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Deleon v. BNSF Railway Co.

Supreme Court of Montana

September 11, 2018

EDDIE M. DeLEON, JASON KINGERY and STEVE PAUL BECK, Plaintiff and Appellant,
v.
BNSF RAILWAY COMPANY, a Delaware corporation, Defendant and Appellee.

          Submitted on Briefs: July 11, 2018

          APPEAL FROM: District Court of the Thirteenth Judicial District, In and For the County of Yellowstone, Cause Nos. DV 13-0729, DV 14-0167, DV 11-1799, Honorable Russell C. Fagg and Michael G. Moses, Presiding Judges

          For Appellant: Jon M. Moyers, Moyers Law P.C., Billings, Montana Kathryn Kohn Troldahl, Kohn Law, P.A., Minneapolis, Minnesota

          For Appellee: Randy J. Cox, Scott M. Stearns, Christopher L. Decker, Boone Karlberg P.C., Missoula, Montana

          OPINION

          Laurie McKinnon Justice

         ¶1 Eddie M. DeLeon, Jason Kingery, and Steve Paul Beck (collectively, Plaintiffs) each filed suit against BNSF Railway Company (BNSF) in Montana's Thirteenth Judicial District Court, Yellowstone County, for injuries allegedly sustained while working for BNSF in states other than Montana. BNSF moved to dismiss Plaintiffs' claims for lack of personal jurisdiction. The District Court granted BNSF's motions to dismiss and each Plaintiff appealed. We address the following issue in Plaintiffs' consolidated appeal:

         Does a company consent to general personal jurisdiction in Montana when it registers to do business and voluntarily conducts business activities in Montana?

         ¶2 We conclude a company does not consent to general personal jurisdiction by registering to do business in Montana and voluntarily conducting in-state business activities. We therefore affirm the District Court's orders granting BNSF's motions to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction.

         FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         ¶3 Plaintiffs each filed Federal Employers' Liability Act (FELA) negligence claims against BNSF in Montana's Thirteenth Judicial District Court, Yellowstone County. BNSF is a rail carrier incorporated in Delaware with its principal place of business in Texas. BNSF does business in Montana: it has 2, 061 miles of railroad track in Montana; employs approximately 2, 100 workers in Montana; maintains an automotive facility in Montana; and generates less than 10% of its total revenue in Montana. BNSF Ry. Co. v. Tyrrell, 581 U.S.__, __, 137 S.Ct. 1549, 1554 (2017). In order to lawfully conduct its business activities in Montana, BNSF registered to do business and designated an in-state agent for service of process.

         ¶4 In December 2011, plaintiff Kingery, a Missouri resident, filed to recover for injuries he allegedly sustained while working for BNSF outside of Montana. In June 2013, plaintiff DeLeon, a Texas resident, filed to recover for injuries he allegedly sustained while working for BNSF in Texas. In January 2014, plaintiff Beck, a Texas resident, filed to recover for injuries he allegedly sustained while working for BNSF in Texas. Thereafter, Plaintiffs' cases followed substantially similar procedural paths.

         ¶5 BNSF moved to dismiss Plaintiffs' claims pursuant to M. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(2) for lack of personal jurisdiction. Plaintiffs responded to BNSF's motions to dismiss, maintaining Montana had personal jurisdiction over BNSF because the rail carrier consented to general personal jurisdiction in Montana when it registered to do business and subsequently conducted in-state business activities. The District Court determined BNSF did not consent to personal jurisdiction in Montana and accordingly dismissed Plaintiffs' claims for lack of personal jurisdiction. Plaintiffs appeal.

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         ¶6 The determination of personal jurisdiction is a question of law that we review de novo. Tackett v. Duncan, 2014 MT 253, ¶ 16, 376 Mont. 348, 334 P.3d 920. A motion to dismiss is construed in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party and a court will not grant one unless, taking all well-pleaded allegations of fact as true, it appears beyond doubt that no set of facts supports ...


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