Forum non conveniens is a legal term meaning the place where the litigation is occurring is not the right place for the lawsuit to occur.Posted: July 5, 2021
In this case a mountain bike manufacturer sued in California by a Canadian plaintiff for an accident in Canada used the rule to move the case to Canada.
It did not hurt the manufacturer that the plaintiff was playing games with the court and the plaintiff’s attorneys stretched the law in directions the appellate court did not find appropriate.
Fox Factory, Inc v. The Superior Court of Santa Clara County, 11 Cal.App.5th 197, 217 Cal.Rptr.3d 366
State: California, California Court of Appeals, Sixth District
Plaintiff At the Appeal: Fox Factory, Inc., doing business as Fox Racing Shox
Defendant at the Appeal: The Superior Court of Santa Clara County
Plaintiff in the base case: Peter Isherwood
Defendant in the base case: Fox Factory, Inc., doing business as Fox Racing Shox
Plaintiff Claims: negligence, strict products liability, breach of the implied warranty of merchantability, and breach of the implied warranty for a particular purpose
Defendant Defenses: forum non conveniens (the lawsuit is in the wrong place)
Holding: Sent back to the lower court for further evaluation (defendant Fox won)
There are rules about where lawsuits can be brought and there are equitable rules on where lawsuits can be brought. The plaintiff wants to sue in the place where he or she has the greatest chance of winning and getting the most money. The defendant wants to be sued where they have the greatest chance of winning or paying the least amount of money. The court wants the lawsuit to be in a place that has the most fairness to both parties to the litigation.
Here the case was moved from California to Canada for equitable reasons, the best place for this lawsuit was Canada.
Plaintiff Isherwood is a Canadian citizen and resident of British Columbia. Fox, a California corporation, manufactures bicycle parts, including front fork racing shocks. On April 24, 2011, plaintiff was mountain biking downhill in British Columbia on a full-suspension mountain bike purchased from Oak Bay Bikes, a retail bicycle shop in British Columbia. The mountain bike was assembled with specialized component parts selected by plaintiff from various manufacturers, including a frame manufactured by Specialized Bicycle Components, Inc. (Specialized), a California corporation; an adapter made by Full Speed Ahead, Inc., a Washington corporation; a headset made by King Cycle Group, Inc. (King), an Oregon corporation; and Fox Vanilla 36 RC forks which ” a lot of professionals rode.” According to plaintiff’s first amended complaint, the steerer tube used in the Fox racing shocks broke as plaintiff landed a jump. Plaintiff was thrown forward, resulting in a spinal cord injury.
Plaintiff filed this action on April 22, 2013, alleging negligence, strict products liability, breach of the implied warranty of merchantability, and breach of the implied warranty for a particular purpose. Tamara Jayne Bickerton, who later became plaintiff’s wife, also alleged loss of consortium, but she subsequently obtained dismissal of her claim with prejudice. In addition to Fox, plaintiff named Specialized, King, and Full Speed Ahead.
The following day, April 23, 2013, plaintiff filed another court action in Vancouver, British Columbia, naming as defendants SNC Cycles Ltd. (SNC Cycles) and three Doe corporations, as well as three individuals as John Doe defendants. In this pleading plaintiff alleged that the identities of the corporate and individual Doe defendants were unknown to him, even though the allegations were the same as those in the California action filed one day earlier. He also alleged that SNC Cycles was the owner and operator of Oak Bay Bicycles. As in the California action, plaintiff claimed that the negligence of these defendants was responsible for the April 24, 2011 accident that had caused his injuries.
The caption of the British Columbia pleading named ” Peter Dilwyn Iserwood” as plaintiff. According to Fox, the misspelling of plaintiff’s name, together with the intentional withholding of the defendants’ true names, precluded discovery of this lawsuit despite ” multiple searches” of the dockets of the Vancouver courts. In addition, plaintiff had testified in his October 2014 deposition that he had never been a plaintiff ” in a lawsuit other than this one.” He also answered ” no” to an interrogatory question about whether, in the past 10 years, he had ” filed an action or made a written claim or demand for compensation for [his] personal injuries.”
