An Inconvenient Truth: How Forum Non Conveniens Doctrine Allows Defendants to Escape State Court Jurisdiction

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Imagine you are a foreign citizen. You have been injured in a foreign country due to the negligence of a U.S. company and have a legitimate tort claim for millions of dollars against the company. You file suit in the state court in Missoula, Montana—located at 200 W. Broadway, Missoula, Montana 59802. The defendant company removes the case, on the basis of diversity of citizenship, to the United States District Court of Montana—located at 201 E. Broadway, Missoula, Montana 59802 —and argues that the case should be dismissed under the doctrine of forum non conveniens. The state court probably would not have granted the motion, but rather would have allowed the case to proceed to the merits. But now that the case has been moved just two blocks away to a federal district court, that court can exercise its discretion under federal forum non conveniens doctrine and dismiss the case. This sequence of events does not occur infrequently.

Because almost every federal court applies federal forum non conveniens law in diversity cases, defendants can remove cases to federal court solely for the purpose of getting them dismissed on forum non conveniens grounds. In cases where a state would not dismiss under its own forum non conveniens doctrine, it is unfair for defendants to exploit removal to obtain dismissal. Allowing defendants to engage in this practice undercuts the rights of the parties and undermines the purpose of the forum non conveniens doctrine.

The appropriate remedy is for courts to find that defendants who
remove from state court waive their right to argue forum non conveniens in federal court when the state would not have dismissed the case under its forum non conveniens law. This would prevent the injustice of defendants using removal as a mechanism for dismissal. However, courts may be unwilling to adopt waiver. Ultimately, I propose that Congress remedy this injustice by amending the removal statute to permit remand to the state court when the federal court dismisses on forum non conveniens grounds.

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