The World in U.S. Courts: Summer 2014 - Forum Non Conveniens
Plaintiffs are victims of bombing attacks allegedly committed by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Elam (“LTTE”), which is classified by the U.S. Government as a terrorist organization. Defendants are individuals and a Sri Lanka based non-governmental organization that maintains offices in the U.S., all of which allegedly provided financial support to LTTE. The plaintiffs filed suit in U.S. District Court in New Jersey claiming among other things violations of the Alien Tort Statute based on violations of international law.
Among other arguments, the defendants sought dismissal of the case on grounds of forum non conveniens--the doctrine pursuant to which a court balances a plaintiff’s interest in bringing a case where it wishes against the interests of a defendant which may be forced to defend itself in a distant and inconvenient location. The court applied a three-part test to determine whether to dismiss the case on forum non conveniens grounds. The first factor is whether an adequate alternative forum exists—one where jurisdiction over the defendants could be obtained, the subject matter of the lawsuit could be addressed under local law, and that appropriate relief would be available. The Court concluded that there was no adequate alternative forum for the present claims, because the case at bar sought relief for conduct occurring in the U.S., not the actions in Sri Lanka which directly caused the plaintiffs to suffer injury. The second factor is the extent of deference to be paid to a plaintiff’s choice of forum. Here, although the plaintiffs did not live in the U.S. and that would ordinarily undermine their claims of convenience, the defendants were in the U.S., as was most of the evidence likely to be admitted at trial. Thus, the Court concluded that the second factor similarly did not suggest a basis for dismissal. Finally, the Court weighed relevant public and private interests, with the defendants having to show that these interests tipped “decidedly” in favor of dismissal for the factor to benefit their motion. The Court concluded instead that the public interest of a state seeking to ensure that its citizens do not support terrorism is strong, and the private interests of convenience cut both ways. Because none of the three factors favored the defendants, the Court declined to dismiss the case.
[Editor’s note: The Krishanti case is also addressed elsewhere in this report in connection with its discussion of the Alien Tort Statute and Personal Jurisdiction.]