Forum Non Conveniens as a Jurisdictional Doctrine
47 Pages Posted: 1 Oct 2012 Last revised: 26 May 2013
Date Written: October 1, 2012
The doctrine of forum non conveniens has played an increasingly important role within the federal judicial system. It applies primarily in cases in which the events giving rise to the asserted claims have occurred outside of the United States. While at one time the doctrine was considered limited and exceptional, today its invocation and enforcement has become routine. Unfortunately, the standards under which the doctrine is applied are indeterminate and unpredictable. Essentially, district courts are given a broad, case-management authority to balance the conveniences of the parties and the judicial system in determining whether to decline or to exercise the jurisdiction conferred by Congress. This balance-of-conveniences model has been borrowed from the law of venue; it reflects no more than the standards that a district court applies when determining whether it should transfer a case to another federal district — a determination that has no substantive consequences whatsoever. However, a forum non conveniens dismissal is, in fact, not premised on a venue judgment, but on a jurisdictional judgment that will deny access to the federal judicial system, and the consequence of such dismissal is much more severe than the consequence of a venue transfer. Indeed, it is often the case that a forum non conveniens dismissal ends the litigation and denies access to justice — Ecuador v. Chevron and Delgado v. Shell Oil Co. are just two dramatic-illustrative examples. This article returns the doctrine to its intended operation, namely, as an antidote for exorbitant exercises of personal jurisdiction to be used only in extraordinary circumstances. It also suggests the adoption of a statute designed to limit the scope of a district court’s discretion in applying forum non conveniens by refocusing the inquiry on the jurisdictional roots of the doctrine.
Keywords: forum non conveniens, due process, Ecuador v. Chevron, Delgado v. Shell Oil Co., due process, jurisdiction, venue, Supreme Court, legal analysis, legal method
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