Thursday, April 30, 2015

Railroad Isn't at Home in California

BNSF Railway Co. v. Superior Court, No. B260798 (Mar. 27, 2015)

This is an asbestos case.  Plaintiffs are the heirs of a man who died from meso contracted through asbestos exposure in Wichita, Kansas. One defendant is BNSF, which is a Delaware Corporation with its headquarters in El Paso, Texas. BNSF moved to quash service based on lack of personal jurisdiction. Given the location of the exposure, there’s no specific jurisdiction because nothing connects the plaintiff’s injury to California. As to general jurisdiction, the new Daimler standard says there’s only general jurisdiction where a company is “at home,” which is essentially where is is headquartered. Plaintiff tried to wiggle out of that by arguing the BNSF does a lot of business in California and that Daimler was distinguishable because it involved a truly foreign defendant. The trial court took the bait.

On a writ, the court of appeal doesn’t. The Daimler test doesn’t ask if a company does a bunch of business. It asks if it is “at home.” So the fact that BNSF does big business in California doesn’t much matter. On the latter point, the court gives a good quote on stare decisis: “Factual differences between the case at bar and the four general jurisdiction cases considered by the high court do not render the broad principles enunciated in those cases inapplicable to the situation here.” 

Writ granted.

Update: Review granted, July 23, 2015.

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