State Supreme Court Issues Opinion on Management of Discovery

Recently, the Colorado Supreme Court issued an opinion reaffirming that trial courts need to take an active, hands-on role in managing discovery and should consider cost-benefit and proportionality factors  to control excessive discovery. DCP Midstream, LP v. Anadarko Petroleum Corp., et al., Case No. 12SA307 (Colo. June 24, 2013). Note my colleagues at SHB filed an amicus brief on behalf of NAM in this matter. The decision is a victory for efforts to encourage a rule of reasonableness in discovery.

Plaintiff sued for breach of contract and other claims. During discovery, DCP sent Anadarko fifty-eight requests for production seeking millions of pages of paper and electronic documents and many of Anadarko's "title opinions"— attorney-authored opinions about the state of title to land or mineral interests. Anadarko refused to produce many of the requested documents. DCP then filed a motion to compel. Without holding a hearing, the trial court granted DCP's motion. The trial court did not address any of Anadarko's specific objections, nor did it provide any analysis under C.R.C.P. 26(b) in support of its conclusions. In a later written order, the trial court reasoned that DCP was entitled to discovery on any issue that is or may become relevant and ruled that Anadarko's title opinions were not privileged because they were based on public information.

Appeal ensued. The state Supreme Court noted that this proceeding raised important questions about the scope of discovery and the extent to which trial courts must manage the discovery phase of a case to accomplish the overriding purpose of the civil rules—"the just, speedy, and inexpensive determination of every action." C.R.C.P. 1. The state civil rules, and cases interpreting them, reflect an evolving effort to require active judicial management of pretrial matters to curb discovery abuses, reduce delay, and decrease litigation costs. See C.R.C.P. 16 committee comment ("It is expected that trial judges will assertively lead the management of cases to ensure that justice is served.").

This principle of active judicial management is reflected in the comments to the rules, and throughout the civil rules: e.g., C.R.C.P. 26(b) restricts the scope of discovery available as a matter of right; some material is limited to "good cause;" C.R.C.P. 26(b)(2) imposes limits on the number of depositions, interrogatories, and requests for production, and these limits can also be modified for "good cause."

The rules suggest that if a party objects to discovery because it is not relevant to a claim or defense, then the trial court must become involved. C.R.C.P. 26(b) requires trial courts to take an active role managing discovery when a scope objection is raised. When faced with a scope objection, the trial court must determine the appropriate scope of discovery in light of the reasonable needs of the case and tailor discovery to those needs. Because each case is unique and deserves unique treatment, the reasonable needs of the case will necessarily vary, depending on the subject matter and complexity of the case, the nature of the parties' claims or defenses, and the discovery necessary to resolve the dispute. To tailor discovery to the specific needs of the case, the Court said that the cost-benefit and proportionality factors listed in C.R.C.P. 26(b)(2)(F) will be helpful. These factors require active judicial management to control excessive discovery.

Bottom line, to resolve a dispute regarding the proper scope of discovery in a particular case, the trial court should, at a minimum, consider the cost-benefit and proportionality factors set forth in C.R.C.P. 26(b)(2)(F). When tailoring discovery, the factors relevant to a trial court's decision will vary depending on the circumstances of the case, and trial courts always possess discretion to consider any or all of the factors listed—or any other pertinent factors—as the needs of the case require.

So this one was vacated and remanded to the lower court for reconsideration.

Discovery of Expert Communications At Issue

 Here is one to watch for our readers who practice in Pennsylvania.  The state Supreme Court has before it the issue of discovery of communications between lawyers and their expert witnesses. See Carl Barrick v. Holy Spirit Hospital of the Sisters of Christian Charity, et al., No. 76 MAP 2012 (S.Ct. Pa.).

Barrick filed suit against Holy Spirit Hospital and Sodexho Management Inc. alleging personal injuries in the cafeteria of Holy Spirit Hospital.  An orthopedic surgeon who treated Barrick for injuries sustained from the accident was also named as an expert witness.  One of the defendants subpoenaed Barrick’s medical chart and other records, but the Doctor's medical center withheld some records which allegedly were trial preparation materials under Pennsylvania Rules of Civil Procedure.

