Maryland Plaintiff’s Choice Of Pennsylvania Forum For Trial Of Alleged Injury In The Dominican Republic Rejected On Forum Non Conveniens Grounds

The World in U.S. Courts: Winter 2018 - Personal Jurisdiction/Forum Non Conveniens | November.14.2017

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Jones v. FC USA, Inc. d/b/a Liberty Travel, US District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, November 14, 2017

The plaintiff Jones claimed she was assaulted while receiving a massage during a beach excursion in the Dominican Republic. She sued the resort and the travel agency through which she booked the vacation for negligence. As relevant here, the defendants moved to dismiss the claim under the doctrine of forum non conveniens.

The Court explained that the forum non conveniens doctrine permits the discretionary dismissal of a case where retaining jurisdiction would result in “oppressiveness and vexation to a defendant out of all proportion to plaintiff’s convenience, or when the chosen forum is inappropriate because of considerations affecting the court’s own administrative and legal problems.” Four factors are involved in applying the doctrine, which the Court analyzed as follows:

  • The availability of an alternative forum. The Court found the Dominican Republic’s judicial system adequate, and its law to provide a remedy for bodily injuries of the type alleged. It noted a potential statute of limitations defense, however, and so conditioned satisfaction of this requirement on the condition that the defendants (who sought the dismissal) agree to waive any limitations defense.
  • Deference to the plaintiff’s choice of forum. Ordinarily, resident plaintiffs are entitled to deference in their choice of a local forum. Here, the plaintiff is a citizen of the State of Maryland, not of the forum State of Pennsylvania, but the Court observed that her US citizenship was all that was required to warrant deference because the alternative forum was outside the country.
  • “Private” factors. The Court assessed the parties “ease of access to sources of proof,” ability to compel the attendance of witnesses, and “other potential obstacles to a cost-effective and expeditious trial.” It noted that all of the key witnesses were in the Dominican Republic and could not be compelled to travel to the US to testify, and it determined that trial by videotaped deposition would not be an adequate alternative. This factor thus favored dismissal.
  • “Public” factors. The Court identified the Dominican Republic’s stronger interest in resolving the case, its own desire to avoid an analysis of conflict of laws, and the likely application of foreign law as factors supporting dismissal. It noted here that the Pennsylvania forum had no interest in resolving an injury to a Maryland plaintiff, which also weighed against burdening its courts and potential jurors with a trial. For these reasons and on the condition noted, the Court dismissed the case.

     

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