What is “Forum Non Conveniens” in Florida?

Under Florida common law, a lawsuit that does not have much connection to Florida may be subject to “forum non conveniens,” which is Latin for “inconvenient forum.” It comes up only after a plaintiff is able to effect service of process of a lawsuit on a defendant who is present in Florida or has its principal place of business there or because the defendant has committed a tort in Florida.

Some plaintiffs “shop” for the best jurisdiction in which to sue the defendant–usually they pick the jurisdiction with laws that favor their side of the case. This problem can be fixed through the application of the forum non conveniens.

Forum non conveniens is a doctrine that addresses the problem of a local court having jurisdiction over a suit when the case could be fairly and more conveniently litigated in another jurisdiction. Since Florida tends to have better laws for plaintiffs than some overseas jurisdictions, the plaintiff practice of forum-shopping is particularly notable here.

The Florida Rules of Civil Procedure has codified the four-part federal test for determining forum non conveniens in Florida courts. First, the court should establish whether an adequate alternative forum exists. In other words, is there a court somewhere else in the world that is both “available” and “adequate?” The other court would only meet these two criterion if it were able to assert jurisdiction and would also allow the plaintiff to litigate the case.

Second, the judge must consider all relevant factors, including a presumption against changing the plaintiff’s first choice forum. Third, assuming that the second factor is evenly stacked for both parties, the trial judge must decide whether or not public interest will tip the balance in favor of another forum. Fourth, the judge must make sure that the plaintiff can bring the suit in the alternative forum without prejudice.

In a recent case, the appellate court considered whether the forum non conveniens doctrine was properly applied. The case arose because a male masseur sexually assaulted a United States citizen (a California resident) at a resort in Mexico during a complimentary massage. The U.S. citizen filed suit against the corporations who put together her vacation package. They were based in Miami, Florida. She alleged “negligent vacation packaging.”

The Florida defendants asked the court to dismiss the case based on forum non conveniens arguing Mexico was more convenient. The trial court agreed, stating that all the events took place in Florida and the plaintiff’s choice was given less deference because she was a Californian with no connection to Florida. The plaintiff appealed. The appellate court upheld the dismissal, stating that Mexico was more convenient under the four-part test, particularly since the plaintiff was not a Florida resident.

The plaintiff then asked the Supreme Court to review the case, arguing that the appellate court had incorrectly applied the factors. The Supreme Court explained that the presumption given to a plaintiff’s choice is not reserved for Florida residents.

Forum non conveniens can’t be used by defendants to bully or disadvantage plaintiffs when it would not be a substantial burden for the defendant to litigate in Florida. Additionally, because the plaintiff was arguing “negligent vacation packaging,” she was making claims against the defendants for actions that occurred at their place of business in Florida, even though the assault happened in Mexico.

If you are injured on vacation or abroad by a corporation headquartered in Florida, you may be entitled to bring your claim in Florida. Contact the experienced South Florida personal injury attorneys at Friedman, Rodman & Frank toll-free for a free consultation at (877) 448-8585.

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