The defendant filed a motion to compel, and after the trial court conducted an in camera review, the court ordered the release of the materials to the defendants.  This was in line with some state cases that suggested work product protections in Pennsylvania are not as strong as under the federal rules. The plaintiff appealed, and a panel of the Superior Court upheld the ruling in 2010. The issue was then reconsidered by the Superior Court sitting en banc, which ruled that the Pennsylvania Rules of Civil Procedure did not compel the disclosure of such communications between attorneys and their expert witnesses. Arguably this ruling offered more protection than the federal rules do.  It also made an interesting contrast with Rule 4003.5 which, upon cause shown, gives state courts some ability to compel experts to do more than the basic response to interrogatories regarding their anticipated testimony at trial.

The 8-1 majority reasoned that Pa.R.C.P. 4003.5 controls discovery regarding expert testimony, and it specifies that a party cannot directly serve discovery requests upon a non-party expert witness. Discovery regarding testimony of an expert other than through a defined set of interrogatories must be made upon the showing of good cause to the court, not through a subpoena. Here, the correspondence sought by the defendant did not fall into the area of interrogatory permitted under Rule 4003.5(a)(1).  

Following the en banc ruling, defendants appealed.  The issue before the supreme court now is whether the superior court’s holding “improperly provides absolute work-product protection to all communications between a party’s counsel and their trial expert.”

Ninth Circuit "Strikes" a Blow for Proper Motion Procedure

Phillies' slugger Ryan Howard was ejected from a game this week in extra innings, leaving his team (which had no more position players) to insert ace pitcher Roy Oswalt into the outfield and to use him at the plate. First time the Phils used a pitcher in the field in decades. Howard argued a mistakenly called third strike on a check swing.

Today's post relates to a different kind of mistaken strike. The Ninth Circuit has explained that trial courts cannot strike a claim for damages on the ground that the damages are precluded as a matter of law.  Whittlestone Inc. v. Handi-Craft Co., No. 09-16353 (9th Cir. Aug. 17, 2010).  Specifically, Rule 12(f) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure does not authorize the court to strike the claim for damages on the basis that such damages are legally not recoverable.

Here, the defendant field a Rule 12 motion to strike the paragraphs of the complaint that sought the recovery of lost profits and consequential damages, in alleged violation of the plain language of the parties' contract.  The trial court granted the motion, and plaintiff appealed.

Rule 12(f) states that a district court “may strike from a pleading an insufficient defense or any redundant, immaterial, impertinent, or scandalous matter.” The function of a 12(f) motion
to strike is to avoid the expenditure of time and money that would arise from litigating spurious issues by dispensing with those issues prior to trial.  While the motion here seemed to fit the purpose of the rule, it didn't fit the language. The court found that the damages allegations met none of those listed categories. 

Handi-Craft argued that Whittlestone’s claim for lost profits and consequential damages should be stricken from the complaint, because such damages were precluded as a matter of law.  But that meant that Handi-Craft’s 12(f) motion was really an attempt to have certain portions of  Whittlestone’s complaint dismissed or to obtain summary judgment against Whittlestone as to those portions of the suit, which attempt was better suited for a Rule 12(b)(6) motion or a Rule 56
motion, not a Rule 12(f) motion. 

And this was not harmless error, said the 9th, because the standard for review of the different motions is not the same, and there was some question whether a 12(b)(6) motion would be granted, had it been filed.

The court concluded that Rule 12(f) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure does not authorize a district court to dismiss a claim for damages on the basis it is precluded as a matter of
law.


 

Duke Hosts Conference on Civil Rules

At the request of the Standing Committee on Rules of Practice and Procedure, the Advisory Committee on Civil Rules sponsored a conference last week at Duke University School of Law. The purpose of the conference was to explore the current costs and burdens of civil litigation, particularly discovery, and to discuss possible solutions. The Conference was designed in part to highlight some new empirical research done by the Federal Judicial Center, and others, to assess the degree of satisfaction with the performance of the present system and the suggestions of lawyers as to how the system might be improved.  The Conference included insights and perspectives from lawyers, judges and academics, on the discovery process (particularly e-discovery), pleadings, and dispositive motions. Other topics considered included judicial management and the tools available to judges to expedite the litigation process, the process of settlement, and the experience of the state courts on these issues.