Analysis: making sense of the law based on these facts.
Forum non conveniens is an argument on where the litigation should be based. In this case, California or British Columbia, Canada. All other defendants that were California based or US based had been dismissed from the case so it was the Canadian plaintiff arguing that a US defendant should be sued in California.
Normally lawsuits are determined one of two ways. Where the accident happened or where the defendant resides. Usually, having the lawsuit in California because the defendant was based there would be enough. However, the way the plaintiff played the courts was a major issue in whether this litigation would be moved to Canada.
Forum non conveniens is an equitable relief available to the court. Equitable means it is the right thing to do. The court can bring the motion on its own or a party to the lawsuit can bring the argument saying that this lawsuit is not in the right place because.
California has a two-step process to determine if a case should be moved for equitable reasons.
Our Supreme Court in Stangvik set forth a two-step analysis for a court considering a forum non conveniens motion. ” A case-by-case examination of the parties, their dispute and the relationship of each to the state of California is the heart of the required analysis.” The court ” must first determine whether the alternate forum is a ‘suitable’ place for trial. If it is, the next step is to consider the private interests of the litigants and the interests of the public in retaining the action for trial in California. The private interest factors are those that make trial and the enforceability of the ensuing judgment expeditious and relatively inexpensive, such as the ease of access to sources of proof, the cost of obtaining attendance of witnesses, and the availability of compulsory process for attendance of unwilling witnesses.
The first step is very broad in its meaning. Suitable place for trial means will the trial be fair, is the court system similar to the US system, will both parties get a fair shot at presenting their case. There is also a look at how moving the case will affect the courts and people of California.
The private interests are those of the litigants in the trial. What will the cost be to the parties to move the trial, will any judgment that is received be able to be executed. Meaning If the trial is moved to Canada, can a Canadian judgment be enforced in the US. The major issue is where is the best place to find the evidence and witnesses to help a jury make a decision.
The public interest factors include avoidance of overburdening local courts with congested calendars, protecting the interests of potential jurors so that they are not called upon to decide cases in which the local community has little concern, and weighing the competing interests of California and the alternate jurisdiction in the litigation.” Also of potential concern is ” the interest in trying the case in a forum familiar with the applicable law, and the interest in avoiding unnecessary conflicts of laws.”
After reviewing the legal and equitable issues involved in making a decision to move the trial, the court looked at the plaintiff’s arguments to not move the case and the plaintiff’s arguments in general. Basically, the court slapped the plaintiff around for trying to stretch the law beyond reason and playing games with the court.
In this part of the opinion the court brought forth several statements about the plaintiff.
We will ignore plaintiff’s inappropriate, two-paragraph discussion of the court’s analysis in that case
The court then went on and told the plaintiff every reason why their legal arguments were not only incorrect, but just plain wrong.
The court had already reviewed the games the plaintiff played in filing two lawsuits in different locations and doing so in a way that made the second lawsuit difficult to find. Then the plaintiff lied under oath about the second lawsuit.
The court found the reasons for having the case in Canada were compelling.
Fox argued that British Columbia, where the Canadian case was ongoing, was a suitable forum because plaintiff was a British Columbia resident, the accident took place in British Columbia, and all relevant evidence, medical personnel, and percipient witnesses were located there. Fox believed it was at an unfair disadvantage because it had ” no way to compel the appearance at trial of any of the crucial Canadian witnesses,” whereas plaintiff would be able to obtain the cooperation of his most favorable witnesses.
The court did not order the case moved to Canada, but sent the case back to the trial court to review the motions of the defendant under the proper legal standard. That means the lower court had to review the issues again and move the case to Canada.
So Now What?
The first rule of winning a lawsuit is represent the honest person in the courtroom. The underlying tone of this entire decision was the court had caught the plaintiff lying to the defendants and playing games with the legal system. That never flies. Judges hate it and juries see through it.
Here the witnesses, evidence, physicians and other health care providers to the plaintiff could easily be brought into court by both sides and for a lot less money.
Also, the standards required to win a case like this in Canada are better for the defendant and the damages if the defendant loses will be much lower in Canada.
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