"remedial and humanitarian purpose" underlies the
Federal Employer's Liability Act (FELA). So too does a
policy favoring uniformity in the Act's operation.
Against this backdrop, we decide whether, given the
particulars of this case, equitable tolling applies to
FELA's limitations period.
and 2014, Karl Langlois suffered injuries while working for
BNSF Railway Company in Washington State. Langlois, a
Washington resident, filed suit against BNSF, a Delaware
corporation, with its principal place of business in Texas.
He did so in Oregon state court, claiming negligence under
FELA. BNSF moved to dismiss the case for lack of
personal jurisdiction. The Oregon trial court denied the
motion. Later, the Oregon Supreme Court and the United States
Supreme Court issued rulings under which it became clear that
Oregon courts lacked personal jurisdiction over BNSF in
then filed an action in Washington with the same allegations.
BNSF moved for summary judgment, arguing that FELA's
three-year limitations period had expired. Langlois conceded
that the period had expired, but argued for the court to
apply equitable tolling. The trial court accepted his
argument and denied the motion.
the policy considerations underlying FELA support equitable
tolling here and Langlois meets the diligence and
extraordinary circumstance elements of the doctrine, we
December 30, 2014, Langlois filed a FELA action against BNSF
in Oregon state court. The complaint alleged negligence
arising from two injuries Langlois suffered while working for
BNSF in Washington. The injuries occurred on January 25, 2012
and February 24, 2014.
moved to dismiss the complaint for lack of personal
jurisdiction on April 10, 2015. It argued an Oregon court
could not exercise general personal jurisdiction consistent
with the Fourteenth Amendment's Due Process Clause
because its contacts with Oregon did not render it "at
home" in the state. Langlois opposed the motion,
contending that section 56 of FELA conferred personal
jurisdiction over BNSF. On June 5, 2015, the Oregon trial
court denied the motion to dismiss, determining BNSF's
"uniquely long history of operations within the
state" allowed general jurisdiction over it in
accordance with the Due Process Clause.
then petitioned the Oregon Supreme Court for an alternative
writ of mandamus, claiming the trial court erred in denying
its motion. The court denied the petition on August 6, 2015.
BNSF then filed its answer to Langlois's complaint and
the parties proceeded toward trial.
5, 2016, in a separate case, Barrett v. Union Pacific
Railroad Co., the Oregon Supreme Court issued an
alternative writ of mandamus to address the same issue raised
by BNSF's earlier petition-whether, in a FELA case, an
Oregon court could exercise general jurisdiction over a
railroad in connection with out-of-state
activities. 359 Or. 526, 379 P.3d 521 (2016)
(Barrett I). The trial court stayed Langlois's
case pending resolution of the issue.
March 2, 2017, the Oregon Supreme Court issued its ruling in
Barrett v. Union Pacific Railroad Co., 361 Or. 115,
390 P.3d 1031 (2017) (Barrett II). It determined
that Oregon lacked personal jurisdiction under both section
56 and the Due Process Clause. With regard to section 56, the
court acknowledged that the United States Supreme Court
"recognized in Kepner [that] the first sentence of
section 56 does not confer personal jurisdiction over
out-of-state corporate defendants but instead provides for
expanded venue 'if there is jurisdiction."'
Barrett II, 361 Or. at 128 (internal quotation marks
omitted) (quoting Baltimore & Ohio R.R. Co. v.
Kepner, 314 U.S. 44, 51, 62 S.Ct. 6, 86 L.Ed. 28');">86 L.Ed. 28
(1941)). In considering general jurisdiction under the Due
Process Clause, the court decided the railroad lacked
sufficient contacts with Oregon to render it "at
home" in the state. Barrett II, 361 Or. at 119.
Therefore, it held that Oregon courts could not exercise
personal jurisdiction over the railroad under the United
States Supreme Court's decision in Daimler AG v.
Bauman, 517 U.S. 117, 134 S.Ct. 746, 187 L.Ed.2d 624
(2014). Barrett II, 361 Or. at 123.
months later, in BNSF Railway Co. v. Tyrrell, the
United States Supreme Court addressed the same issue with
regard to Montana state courts. ___ U.S. ___, 137 S.Ct. 1549,
198 L.Ed.2d 36 (2017) (Tyrrell II). The Montana
Supreme Court had held a Montana state court could exercise
personal jurisdiction over BNSF under section 56 and, in the
alternative, under the state's long-arm statute.
Tyrrell II, 137 S.Ct. at 1553-54. The United States
Supreme Court reversed, holding "that § 56 does not
address personal jurisdiction over railroads."
Tyrrell II, 137 S.Ct. at 1553. The Court went
further to state, "Nowhere in Kepner or in any
other decision did we intimate that § 56 might affect
personal jurisdiction." Tyrrell II, 137 S.Ct.
at 1555. With regard to general jurisdiction, the Court
clarified that its Daimler decision "applies to
all state-court assertions of general jurisdiction over
nonresident defendants." Tyrrell II, 137 S.Ct.
at 1553. It then determined that BNSF lacked sufficient
contacts with Montana to warrant general jurisdiction under
the Due Process Clause. Tyrrell II, 137 S.Ct. at
the decisions in Barrett II and Tyrrell II,
BNSF filed a motion for summary judgment in the Langlois
matter, arguing the court lacked personal jurisdiction. The
trial court agreed and dismissed the case.
March 15, 2017, less than two weeks after the
Barrett II decision, Langlois filed this FELA action
in King County Superior Court. The complaint again alleged
that BNSF had acted negligently with regard to the injuries
Langlois suffered while working in Washington.
moved for summary judgment, arguing FELA's three-year
statute of limitations barred Langlois's claims. Langlois
opposed the motion, asserting that equitable tolling applied.
Langlois contended he met both requirements for equitable
tolling-i.e., diligence and extraordinary circumstance. The
parties did not dispute material facts. Wash. Court of
Appeals oral argument, Langlois v. BNSF Ry Co. No.
77752-1-1 (April 18, 2019), at 2 min., 5 sec. through 2 min.,
14 sec. and 7 min., 36 sec. through 7 min., 45 sec. (on file
trial court agreed with Langlois and denied BNSF's motion
for summary judgment. The trial court also appeared to sua
sponte grant partial summary judgment in favor of Langlois on
the equitable tolling issue. Specifically, the court stated:
I don't think there's any dispute that Plaintiff has
been diligent. But what defense argues is that Plaintiff
hasn't established that there's any extraordinary
circumstance that's occurred.
So the question is really, you know, whether or not the fact
that BNSF was routinely submitting to jurisdiction in Oregon
on Washington accident cases, whether or not - and I
don't think there's really any dispute that they
were. And I think that the court denied their motion for
summary judgment and had been for some time because that was
sort of the practice. And I think it was an unusual or
extraordinary circumstance when all of a sudden the court
reversed itself and decided that section, I think it's
is not - is a venue statute, it doesn't confer personal