IS A FOREIGN COUNTRY A MORE CONVENIENT FORUM FOR LITIGATION?

O.C.G.A. § 9-10-31.1 allows a court to dismiss a lawsuit filed in Georgia, “for the convenience of the parties and witnesses” when that claim “would be more properly heard in a forum outside of” Georgia. Can a Georgia case be dismissed in favor of a forum of a foreign country? In La Fontaine v. Signature Research, Inc., Case No. S18G0078 (decided February 4, 2019), the Georgia Supreme Court said “no.”

The plaintiffs in the case resided in Michigan and the defendant was a Georgia corporation. However, the case arose when the plaintiffs were injured in a fall from a collapsed zip-line course operated in the Dominican Republic. The Georgia-incorporated defendant had inspected and certified the zip-line course. The trial court applied O.C.G.A. § 9-10-31.1 to dismiss the case and concluded that the plaintiffs’ claims should be adjudicated in the Dominican Republic. The Georgia Court of Appeals had affirmed.

But, the Supreme Court reversed. The case turned on what the statute meant by “a forum outside this state.” Another provision of the statute required that in order to obtain such a dismissal, all of the defendants in the Georgia case must file a written stipulation waiving “the right to assert a statute of limitations defense in all other states of the United States.” O.C.G.A. § 9-10-31.1(b). Since the statute of limitation waiver was limited to other states of the United States, the Georgia Supreme Court concluded that the only forums that a case could be dismissed in favor of were forums in other states of the United States.

The Opinion is available at https://www.gasupreme.us/wp-content/uploads/2019/02/s18g0078.pdf