Specifically, the empirical data from the FJC was discussed by Judge Rothstein, and Emery Lee and Tom Willging of the FJC; the ABA Litigation Section research data was to be reported by Lorna Schofield; the NELA Data was next.  Prof. Marc Galanter commented on vanishing jury trial data. Litigation cost data from the Searle Institute, and RAND data were circulated. The next section of the agenda focused on pleadings and dispositive motions, fact based pleading, Twombly, Iqbal. Participants included several judges and academics. The following panel asked about excessive discovery, and included practitioners, judges, and academics. The judicial management issue, and the level of early judicial involvement, was next.

Day Two focused on e-discovery and the degree to which the new rules are working or not.  The U.S. Chamber Institute for Legal Reform weighed in with a white paper.  The conference turned next to whether the process was structured sufficiently for trial and settlements as they really occur, i.e., should the endgame be viewed as settlement rather than trial. Corporate counsel, outside lawyers, public and governmental lawyers weighed in next. The following panel offered perspectives from the state courts. Finally, the Bar Association and lawyer group proposals were on the table. The Lawyers for Civil Justice, DRI, Federation of Defense & Corporate Counsel, and International Association of Defense Counsel submitted a white paper.

One speaker summed up the two-day discussion, suggesting that consensus had formed around the proposition that federal judges should provide strong, early, consistent case management, although plaintiff lawyers felt there was no need to give the judges any more formal authority.  But there was great disagreement on critical questions of the scope of discovery, the breadth of possible voluntary disclosures, and pleading requirements. Readers have read my posts about  Twombly and Iqbal, which clarified the requirements of what must be included in a complaint.

A survey of the Oregon system, a fact-based pleading approach, was presented by the Institute for the Advancement of the American Legal System. It has not led to more dismissals, and most observers agreed that fact-based pleading was revealing the key issues and narrowing the contentions earlier. 

The notion that the cost of the process is so large that it may be making litigation beyond the reach of many potential litigants is something a number of participant expressed concern about. One judge noted that he now requires lawyers to estimate the costs of discovery, and report that to their client. One participant raised the issue of cutting off discovery for defendants who move to
dismiss, although it is unclear how that would be an effective remedy for any current unsatisfactory case management methods.

 

Does the Twombly-Iqbal Pleading Standard Apply to Defenses Too?

A suit over an allegedly defective truck is the stage for the latest entry in the debate whether the claim pleading standards clarified in Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544 (2007), and Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 129 S. Ct. 1937 (2009), apply to affirmative defenses as well.

In Hayne v. Green Ford Sales Inc., 2009 WL 5171779 (D. Kan. 12/22/09), defendants plead standard affirmative defenses to the breach of warranty claim, including statute of limitations, contributory fault, failure to mitigate damages, assumption of risk, superseding/intervening act, waiver, failure to use product in manner designed or intended, and estoppel. Plaintiffs moved to strike the defenses under Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(f).

The court, sua sponte, noted that the motion to strike raised the issue as to what pleading standard applies to affirmative defenses. Recognizing that the courts have split on the issue so far, the district court found that the Twombly/Iqbal standard for pleading a claim also applies to defenses.

Courts that have applied the heightened pleading standard  to affirmative defenses: CTF Dev., Inc. v. Penta Hospitality, LLC, 2009 WL 3517617, at *7-8 (N.D.Cal. Oct. 26, 2009) Tracy ex rel. v. NVR, Inc., 2009 WL 3153150, at *7-8 (W.D.N.Y. Sept. 30, 2009); FDIC v. Bristol Home Mortg. Lending, LLC, 2009 WL 2488302, at *2-4 (S.D.Fla. Aug. 13, 2009); Teirstein v. AGA Medical Corp., 2009 WL 704138, at *6 (E.D.Tex. Mar. 16, 2009); Greenheck Fan Corp. v. Loren Cook Co., 2008 WL 4443805, at *1-2 (W.D.Wis. Sept. 25, 2008); Stoffels ex rel. SBC Tel. Concession Plan v. SBC Commc'ns, Inc., 2008 WL 4391396, at *1 (W.D.Tex. Sept. 22, 2008); Safeco Ins. Co. of Am. v. O'Hara Corp., 2008 WL 2558015, at *1 (E.D. Mich. June 25, 2008); Holtzman v. B/E Aerospace, Inc., 2008 WL 2225668, at *2, (S.D.Fla. May 28, 2008); United States v. Quadrini, 2007 WL 4303213, at *3-4 (E.D.Mich. Dec. 06, 2007).

