Oregon Supreme Court Considers Authority to Hear Cases Arising Outside of Oregon
Like many other state and federal courts, the Oregon Supreme Court is considering the limits on general personal jurisdiction after the Supreme Court’s decision in Daimler AG v. Bauman, 134 S. Ct. 746 (2014). To date, state trial courts in Oregon have denied at least four motions to dismiss for lack of jurisdiction based on Daimler. In 2015, the Oregon Supreme Court denied a petition for a writ of mandamus in one of those cases.
In late April and early May 2016, the Oregon Supreme Court allowed two railroad writs of mandamus based on Daimler, one for BNSF and one for UPRR. Schwabe, Williamson & Wyatt filed the writ on behalf of BNSF. The facts at issue in this case are simple. A 20-year employee claimed that she was injured while working for BNSF in Pasco, Washington. Plaintiff lived in Washington, worked in Washington, and received all of her medical treatment in Washington. Even though the case had no connection to Oregon, plaintiff’s counsel filed her FELA lawsuit in Oregon just three days before the statute of limitations expired. BNSF moved to dismiss the case for lack of general personal jurisdiction, citing the recent decision in Daimler. The trial court denied the motion, ruling that the railroad fit into Daimler’s exception for exceptional circumstances because BNSF was “essentially at home” in Oregon as it had operated in Oregon for over 100 years and still conducts around-the-clock business in Oregon. Importantly, the judge did not address the test set out in Daimler to determine whether a business is at home.
Daimler, as has been repeatedly stated, radically changed the law of general personal jurisdiction. The decision represents a major clarification of the federal due process limits on the exercise of general personal jurisdiction. For general jurisdiction—which allows the exercise of personal jurisdiction even in cases where the suit has no connection to the state where it was filed—the question is not “the magnitude of the defendant’s” contacts in the forum state. Daimler at 762 n 20. Instead, for corporate defendants, the inquiry considers where the defendant is “at home,” requiring “an appraisal of [the] corporation’s activities in their entirety, nationwide and worldwide.” Id. at 761 n 19. Because a corporate defendant cannot be “at home” in every place that it operates, the Supreme Court reiterated that general jurisdiction is almost never possible outside of the corporation’s “place of incorporation and principal place of business.” Id. at 760, 761 n 19.
In Daimler, the Supreme Court acknowledged that there may be “exceptional cases” in which a corporate defendant is “at home” in a place outside of its place of incorporation or principal place of business. As its sole example of an exceptional case, the Supreme Court cited to its decision in Perkins v. Benguet Consolidated Mining Co., 342 US 437 (1952). In Perkins, the Supreme Court held that a company was subject to general personal jurisdiction in Ohio because the company temporarily had moved its headquarters to Ohio from the Philippines during World War II. In citing to Perkins as an example of an exception, the Supreme Court expressly cautioned in Daimler that “Perkins should be regarded as a decision on its exceptional facts, not as a significant reaffirmation of obsolescing notions of general jurisdiction based on nothing more than a corporation’s ‘doing business’ in a forum.” Daimler at 756 n 8.
Oregon state trial courts appear to have misunderstood the “exceptional case” exception in Daimler, construing the exception so broadly that it swallows the rule. The writ in BNSF’s case has now proceeded forward to merits briefing in the Oregon Supreme Court and the UPRR case will presumably follow a similar schedule. This case is expected to be argued in November 2016. It is anticipated that Oregon will join the long list of jurisdictions recognizing the sea change in the law resulting from Daimler and rejecting blatant forum shopping.