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Substantial, Systematic, And Continuous Contacts Do Not Establish General Jurisdiction

California courts may exercise personal jurisdiction over nonresidents "on any basis not inconsistent with the Constitution of this state or of the United States".  Code Civ. Proc. § 410.10.  Seventy years ago, Chief Justice Harlan Fiske Stone described the constitutional standard in terms of whether the out-of-state person had certain minimum contacts with the forum state such that the maintenance of the suit does not offend "traditional notions of fair play and substantial justice."  Int'l Shoe Co. v. Wash., 326 U.S. 310, 316 (U.S. 1945) (quoting Milliken v. Meyer, 311 U.S. 457 (1941).  Since then, courts have focused on two types of jurisdiction - specific and general.  Specific jurisdiction is present when the in-state activities give rise to the suit.  In contrast, general jurisdiction exists when the defendant's activities are so substantial that suit in the state can be justified even if those activities did not give rise to the cause of action.

In BNSF Ry. Co. v. Superior Court., 2015 Cal. App. LEXIS 265 (Cal. Ct. App. 2015) involved a suit for injuries suffered in Kansas  The railroad sought to quash service based on lack of general jurisdiction even though it conceded that it had "substantial, systematic, and continuous contacts with California".  Indeed, it could hardly have done otherwise.  It had owns over 1,100 miles of track and employs 3,520 people in the state.  However, the railroad is incorporated in Delaware and maintains its principal place of business in Texas.

After reviewing International Shoe and four subsequent U.S. Supreme Court cases addressing general jurisdiction, the California Court of Appeal held that general jurisdiction did not lie in California.  In an opinion penned by Justice Audrey B. Collins, the Court concluded that the railroad's relationship with the forum and the litigation "is simply not enough to render petitioner [BNSF] 'at home' in California such that the exercise of general jurisdiction over actions unrelated to petitioner's forum activities is warranted."  Justice Collins noted that this holding did not deprive the plaintiffs of a forum because the plaintiff could sue in the "two paradigmatic fora in which a corporation is subject to general jurisdiction, its place of incorporation and its principal place of business".

 

 

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