Burlington Northern R. Co. v. Ford, 504 U.S. 648, 4 (1992)

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Cite as: 504 U. S. 648 (1992)

Opinion of the Court

(1926), and that a Montana corporation resides in the Montana county in which it has its principal place of business, see, e. g., Mapston v. Joint School District No. 8, 227 Mont. 521, 523, 740 P. 2d 676, 677 (1987); Platt v. Sears, Roebuck & Co., 222 Mont. 184, 187, 721 P. 2d 336, 338 (1986). In combination, these venue rules, with exceptions not here relevant, permit a plaintiff to sue a domestic company in just the one county where it has its principal place of business, while a plaintiff may sue a foreign corporation in any of the State's 56 counties. Burlington claims the distinction offends the Equal Protection Clause.

The Fourteenth Amendment forbids a State to "deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws." U. S. Const., Amdt. 14, 1. Because the Montana venue rules neither deprive Burlington of a fundamental right nor classify along suspect lines like race or religion, they do not deny equal protection to Burlington unless they fail in rationally furthering legitimate state ends. See, e. g., United States v. Sperry Corp., 493 U. S. 52, 64 (1989); Dallas v. Stanglin, 490 U. S. 19, 25 (1989).

Venue rules generally reflect equity or expediency in resolving disparate interests of parties to a lawsuit in the place of trial. See, e. g., Citizens & Southern Nat. Bank v. Bougas, 434 U. S. 35, 44, n. 10 (1977); Denver & R. G. W. R. Co. v. Trainmen, 387 U. S. 556, 560 (1967); Van Dusen v. Barrack, 376 U. S. 612, 623 (1964); F. James & G. Hazard, Civil Procedure 47 (3d ed. 1985). The forum preferable to one party may be undesirable to another, and the adjustment of such warring interests is a valid state concern. Cf. United States Railroad Retirement Bd. v. Fritz, 449 U. S. 166, 178 (1980). In striking the balance between them, a State may have a number of choices, any of which would survive scrutiny, each of them passable under the standard tolerating some play in the joints of governmental machinery. See Bain Peanut Co. of Texas v. Pinson, 282 U. S. 499, 501 (1931). Thus, we have no doubt that a State would act within its


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