Missouri Supreme Court Rejects General and Specific Jurisdiction over Out-of-State Company Sued for Out-of-State Injury

In a unanimous decision likely to diminish litigation tourism in the state, the Missouri Supreme Court has ruled that Missouri does not have personal jurisdiction over a Virginia corporation in a lawsuit alleging an injury sustained in Indiana by an Indiana resident. Previous decisions have interpreted Missouri jurisdiction and venue law more broadly, earning St. Louis, Missouri, the top spot on the American Tort Reform Association's annual list of Judicial Hellholes®.

An Indiana resident sued Norfolk Southern Railway Co. in St. Louis County Circuit Court alleging cumulative trauma injuries sustained in Indiana during his years of employment with the company. Norfolk moved to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction; the company, incorporated in Virginia, owns and operates on railroad tracks in 22 states and only conducts about two percent of its total business in Missouri. The trial court denied the motion, and the Missouri Court of Appeals denied Norfolk's petition for a writ of prohibition.

The Missouri Supreme Court first determined whether it had general jurisdiction over Norfolk in light of the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in Daimler AG v. Bauman. Under Daimler, general jurisdiction may exist in a state beyond the corporation's principal place of business if the corporation's activities in the other state are "so substantial and of such a nature as to render the corporation at home in that State." Because only about two percent, or $232 million, of Norfolk's total revenues are generated from its activities in Missouri, the court found the company's contacts insufficient to establish general jurisdiction.

"That this is still a large dollar amount of business does not make it a basis for finding that Missouri and these other 21 states are all 'home' states for Norfolk," the court noted. "Norfolk’s activities in Missouri are only a very small part of its overall activities, and not of the nature that makes Missouri its de facto principal place of business."

The court then considered whether it had specific jurisdiction over Norfolk by examining the relationship among the corporation, the forum and the claims. "Because Norfolk has purposefully availed itself of the opportunity to do business in Missouri, it would be subject to specific jurisdiction in Missouri. But that jurisdiction would exist only over claims that are related to those contacts," the court stated. "Unrelated suits can be brought in the forum only when the forum has general jurisdiction." Finding no connection between the plaintiff's injury claims and Norfolk's activities in Missouri, the court held that it had no specific jurisdiction in the case.

Finally, the court rejected the plaintiff's argument that Norfolk consented to personal jurisdiction over any case filed against it in Missouri by complying with the state's foreign corporation registration statutes. "The plain language of Missouri’s registration statutes does not mention consent to personal jurisdiction for unrelated claims, nor does it purport to provide an independent basis for jurisdiction over foreign corporations that register in Missouri," the court said. Finding no grounds for jurisdiction over Norfolk, the court issued a writ of prohibition.

State ex rel. Norfolk Southern Railway Co. v. The Honorable Colleen Dolan, No. SC95514 (Mo., order entered February 28, 2017).