District Court Dismisses Personal Injury Case on Forum Non Conveniens Grounds Where New Jersey Plaintiff Was Injured at a Hotel in St. Kitts and Nevis Where She Was Living To Attend Medical School

The World in U.S. Courts: Fall 2015 - Personal Jurisdiction/Forum Non Conveniens | July.29.2015

Suhail v. Trans-Americainvest (St. Kitts), Ltd., U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey, July 29, 2015

Plaintiff, a New Jersey resident, was injured when a walkway collapsed at a hotel in the federation of St. Kitts where she was staying while attending medical school. She filed suit in federal court in New Jersey against the hotel, and various entities associated with the medical school, one of which was a corporation based in Florida. The defendants moved to dismiss the complaint on forum non conveniens and other grounds.

The District Court in New Jersey stated that governing law in the Third Circuit requires that three factors be considered in determining whether a forum non conveniens dismissal should occur: (i) whether an "adequate alternative forum" exists, (ii) the amount of deference owed to the plaintiff's choice of forum, and (iii) whether the balance of public and private interest factors "indicates that trial in the chosen forum would result in oppression or vexation to the defendant out of all proportion to the plaintiff's convenience."

The Court found that the first factor would support dismissal. The defendants either were St. Kitts entities or agreed to be sued there, and there was no dispute that local courts could provide an adequate remedy for the claim alleged.

The Court found, however, that "great deference" should be paid to the plaintiff's choice of New Jersey for the case, because she was a New Jersey resident.

The third factor pointed strongly towards dismissal. The Court first considered the private interests of the litigants, including the relative ease of access to sources of proof, the availability of compulsory process for attendance of witnesses, "all other practical problems" attendant to trial in a particular location, and the enforceability of a judgment if one is obtained. The Court found that all of these factors favored litigation of the dispute in St. Kitts, focusing mainly on the presence in St. Kitts of evidence and witnesses relating to the construction and maintenance of the walkway and to the plaintiff's medical treatment.

The Court also concluded that public interests favored dismissal, considering potential court congestion, the local interest in "having localized controversies decided at home," the relevant law to be applied, and "the unfairness of burdening citizens in an unrelated forum with jury duty." These factors were found to favor dismissal, principally because the of St. Kitts' presumed interest in ensuring the safety of allegedly defective local hotel facilities. The Court did not consider New Jersey's interest in compensating one of its residents injured abroad while living there to attend school to be substantial. The Court also noted that if the litigation were to occur in New Jersey, it would be "burdened with examining and applying the laws of St. Kitts."

The Court thus found that the factors suggesting the case should be heard in St. Kitts outweighed the discretion owed the plaintiff's choice of a New Jersey forum, and dismissed the case.

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