Burlington Northern Railroad Company v. Ford

PETITIONER: Burlington Northern Railroad Company
RESPONDENT: Ford et al.
LOCATION: Etowah County Commission

DOCKET NO.: 91-779
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1991-1993)
LOWER COURT: Montana Supreme Court

CITATION: 504 US 648 (1992)
ARGUED: Apr 20, 1992
DECIDED: Jun 12, 1992

ADVOCATES:
Betty Jo Christian - on behalf of the Petitioner
Joel I. Klein - on behalf of the Respondent

Facts of the case

Question

Media for Burlington Northern Railroad Company v. Ford

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - April 20, 1992 in Burlington Northern Railroad Company v. Ford

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - June 12, 1992 in Burlington Northern Railroad Company v. Ford

William H. Rehnquist:

The opinion of the Court in No. 91-779, Burlington Northern Railroad Company versus Ford will be announced by Justice Souter.

David H. Souter:

This case comes to us on writ of certiorari to the Supreme Court of Montana.

Respondents are railroad workers who sued their employer, the petitioner here, in Trial Court for Yellowstone County, Montana.

The petitioner, Burlington, a company incorporated in Delaware with headquarters in Texas, moved for a change of venue to the Trial Court of Hill County, Montana saying that it had its principal place of business in Montana in that county.

The Trial Court denied the motion and the Supreme Court of Montana affirmed.

Under Montana's venue rules, a company incorporated in Montana may be sued only in the county where it has its principal place of business.

The company incorporated elsewhere, on the other hand, may be sued in any of Montana's 56 counties.

Burlington says that this discrimination violates the Equal Protection Clause.

In a unanimous opinion filed with the Clerk today, we affirm the judgment of the Supreme Court of Montana and hold that the Montana rules are constitutional because they rationally further a legitimate state purpose.

Montana could have assumed that a company's headquarters are a greater importance to its convenience in litigation than a company's other offices.

That companies incorporated in Montana likely have headquarters in Montana and that companies incorporated elsewhere likely do no have headquarters in Montana.

On these assumptions, Montana could reasonably decide that only the convenience to a corporate defendant of litigating where its headquarters are is sufficient to outweigh a plaintiff's interest in suing in the county of his choice.

Burlington has failed to show that the assumption that corporate defendants incorporated outside of Montana are unlikely to have their headquarters in Montana is irrational.

Besides, Burlington has its headquarters in Texas and is, therefore, in no position to complain.