Forum Non Conveniens
In the law, the term forum non conveniens refers to the discretionary power of a court to not hear a case that may be more appropriately – or more conveniently – heard in another court. The exercise of forum non conveniens results in the dismissal of the case, but does not prevent the plaintiff from filing the case in a different court, usually the one the original court recommends. Interestingly, forum non conveniens may be invoked by either the defendant in the case, or the court itself. To explore this concept, consider the following forum non conveniens definition.
Definition of Forum Non Conveniens
forum non kən-ˈvē-nē- enz
- A doctrine that allows one court to dismiss a case so that it can be heard by another court of more convenient, or more appropriate, jurisdiction.
New Latin (“unsuitable tribunal”)
What is Jurisdiction
In the law, the term jurisdiction refers to the limits of legal authority. A court’s jurisdiction can be defined by the geographic region in which the incident, problem, or crime occurred, as well as the type of legal matter at hand. The law grants the courts authority to hear and rule on legal matters within its jurisdiction only, and if a court hears a case that is outside its jurisdiction, it does not have the authority to rule on it.
For instance, if a state court in New York hears a matter that concerns the breaking of federal law, it may not have the authority to rule on it, as the case should have been heard in federal court. By the same token, if a small claims court hears a matter concerning child support, it does not have the authority to rule on it, or to order the payment of support. This is because only the family court has jurisdiction over such matters.
What is Forum Non Conveniens
It is not uncommon for legal matters to be brought before a court that ultimately does not have the most appropriate jurisdiction. This is most commonly the case when the matter involves parties that live in different states, or when the object of the dispute occurred in, or resides in, a different state or other geographical jurisdiction. Sometimes the lines seem fuzzy as to which court can, or should hear the matter.
In such a case, the court has the authority to dismiss the case on the basis that another court is either more convenient for the parties, or another court is better suited to the subject matter of the case. When a judge dismisses a lawsuit or other legal matter on the basis of forum non conveniens, the parties are free to re-file the case in the more appropriate court.
A change based on forum non conveniens can be requested by the defendant in the matter (as the plaintiff is the one who filed the case in the present court to begin with), or it may be undertaken by the judge regardless of what the parties have in mind. In determining whether to dismiss a case on the basis of forum non conveniens, the court considers the following factors:
- The jurisdiction in which each of the parties resides
- The location of witnesses and evidence to be brought at trial
- The burdens on the court system
- The forum chosen by the plaintiff
- The manner in which a change of forum would affect each party’s case
- Public policy
Denial of Forum Non Conveniens Dismissal
The U.S. legal system requires that legal matters be handled in a manner that is most likely to bring justice to each case. It is for this reason that the courts generally do not grant forum non conveniens dismissals in situations in which there is no other suitable form to hear the matter, or if the alternative forum would not award the plaintiff the type of award he is seeking – such as monetary damages – even if he wins.
As another example of forum non conveniens denial, the courts will not grant an forum non conveniens change of venue if the other court is part of a judicial system that is wholly inadequate to impart justice to the matter. For example, a forum non conveniens change of venue would not be appropriate if the alternative forum (court) was located in a country that has a broken judicial system, such as Venezuela.
Conditions to Forum Non Conveniens
Rather than issuing a denial of forum non conveniens dismissal for venue change, the court may grant the request, subject to certain, specific conditions. For example, a forum non conveniens dismissal for forum change may be approved on the condition that the plaintiff be allowed to re-file the matter in the recommended jurisdiction.
Other conditions to forum non conveniens might include the requirement that a foreign court allow American-style discovery, or that a defendant give up certain claims or arguments that would keep the matter from being heard by the more appropriate court.
Forum Non Conveniens Example in Contract Case
In 2011, a case was brought before a federal court, when a company based in Panama, Del Istmo Assurance Corp., hired contractors in the U.S. to install kitchens, and do other construction work, in Trump Ocean Club International Hotel & Tower in Florida. The contractors were based in Florida, and were Florida corporations.
According to the contract, the defendants were to make payments in advance, which would ultimately be put in trust, so that prepayment bonds could be issued as the project moved ahead. This trust fund was to be an assurance that the funds were available.
At some point, however, the defendant began withdrawing money from the trust fund, using it to pay other bills. When the defendant failed to repay the money, Del Istmo filed a civil lawsuit for misappropriation of funds, and breach of contract.
The trial court looked at the jurisdiction to determine whether the Florida court was the proper jurisdiction. Even though the Del Istmo came to Florida to file the lawsuit against the Florida corporations, the court determined that, under the doctrine of forum non conveniens, the case should be heard in Panama.
The Plaintiff argued against the change, claiming that the remedies available to him under the laws of Panama were not favorable, but the court rejected the argument.
The Plaintiff then presented an argument based on a Panama statute that blocks cases that have been heard in any other jurisdiction. This law stated:
“For any legal proceeding under this Chapter [Panamanian] judges are not competent (to hear the case) if the complaint or the action being commenced in [Panama] has been previously dismissed or denied by a foreign judge under the application of forum non conveniens. In these cases, judges should dismiss or not recognize the complaint or demand on grounds of constitutional or preemptive jurisdiction.”
The court then noted that a case previously filed in Florida, then dismissed based on forum non conveniens, and filed in Panama, was simply rejected by the Panamanian court. In this example of forum non conveniens dismissal, the action would leave the Plaintiff in this matter hanging in the wind, with the courts of both countries refusing to hear the case.
Related Legal Terms and Issues
- Civil Lawsuit – A lawsuit brought about in court when one person claims to have suffered a loss due to the actions of another person.
- Defendant – A party against whom a lawsuit has been filed in civil court, or who has been accused of, or charged with, a crime or offense.
- Jurisdiction – The legal authority to hear legal cases and make judgments; the geographical region of authority to enforce justice.
- Plaintiff – A person who brings a legal action against another person or entity, such as in a civil lawsuit, or criminal proceedings.