In Solari v. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co., three French plaintiffs living in France brought suit against Goodyear U.S. in the Northern District of Ohio. The plaintiffs based the potential class action suit on medical conditions and the risk of future medical conditions caused by exposure to toxic substances while working at a Goodyear France factory in Amiens. The plaintiffs claimed that Goodyear U.S. manufactured toxic products in the United States, required Goodyear France to use those products, and failed to warn plaintiffs of the risks or provide them with adequate safety gear. The Sixth Circuit upheld the district court’s conditional dismissal of the case for forum non conveniens.
The Sixth Circuit reviewed the district court’s three-step forum non conveniens analysis for abuse of discretion. First, the Court found no abuse of discretion in the district court’s explanation of deference to the plaintiffs. While generally the plaintiff’s choice of forum receives a strong presumption in its favor, a foreign plaintiff’s forum choice deserves less deference because “it ‘is much less reasonable’ to presume the choice convenient.” The district court found a burdensomeness standard sufficient to support dismissal.
Second, the Sixth Circuit determined that Goodyear U.S. showed that an adequate alternative forum exists. While the plaintiffs’ expert—a French law professor—argued that under Article 42 of the French Code, a defendant’s place of incorporation has jurisdiction over disputes, the Sixth Circuit ultimately found Goodyear’s expert—a former French Supreme Court Justice—persuasive. Justice Béraudo explained that Article 46 of the French Code allows a plaintiff to sue in tort where the plaintiff suffered damage. Extensive caselaw on the matter and Goodyear’s voluntary submission to French jurisdiction also weighed in favor of dismissal. Additionally, French courts offer sufficient remedies, and France’s absence of class actions do not render French courts inadequate to hear this kind of case.
Finally, the Court affirmed that both the private and public factors weigh in favor of dismissal. France provides better access to sources of proof, witnesses in this case likely reside in France, transporting to and accommodating the witnesses in Ohio is costly, documents and witnesses likely require translation, and Goodyear U.S. agreed to make its evidence available in France. Public-interest factors include administrative difficulties, “the burden of imposing jury duty on a community which has no relation to the litigation,” and France’s local interest in deciding the case at home.
Ultimately, “the location of Goodyear U.S.’s decision making simply cannot overcome that Plaintiffs present a controversy centered in France.” This case demonstrates the reluctance of United States courts to hear foreign cases with very little connection to the United States other than its being the location of a foreign company’s corporate “grandparent.” As we near Bastille Day, the Sixth Circuit should’ve added, Vive La France!