The court observed that "parties do not always know all the facts relevant to their claims or defenses until discovery has occurred."  But to equate the plaintiff's knowledge, or lack  of knowledge, after months or perhaps years of possible preparation and investigation, and having full access to plaintiff, the product, and key fact witnesses in most cases, to the defendant's ability in a few short days after being served to know all the relevant facts, is a completely unfair comparison.  While the court said it did not mean to "suggest that heightened pleading requires the assertion of evidentiary facts. A minimal statement of only ultimate facts should suffice," the better reasoned decisions are cases like First Nat'l Ins. Co. of Am. v. Camps Servs., Ltd, 2009 WL 22861, at *2 (E.D.Mich. Jan. 5, 2009) (finding Twombly's analysis of the “short and plain statement” requirement inapplicable to affirmative defenses); and Romantine v. CH2M Hill Eng'rs, Inc., 2009 WL 3417469, at *1 (W.D.Pa. Oct. 23, 2009) (declining to apply Twombly to affirmative defenses).

The Supreme Court addressed in Twombly the requirements for a well-pled complaint under Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)'s “short and plain statement” requirement.  No such language, however, appears within Rule 8(c), the applicable rule for affirmative defenses. As such, Twombly 's analysis of the “short and plain statement” requirement of Rule 8(a) is inapplicable to a motion under Rule 8(c).

As posted about before, the plaintiffs' bar is seeking to get these Supreme Court cases overturned in Congress.  The possible application of the rule to affirmative defenses shouldn't make any defendants re-think opposition to the legislation.  But the handful of courts that have applied the standard to defenses raise a yellow flag for defendants.

Supreme Court Hears Oral Argument In Class Action Restriction Case

The Supreme Court heard oral argument earlier this week in Shady Grove Orthopedic Assocs. v. Allstate Ins. Co. (No. 08-1008), a case which considers whether a state law (here, New York's) prohibiting class actions for certain statutory damages claims can preclude class certification in a federal court diversity action. (The Second Circuit's decision is at 549 F.3d 137 (2d Cir. 2008).)

The case takes your humble blogger back to Civil Procedure class in law school and Prof. Steve Burbank who was, and is, a leading authority on the Rules Enabling Act, because the case potentially implicates the Act's command that the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure "shall not abridge, enlarge or modify any substantive right."  28 U.S.C. 2072(b). But for readers of MassTortDefense, the import is the ability of state legislatures to restrict the availability of class actions in federal court.

Plaintiff brought a case pursuant to a New York insurance law that provides for interest penalties on claims that are paid late. However, New York Civil Practice Law and Rules §901(b), prohibits plaintiffs from recovering state statutory penalties in class actions unless class proceedings are authorized in the statute (which they were not). The District Court found Section 901(b) applied, which meant the case could not proceed as a class action in federal court.

Civil procedure mavens will note that the case depends in part on whether the state law at issue is substantive or procedural. Plaintiff, Shady Grove, argued that the law is procedural and thus cannot displace the federal rules; class action Rule 23 would trump any contrary procedural state statute or rule. Shady Grove argued that Section 901(b) does not create a substantive right not to face a class action, but rather provides a mere procedural entitlement not to be subject to a class action seeking certain forms of relief in the New York state courts. Justice Ginsburg, at oral argument, however, wondered why the ban was not akin to a restriction on remedies, such as a ceiling on the amount of damages that could be recovered under  state law (and was thus substantive).

Allstate took the view that the statute is substantive, that while Rule 23 sets forth the criteria governing class action certification in federal court, it does not address the initial question of whether a claim is eligible for class certification. Applying Rule 23 would overrule substantive policy decisions that certain claims are categorically ineligible for class certification, and that would venture beyond the bounds of the Rules Enabling Act. Their defense brief included a list of various federal and state laws that represent substantive policy choices curbing class action remedies or ruling out class action claims in specific contexts. At argument, Shady Grove conceded that at least some of them would be invalid under plaintiff's theory.

