Where to Sue a Car Dealership? Part II

New Jersey courts should be especially accommodating to their own citizens seeking justice at home. “An action by or against a resident will ordinarily not be dismissed as being in an inconvenient forum….” Gore v. United States Steel Corp., 15 N.J. 301, 311 (1954). Although domestic residence is not decisive, “there is a strong presumption in favor of retaining jurisdiction where the plaintiff is a resident who has chosen his [or her] home forum.” It is only in those exceptional cases where a weighing of all of the many relevant factors, of which residence is but part, decisively establishes that there is available another forum where trial will best serve the convenience of the parties and the ends of justice, that the doctrine is ever invoked. See In re Vioxx Litigation 395 N.J.Super. 358, (App.Div. 2007). In Mastroneada v. Occidental Hotels Management 391 N.J.Super. 261 (App.Div 2007) the Appellate affirmed the trial court’s decision to permit the plaintiff’s selection of New Jersey as the forum for an accident occurring in Mexico based on this principle.

The plaintiff does not dispute the list of factors for the court to review, which are as follows:

Private interest factors
(1) The relative ease of access to sources of proof;
(2) The availability of compulsory process for attendance of unwilling witnesses;
(3) The cost of obtaining the attendance of willing witnesses;
(4) The possibility of viewing the premises;
(5) All other practical problems that make trial of a case easy, expeditious and inexpensive.

The public interest factors

(1) The administrative difficulties flowing from court congestion;
(2) The local interest from having localized controversies decided at home;
(3) The interest of having a trial of a diversity case in a forum that is at home with the law that must govern the action;
(4) The avoidance of unnecessary problems in conflict of laws or the application of foreign law;
(5) The unfairness of burdening citizens in an unrelated forum with jury duty.
Derensis v. Coopers & Lybrand Chartered Accountants, 930 F.Supp. 1003, 1007 (D.N.J.1996), citing Piper Aircraft Co. v. Reyno, 454 U.S. 235, 241, 102 S.Ct. 252, 70 L.Ed.2d 419 (1981).

In the present case, the defendant makes similar argument as presented to the trial court and rejected by the Appellate Division in Mastromeada v Occidental Hotels Management. In Mastromeada, plaintiff was a resident of New Jersey and was injured while on vacation in Mexico. The plaintiff filed a personal injury claim in New Jersey, alleging that the defendant was negligent while operating a hotel resort in Mexico. The defendant resort filed a motion to dismiss for lack of jurisdiction and a motion to dismiss for forum non conveniens. There must have been significant discovery based on findings of fact set forth by the Appellate Division. In this case there has been no discovery, since the case was only recently filed. In Mastromeada, the court addressed at length the defendant’s asserted claims of inconvenience pertaining to witness, witness inconveniences, witness availability and the plaintiff’s choice of forum in the home state. The court addressed at length the defendant’s availability to place their witnesses on videotape and make the witnesses available to the court in this fashion. The court refused to dismiss the case despite all of the fact witnesses residing in Mexico. The court held:
[E]ven assuming they cannot transport these witnesses to New Jersey, our court rules permit the use of deposition and videotape testimony at trial. Moreover, we find in light of the potential availability of photographs, videotape or diagrams that the ability of a jury to view the premises where the assault allegedly occurred was of no significance. Id at 280.
This is significant in light of the fact that there are no premises to be viewed but only a vehicle which is present in the State of New Jersey. A significant amount of the discovery will be review of documents which the defendant can forward by U.S. mail. The defendant has not posited the potential witnesses who have the “difficulty in travelling to New Jersey”. The court in Mastromeada held that the potential increased expense of producing witnesses for deposition at trial is not an appropriate basis for dismissal of the plaintiff’s choice of [home state] forum. In Mastromeada, the court also addressed the public interest factors, agreeing with prior decisions of the court, indicating that New Jersey’s interest in protecting its own citizens providing a forum for redress of an allegedly wrongful conduct, outweighing the defendant’s interest in regulating its hotel and tours industry. The court held that there is no justifiable reason to deny the plaintiff’s choice of New Jersey as a forum.
In the present case, New Jersey has an equally strong interest, if not stronger interest than the state of New York, than redressing the interests of the plaintiff. The court in Mastromeada never addressed the issues pertaining to the jury’s interest in sitting on a case, either in Mexico or New Jersey. It is clear that the facts in this case, even before there has been any extensive discovery, warrant a plaintiff’s selection of forum in the State of New Jersey. The defendant has not overcome this selection with any hardship as required under the aforementioned analysis.
The New Jersey Supreme Court in Kurzke v. Nissan Motor Corporation U.S.A, 164 N.J. 159 (2000), held that the court should hold off on a decision on forum non conveniens and/or jurisdiction until such time as discovery has been conducted on this issue. In the present case, not only has there been no discovery but the defendant has not placed a sufficient, fact-supported basis to overcome the plaintiff’s selection of forum in the State of New Jersey.

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