In this case, the U.S. Supreme Court granted review to address the question whether the Pennsylvania state courts can exercise personal jurisdiction over Norfolk Southern, a corporation incorporated and headquartered in Virginia, based on its registration to do business and consent to service of process on its registered agent in Virginia, even with respect to claims that do not arise out of or relate to Norfolk Southern’s conduct in Pennsylvania. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court had held that Pennsylvania courts could not assert such “general” jurisdiction based on the state’s statutory registration requirement. The petitioner in the case, a retired railroad worker with cancer attributable to his work for Norfolk Southern in Virginia and Ohio, argued that under the traditional understanding of the Due Process Clause, Norfolk Southern’s consent was a valid basis for the assertion of jurisdiction, and that the railroad’s argument that the consent was involuntary because registration and consent were required as a condition of doing business in the state did not overcome the traditional understanding that the exercise of personal jurisdiction on that basis is consistent with standards of fair play and substantial justice.
Public Citizen filed an amicus brief arguing that another way of viewing the case: that jurisdiction was permissible because of the corporation’s presence in the state, just as general jurisdiction over an individual is permissible if she is served in the state, regardless of how insubstantial her ties to the state may be.
In a decision issued in June 2023, the Court held that the Pennsylvania courts could exercise jurisdiction over companies based on registration to do business in the state, which specifies that registering serves as consent to suit in state.