Allstate also raised the specter of forum shopping: plaintiffs would be drawn to federal court, thwarting a state's efforts to limit liability for those claims. The Second Circuit agreed that the New York law barred the plaintiff from bringing its claim against Allstate as a class action under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23.  And at oral argument, Allstate asserted that New York State made the substantive policy decision that class actions seeking monetary penalties for misconduct defined by this state law would unduly magnify those penalties, and thus barred lawsuits combining such claims, forcing plaintiffs to sue for them one at a time. Justice Sotomayer seemed skeptical, wondering if under Allstate's theory, states could pass a law stating that no cause of action under state law can be brought as a class action, ever.

The Partnership for New York City Inc. joined with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and some other  groups to support Allstate, while Public Justice, a Washington-based liberal pro-plaintiff interest law firm, filed an amicus brief in support of Shady Grove. The plaintiff amicus argued that the controlling doctrine is not Erie, but the decision in Hanna v. Plumer, which, they argued, requires that a valid federal procedural rule must be applied by a federal court in a case involving citizens of different states regardless of contrary state law.

For readers of MassTortDefense, who recognize the overwhelming trend in federal courts not to certify personal injury product liability class actions, there is the countervailing concern that states could choose to expand the availability of class actions, and whether the Supreme Court might adopt an approach that would later force federal courts to certify actions that would seem uncertifiable under Rule 23. And much of the questioning by the Court related to one "slippery slope" or another.

One final thought: given the Court’s recent emphasis on federalism and state’s rights (underlying, in part, recent questionable preemption decisions), a respect for state legislative prerogatives could favor Allstate here.  Indeed, at oral argument Allstate counsel argued that if a state has created a legal claim, it is only appropriate that it be allowed to define its terms and limits. And Justice Ginsburg remarked that this Court has been sensitive to state limitations.

 

Court Dismisses Counts Of Trileptal Complaint Pursuant to Twombly

Add to your list of recent cases applying the recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions that clarified pleading standards, the decision in Frey v. Novartis Pharmaceuticals Corp., 2009 WL 2230471 (S.D.Ohio). 

The federal trial court dismissed a plaintiff's manufacturing and design defect claims against the maker of an epilepsy drug that allegedly caused her to develop multi-organ sensitivity, citing Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. 1937 (2009), and Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544 (2007). Under Iqbal, a claim is facially plausible when the plaintiff  sufficiently “pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” 

Plaintiff  used Trileptal for a short time in 2005. A label change was made in Spring, 2005, adding a precaution regarding multi-organ sensitivity. Novartis sent a Dear Doctor letter, advising of the label change, in April.  Plaintiff contended that the drug caused her to develop multi-organ sensitivity and related complications. Plaintiff sued, alleging various claims, including defective design and manufacture. Novartis moved for a partial dismissal under Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6).

According to the court, plaintiff's first cause of action for strict liability for defect in the manufacture of Trileptal under Ohio law must be dismissed pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) for failure to state a plausible claim for relief. Plaintiff did nothing more than provide a formulaic recitation of the elements of a claim under the statute.  She failed to allege any facts that would permit the court to conclude that a manufacturing defect occurred and that the defect was the proximate cause of Frey's alleged injuries. Plaintiff's allegations in this regard fall far short of the sufficiency standard set forth in Twombly.

Similarly, the court said, the design defect claim would be dismissed because plaintiff once again simply provided a formulaic recitation of the elements of a claim under the statute. She did not allege any facts that would permit the court to conclude that there was a defect in the design or formulation of Trileptal and that the defect was the proximate cause of Frey's alleged injuries. Because plaintiff's allegations fall far short of the sufficiency standard set forth in Twombly, the claim for design defect must be dismissed.

Importantly, the court rejected plaintiff's argument that plaintiffs cannot be expected to particularly allege that the scientific makeup of the drug is defective for a specific reason without conducting discovery.

Finally, the court denied the plaintiff's motion to amend the complaint, saying she had not shown that they were able to allege facts that would state plausible claims for relief to satisfy the pleading standard.




 

California Enacts E-Discovery Reform

California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has signed into law a new enactment governing e-discovery in that state.  Readers of MassTortDefense know what a significant issue electronic discovery has been in products litigation, particularly since the amendments to the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure more specifically focused on e-discovery issues. Rather than a device to uncover relevant facts for the litigation, e-discovery often is about plaintiffs’ attempt to find some alleged misstep by the defendant that will bring sanctions.

