• November 18, 2011

As a new lawyer, I have only heard about how important litigating in your own backyard is to the outcome of your case. However, as an unabashed sports fan and I know that having home-field advantage in critical games can be awfully important and seasoned lawyers know the same: having home-court advantage is one of the most important matters when starting any litigation.

To avoid getting “home-towned”, some overeager lawyers have attempted to take advantage of the first-filed rule, as covered by this blog (here and here). Under that rule, unless there are “compelling circumstances,” a court will enjoin a subsequently filed lawsuit in a different jurisdiction and allow the party who filed first to move forward litigation.

Recently, U.S. District Court Judge Susan Richard Nelson gave some guidance as to what she thought were “compelling circumstances.”

Judge Nelson declined to enforce the first-filed rule because vinyl producer Ritrama, Inc. raced to the have a Minnesota court hear its case even though Ritrama had notice that Defendant Burlington Graphic Systems, Inc. was contemplating litigation for supplying them with allegedly faulty material used in RV decals.

What the Minnesota-based Ritrama essentially did was file a lawsuit after receiving a letter from Burlington, which is based in Wisconsin, saying that if the dispute was not resolved, then it would have to bring suit. The letter, and another conversation about potential future litigation, was convincing enough to raise a red flag that Ritrama was on notice that Burlington was considering filing suit against it. Judge Nelson therefore would not enforce the first-filed rule and transferred the case to Wisconsin.

This raises an interesting question: if a lawyer knows that there’s a chance the suit may eventually be moved to another venue, how much effort (and client money) is it worth to try to get home-court advantage?

Personally, I don’t blame Ritrama – I wouldn’t want to be in Wisconsin either.

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