Forum non conveniens

Definition

A court's discretionary power to decline to exercise its jurisdiction where another court may more conveniently hear a case.

Overview

Forum non conveniens is a discretionary power that allows courts to dismiss a case where another court, or forum, is much better suited to hear the case. This dismissal does not prevent a plaintiff from refiling his or her case in the more appropriate forum. See Res Judicata. This doctrine may be invoked by either the defendant, or by the court. See sua sponte.

When determining whether or not to exercise forum non conveniens, courts consider several factors, including:

  • The residence of the parties
  • The location of evidence and witnesses
  • Public policy
  • The relative burdens on the court systems
  • The plaintiff's choice of forum
  • How changing the forum would affect each party's case

Even if a plaintiff brings a case in an inconvenient forum, a court will not grant a forum non conveniens dismissal if there is no other forum that could hear the case, or if the other forum would not award the plaintiff any money even if he or she won. Similarly, courts will not grant a forum non conveniens dismissal where the alternative forum's judicial system is grossly inadequate. For example, an American court would not grant a forum non conveniens dismissal where the alternative forum was Cuba.

Sometimes, courts attach conditions to forum non conveniens dismissals. For example, the court might require the defendant to waive defenses that would prevent the plaintiff from re-filing the suit in the alternative forum. Or the court might dismiss the case in favor of a foreign court, but only on the condition that the defendant allow American-style discovery.

On appeal, forum non conveniens decisions are evaluated using an abuse of discretion standard.

The Supreme Court most recently considered forum non conveniens in Piper Aircraft Co. v. Reyno, 454 U.S. 235 (1981). In that case, the Court held that so long as there was a remedy available in the alternate forum, it did not matter if the remedy was clearly insufficient. However, lower courts do not strictly follow this rule. Instead, they usually consider the adequacy of the alternative forum's remedy as another factor to be balanced when deciding whether or not to grant a forum non conveniens dismissal.

See Venue; Civil Procedure.