The Governator signed the Electronic Discovery Act, establishing new rules and procedures for litigants who seek electronically stored information.  The law is designed to make discoverable only  those reasonably accessible sources of electronic data, and it provides that litigants shouldn't be sanctioned for losing data through the ordinary operation of an electronic system. The law establishes that a party may move for a protective order from an electronic discovery request on the grounds that the information sought is inaccessible, though it gives courts discretion to require limited discovery in those cases if the demanding party shows good cause, subject to specified restrictions in specified circumstances.

California courts may also limit electronic discovery from accessible sources if they determine that the information sought could be obtained by other means, is duplicative, or if the expense of
the discovery outweighs its likely benefit. While the Electronic Discovery Act allows courts to
impose sanctions on parties which fail to comply adequately with discovery requests, the courts shall not impose sanctions on a party (or any attorney of a party) for failure to provide electronically stored information that has been lost, damaged, altered or overwritten as the result of the routine, good faith operation of an electronic information system.

The new law also requires discovered materials to be produced in the form in which they are kept in the ordinary course of business.

MassTortDefense noted that a survey by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Institute for Legal Reform of chief legal officers at Fortune 100 companies revealed that:

-On average, 45‐50% of respondents’ civil litigation costs in 2007 related to discovery activities.

-Discovery of ESI accounted for, on average, a significant share (between 33‐39%) of total discovery costs.

-Costs associated with e‐discovery vendors were reported in 63% of large cases. When used, e‐discovery vendors accounted for, on average, 10‐12% of total costs.

-About 61% of case respondents felt that certain discovery requests received from the opposing party were designed to impose undue settlement pressure by increasing the costs to continue the litigation.

-In both state and federal court, the company respondents reported that more than half of their civil litigation matters involved the receipt of discovery requests that sought information beyond the claims or defenses at issue.

- About 31% of company respondents reported that at least 40% of the time ESI requested from them by the opposing party is not reasonably accessible.

This bill is to take effect immediately as an urgency statute.
 

State Supreme Court Adopts And Applies Forum Non Conveniens

Rhode Island's Supreme Court recently adopted the forum non conveniens doctrine and dismissed multiple asbestos suits filed there by Canadian residents. Kedy v. A.W. Chesterton Co., 946 A.2d 1171 (R.I. 2008).


Rhode Island becomes one of the last states to recognize the doctrine, which is an increasingly important procedural aspect of many mass torts. Large numbers of nonresidents will often file suit in the so-called “magic” jurisdictions -- judicial hellholes for defendants as coined by the American Tort Reform Association -- even though these plaintiffs and the facts of their cases may have no significant relationship with the chosen jurisdiction. The state may be attractive to plaintiffs because of perception of the jury pool, or because of procedural advantages such as when its trial courts employ mass consolidations of multiple individual claims that pressure defendants to settle and limit the ability of courts and defendants to focus on the individual claims. E.g., State ex rel. Mobil Corp. v. Gaughan, 563 S.E.2d 419 (W.Va. 2002). And foreign plaintiffs in general may be attracted to U.S.-style remedies, damages, and procedures.


The forum non conveniens doctrine has been employed by courts to dismiss claims by foreign and out of state plaintiffs in mass torts. The principle allows a court to decline to exercise jurisdiction when the plaintiff's chosen forum is significantly inconvenient and the ends of justice would be better served if the action were brought and tried in another forum. For example, in the In re Vioxx Products Liability Litigation, MDL No. 1657, 2006 WL 2504353 (E.D. La. Aug. 30, 2006), former Vioxx users from 11 foreign countries were dismissed from the MDL. Merck argued that the cases involve the prescription and use of Vioxx in foreign countries, and the drug was distributed under each nation's unique regulatory and legal structure. The plaintiffs were injured abroad and the injury-causing conduct occurred abroad. The foreign courts offered adequate alternative forums; American courts would not have easy access to the foreign documents and witnesses related to the claims. Finally, trying the plaintiffs' claims here in the U.S. risked disrupting the judgments of foreign regulatory bodies by imposing an American jury's view of the appropriate standards of safety and labeling on companies marketing and selling drugs in those nations.


