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The Legal Doctrine of ‘Forum Non Conveniens’ and Its Potential Impact on Your Business Dispute in Georgia

Your breach of contract case may start out looking seemingly straightforward to you, but it may still eventually come to have many unexpected twists. These may involve the facts of your case, the law, the rules of procedure, or all of the above, which is one reason among many why an experienced Georgia business litigation attorney can benefit the pursuit of your case. For example, one north Georgia business lost its bid to litigate a contract breach dispute in this state when the Georgia courts concluded that the more appropriate forum for the case was California.

The case began when a north Georgia business that produced training events for other businesses fell into a dispute with the California business it had hired to perform projects for it. Eventually, the California company decided to file a lawsuit in that state. The Georgia business sued here, alleging breach of contract and fraud.

The California company asked the Georgia court to throw out the case here on the basis of something called forum non conveniens. Forum non conveniens is a Latin phrase that translates to “forum not agreeing” and essentially means that a case should not be heard in a particular forum (location) because there is a forum elsewhere better positioned to handle the case.

The trial court agreed with the defendant and dismissed the case, and the Court of Appeals upheld that ruling after the plaintiff appealed. Georgia has a statute, OCGA §9-10-31.1(a), which spells out seven factors that the courts must consider when deciding whether or not a case should be thrown out on the basis of forum non conveniens. The first three of these seven things are the “relative ease of access to sources of proof,” the “availability and cost of compulsory process for attendance of unwilling witnesses,” and the “possibility of viewing of the premises.”

The plaintiff argued in its appeal that the trial judge didn’t give enough credit to the things that were here in Georgia, including some of the witnesses, the computer systems, equipment, and software. Additionally, some of the work on marketing materials was done in this state. These things didn’t help the plaintiff in this circumstance, though. Things like the location of the computer systems, equipment, and hardware can be important if you have established for the judge that this equipment (and the inspection of it) will be necessary evidence in this case (which this plaintiff had not done). The location of witnesses was referenced in the statutory list, but, again, the plaintiff bore the burden of demonstrating how the location of witnesses favored its position. The plaintiff in this case never established how many potential witnesses would be called. As a result of these issues, the trial court was properly within its discretion to decide that these items, which the plaintiff had argued helped “tip the scale” in favor of litigating here, actually did not favor either party.

In light of the weakness of these factors, and considering that the defendant had already filed suit in California before the plaintiff filed in this state (which meant that “administrative difficulties” — the fifth of the seven statutory criteria — clearly favored the defendant), the trial court was not out of line in throwing out the case.

Whether you are contesting jurisdiction or forum, fighting to bring a case in Georgia or battling to avoid defending a claim here, you need knowledgeable Georgia business attorneys fighting for you. The skilled Atlanta contract litigation attorneys at Poole Huffman, LLC have been helping their business clients for many years as they work to protect their business interests and seek workable solutions to their contract disputes. Contact our attorneys online or by calling (404) 373-4008 to schedule your confidential consultation.

More blog posts:

Confirmation Letters – Avoiding Potential Conflict Regarding Agreement Terms, Atlanta Business Litigation Attorneys Blog, April 5, 2016

New Garnishment Ruling: What You Should Know, Atlanta Business Litigation Attorneys Blog, Sept. 29, 2015

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