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Where is the Correct Location to File a Lawsuit?

In the recent appellate case of Fox Factory, Inc. v. Superior Court (2017) 11 Cal.App.5th 197, the Sixth District Court of Appeal reviewed whether a Canadian plaintiff, injured while riding a bicycle in Canada, could sue in California against a California corporation. Fox Factory, Inc. (“Fox”) is a maker of parts, specifically in this case, front fork racing shocks. The plaintiff in the case was riding his mountain bike in British Columbia on a bike that include Fox forks and shocks. While riding on a downhill course, the plaintiff attempted a jump. When he landed, the forks broke, throwing the plaintiff forward, with the fall causing a spinal injury.

The plaintiff filed an action in Santa Clara County against Fox. He also commenced an action against other parties in Canada the day after filing the suit in Santa Clara County. Fox argued that California was the improper location for the case, as all the witnesses, and the facts underlying the accident, occurred in Canada. The Superior Court disagreed, utilizing test under the case of Ford Motor Co. v. Insurance Co. of Norther America (1995) 35 Cal.App.4th 604.

On appeal, the Sixth District explained that the doctrine of forum non conveniens (wrong location for a case) allows a court to “decline to exercise its jurisdiction over a case when it determines that the case ‘may be more appropriately and justly tried elsewhere.’”

The appellate court held that trial courts are to follow the two-step approach found in the case of Stangvik v. Shiley Inc. (1991) 54 Cal.3d 744, 751. Those steps are:

(1) Determine whether the alternate forum is a ‘suitable’ place for trial.
(2) 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 Stangvik case held that 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 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.

The appellate court also held that another 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.”

The appellate court then reviewed whether the proper standard in the case was that of the Ford case or the standard in National Football League v. Fireman’s Fund Ins. Co. (2013) 216 Cal.App.4th 902 (apply Stangvik). The appellate ultimately held that the NFL case was the better law. Specifically, “a foreign, noncitizen plaintiff’s choice of forum is entitled to less deference. . . . The basis of the inconvenient forum doctrine is the need to give preference to California residents and guard against the ‘unchecked and unregulated importation of transitory causes of action for trial in this state.’” A foreign plaintiff in California is not entitled to a presumption of convenience. If the plaintiff is a resident of the forum (area where the court is located), that location is presumed to be correct. But, where the plaintiff is not from the area, the forum is much less reasonable.

The appellate required that the case return to the trial court for the analysis to be done under the NFL test. The moral of the story is to make sure you are in the right court.

If you have been injured due to negligence or fault products and have questions, contact the top-rated, personal injury attorneys at Henshaw & Henry, PC to schedule your free initial consultation.