relying on Daimler, concluded that this was not an “exceptional case,” and that the minimal amount of track in Missouri, did not render Norfolk “essentially at home in the state” so as to confer general jurisdiction upon Missouri courts.
The court also rejected Parker’s argument that Norfolk was subject to specific jurisdiction in Missouri. It was undisputed that the plaintiff sustained his injuries in Indiana as Parker never worked for Norfolk in Missouri. As such, traditional specific personal jurisdiction was lacking. However, the plaintiff argued that specific jurisdiction was appropriate because Norfolk because his injuries in Indiana were injuries that arose from and were relating to the same type of activities that Norfolk performed in Missouri. The court rejected that argument as a misstatement of law. Likewise, the court dismissed the plaintiff’s argument that FELA specifically conferred jurisdiction.
Consent to Jurisdiction/Registration in the State:
Finally, the court rejected the plaintiff’s argument that Norfolk had consented to personal jurisdiction in Missouri by complying with Missouri’s foreign business registration statutes, i.e. registering with the state and designating an agent to receive service of process. The court cited to the Restatement (Second) of Conflict of Laws for the proposition that the extent of any consent inferred from a registration statute “is a question of interpretation of the instrument in which the consent is expressed and of the statute, if any, in pursuance of which the consent is given.” It then looked to the plain language of Missouri’s registration statute and found that the Act does not mention consent to personal jurisdiction for claims unrelated to activities within the State. Rather, the registration statute provides only that registration is consent to service of process that Missouri requires or permits to be served on foreign corporations. As such, the court held that complying with the Act’s requirements does not provide an independent basis for jurisdiction foreign corporations registered in the state.
In reaching its decision, the court reasoned that a contrary ruling would render Daimler “virtually pointless.” The Court was persuaded by the reasoning espoused in a recent Delaware case, which found that as “as every state requires a foreign corporation doing substantial business in a state to register under the foreign corporation statutes and appoint an agent for service of process, a broad inference of consent based on registration would allow national corporations to be sued in every state...”
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