The U.S. Supreme Court has denied a request that it review an Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals ruling that affirmed the order of a Florida federal court refusing to vacate its November 2007 dismissal of a wrongful-death and strict-liability suit on inconvenient forum grounds. Bapte v. West Caribbean Airways, No. 13-429 (U.S., cert. denied December 9, 2013). The suit arose from a 2005 airline crash in Venezuela during a flight from Panama to Martinique.
After the Florida court dismissed the suit, finding that the French Caribbean island Martinique was a better forum, the plaintiffs—representatives or heirs of passengers who died in the crash—brought actions against separate defendants in Martinique, but challenged the French courts’ jurisdiction under the Montreal Convention. France’s highest court ultimately agreed, ruling that the French courts had no jurisdiction under the Montreal Convention once the plaintiffs selected South Florida as their preferred forum. They returned to the U.S. courts seeking to vacate the district court’s forum non conveniens ruling now that Martinique was no longer an available forum, relying on Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 60(b), which provides relief from a judgment or order on grounds of mistake, newly discovered evidence or fraud, or other reasons justifying such relief.
According to the Eleventh Circuit, the district court did not abuse its discretion in finding that the French Court of Cassation’s ruling did not warrant Rule 60(b) relief because the plaintiffs failed to argue the unavailability of an alternative forum before the lower court granted the defendant’s motion to dismiss based on forum non conveniens. “Thus, the Baptes’ motion to vacate appears to be nothing more than an effort to raise arguments in opposition to the forum non conveniens dismissal which they failed to raise initially in their opposition to Defendants’ motion to dismiss.” The court further noted that the plaintiffs’ success in arguing to the Court of Cassation that “a plaintiff’s initial choice of forum under the Montreal Convention precludes other available forums from exercising jurisdiction over the same claims does not constitute ‘sufficiently extraordinary’ circumstances to warrant” relief under rule 60(b).