Wagner v. Island Romance Holidays, Inc., No. 1:12-cv-23928 (S.D. Fla. Oct. 21, 2013) [click for opinion]
David Wagner, an Illinois resident, claims he was anonymously attacked while vacationing at a resort in Jamaica. After returning to the United States, he filed suit in the Southern District of Florida alleging that the resort was negligent in failing to provide adequate security for its guests. The defendants filed a motion to dismiss based on forum non conveniens, asserting that it would face significant prejudice if the case were not tried in the available and adequate alternative forum of Jamaica.
In order to satisfy its burden on a motion to dismiss for forum non conveniens, the moving party must show: 1) the availability of an alternative and adequate forum; 2) public and private factors weigh in favor of dismissal; and 3) the plaintiff can reinstate its suit in the alternative forum. A defendant generally satisfies the first element by showing that it is amenable to process in the alternative forum. The element had been satisfied by the resort's and the other defendants' agreement to submit to jurisdiction in Jamaica. The court noted that a forum may be adequate even if the remedy available there is substantially less than the remedy available in the United States. The court also overruled as irrelevant to the first element Wagner's claim that he would be unable to afford pursuing the lawsuit in Jamaica.
But on the basis of the private and public interests, the court decided to deny the motion to dismiss. The court noted that the Eleventh Circuit requires defendants to produce evidence of unusually extreme circumstances before a U.S. citizen will be denied access to U.S. courts. In addition, there is a strong presumption against disturbing a plaintiff's forum choice. The court was not satisfied the defendants had met this heavy burden. Although the ease of access to evidence (the incident occurred in Jamaica and most of the witnesses live there) cut in the defendants' favor, the court determined that key evidence can be presented through videos and photos, and since the vital witnesses are under the resort's control, they can be expected to cooperate with a U.S. trial.
The court found the public interest factors also weighed against dismissal. To be sure, a Florida jury has little interest in adjudicating a dispute between an Illinois citizen and Jamaican businesses, and Jamaican tort law will need to be applied. Still, the United States has an interest in litigation involving defendants that conduct business in the United States. Ultimately, the main factor driving the court's decision was the United States' strong interest in providing a forum in which its citizens can seek redress for injuries caused by foreign defendants who are subject to U.S. jurisdiction.