Today marked a quiet milestone for the Supreme Court, as Justice Neil Gorsuch participated in his first ruling. He was hardly needed to cast the deciding vote, however. Nor did he write the opinion to which he signed on -- that was done by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
In the case, BNSF v. Tyrrell, eight of the nine justices essentially lowered the boom on venue shopping in plaintiff-friendly states that have nothing to do with a case. The basic idea is that at least under the federal law in question, out-of-state plaintiffs cannot just sue wherever the laws or the courts are most favorable to plaintiffs.
Two plaintiffs had tried to sue a railroad company in Big Sky Country's courts for on-the-job injuries under the Federal Employers' Liability Act. The company is not incorporated in Montana, nor did the injuries occur in Montana, nor were the plaintiffs from Montana. Yet the Montana Supreme Court had ruled that the cases could go ahead, reasoning that BNSF does business in Montana and has thousands of miles of track in the state.
This led to a federal appeal and today's ruling, which could have a dramatic effect on where plaintiffs are allowed to file lawsuits. It is currently not uncommon for plaintiffs' lawyers to shop for the most friendly venue possible, even when that jurisdiction has absolutely nothing to do with the case at hand.
Justice Sonia Sotomayor, in her lone dissent, wrote: "It is individual plaintiffs, harmed by the actions of a far-flung foreign corporation, who will bear the brunt of the majority's approach and be forced to sue in distant jurisdictions with which they have no contacts or connection."
But of course, neither of the plaintiffs in this case live in Montana (they are from North and South Dakota), and none of the injuries alleged occurred in Montana, and the company in question isn't housed in Montana. So the real issue in the case is that the plaintiffs wanted to "sue in distant jurisdictions" for reasons that had little to do with the case at hand. And that's probably why Gorsuch and Ginsburg found a quick point of easy agreement in the new justice's first case.