In recent years, tort reform efforts in some states have made an impact on filing of suits by nonresidents that would otherwise swamp their courts. Mississippi has undertaken a series of legislative and judicial reforms to limit the number of out-of-state asbestos claims. For example, the Mississippi Tort Reform Act of 2004 tightened venue provisions and joinder rules and expanded the ability of courts to transfer or dismiss claims under the doctrine of forum non conveniens. Miss. Code Ann. § 11-11-3. As a result of the reforms, the "courts of Mississippi will not become the default forum for plaintiffs seeking to consolidate mass-tort actions." 3M Co. v. Johnson, 926 So. 2d 860, 18–19 (Miss. 2006). Similarly, Texas has expanded the power of courts to dismiss actions on forum non conveniens grounds. See Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code Ann. § 71.051.

Rhode Island
Several Canadian residents sued in a Rhode Island court, seeking damages for injuries associated with workplace exposure to asbestos in Canada. Several defendants sought dismissal under the doctrine of forum non conveniens. The trial court denied the motion, noting that Rhode Island had not recognized forum non conveniens outside in the tort context, and accepting plaintiffs’ arguments that forum non conveniens has led to confusion and inconsistency in federal and state courts, and that the legislature is the appropriate body to adopt the doctrine.

The state supreme court noted that the doctrine of forum non conveniens is founded in considerations of fundamental fairness and sensible and effective judicial administration. The doctrine has been recognized by common law, statute or rule of civil procedure in most states. Legal commentators are in general agreement that most states follow the federal forum non conveniens test. See Davies, Time to Change the Federal Forum Non Conveniens Analysis, 77 Tul. L.Rev. 309, 315 (2002) (thirty states have “effectively identical” analyses to the federal test, and thirteen other states employ a “very similar” test); Robinson & Speck, Access to State Courts in Transnational Personal Injury Cases: Forum Non Conveniens and Antisuit Injunctions, 68 Tex. L.Rev. 937, 950 (1990) (thirty-two states recognized “something very closely resembling” the federal doctrine, and four other states indicated they would follow the federal doctrine).

The first prong of the forum non conveniens analysis requires a determination of the existence of an available and adequate alternative forum. Second, the court must determine the inconvenience of continuing in the plaintiff's chosen forum by weighing private- and public-interest factors. The private interests of the litigants include the following factors: relative ease of access to sources of proof; availability of compulsory process for attendance of unwilling, and the cost of obtaining attendance of willing, witnesses; possibility of view of premises, if view would be appropriate to the action; and all other practical problems that make trial of a case easy, expeditious and inexpensive. (Citing Gulf Oil Corp., 330 U.S. at 508.)

Other factors that may be relevant to the private-interest assessment include the enforceability of a judgment in the alternative forum, and the advantages and obstacles to a fair trial. A plaintiff may not, by choice of an inconvenient forum, vex, harass, or oppress the defendant by inflicting upon him expense or trouble not necessary to his own right to pursue his remedy. The private interest of a plaintiff should be afforded more weight when the forum choice appears to be based on legally valid reasons such as convenience and expense. Conversely, the private interest of a defendant should be afforded more weight when a plaintiff's choice of forum seems motivated by forum-shopping objectives such as tactical attempts to harness more favorable laws and damages remedies, taking advantage of jurisdictions with generous jury verdicts, or causing inconvenience and expense to a defendant.

Public interest factors include administrative difficulties for courts, that jury duty is a burden that ought not be imposed upon the people of a community which has no relation to the litigation; the local interest in having localized controversies decided at home; and the court in some other forum dealing with problems in conflicts of laws, and in law foreign to itself.

Application of the New Test
Applied here, the court noted that differences in discovery standards are not enough to establish the inadequacy of the forum. Although damages may be smaller in Canada, it was important that neither plaintiffs nor defendants in the underlying cases were residents of Rhode Island or domiciled there. Much of the evidence necessarily is in Canada; the injuries and treatment alleged occurred in Canada, where plaintiffs are residents. No witnesses, workplace sites, or any other relevant evidence appear to be situated in the state. Access to proof is clearly less convenient. Only Canadian courts have the legal power to compel the testimony of Canadian potential witnesses who are not under the control of any party. Furthermore, the likelihood that Canadian law would apply in these cases would place additional burdens upon the state court. Accordingly the foreign claims were dismissed.