• November 5, 2009

The Minnesota Supreme Court today reversed the Minnesota Court of Appeals’ reversal of the Anoka County District Court’s grant of a motion to dismiss based on forum non conveniens (first reported here in February).

For the Court, Justice Meyer wrote that a district court may dismiss on forum non conveniens grounds even though the adequacy of the foreign forum is not absolutely certain, if the nonmoving party is protected by an order making the dismissal conditional.

The case, involving a paulownia tree plantation investment in Panama gone bad, also involves a so-called “blocking statute,” that is, a statute that extinguishes jurisdiction in a Latin American country (here, Panama) with respect to claims filed first in a foreign court — most often the United States — that are dismissed by the foreign court for forum non conveniens.   “Some commentators theorize that Latin American countries enacted these statutes when increased globalization opened multinational corporations to liability from Latin American plaintiffs, but forum non conveniens dismissals were barring these plaintiffs from access to U.S. courts,” the Minnesota Supreme Court commented.  The purpose of  blocking statutes in general, the Minnesota Supreme Court held, “is to prevent a foreign court from discriminating against [native] citizens in the foreign court by dismissing cases for forum non conveniens.”

In this case, the district court had conditioned its dismissal as follows: (1) the consent of the defendants to Panamanian jurisdiction; (2) acceptance of jurisdiction by Panama; (3) waiver by the defendants of any defenses based upon statutes of limitation; and (4) agreement of the defendants to satisfy any resulting Panamanian judgment. But the Minnesota Court of Appeals reversed, having concluded that the blocking statute essentially vitiated one of the district court’s conditions (the second one). But the Minnesota Supreme Court did not see it that way.

In this case, there is no discernable potential for discrimination against a Panamanian citizen by a foreign court. A Panamanian plaintiff is not seeking to keep her case in a foreign court. Rather, the party seeking to keep the case in a foreign court is a Vanuatuan corporation comprised of Australian citizens. The Panamanian citizens in the case are asking the foreign court to remove the case to Panama, the more convenient forum. We agree with the district court that under these facts it is unlikely that Panama would block transfer of the case by invoking the protection of Article 1421-J and the common law doctrine of preemptive jurisdiction.

 (Especially true if 1421-J has been repealed since February, 2008, as this website suggests.)

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