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From Products Liability Law Daily, April 28, 2017

‘Seriously inconvenient’ standard inapplicable in forum dispute between bike parts maker and foreign consumer

By Susan Engstrom

In a products liability action brought by a British Columbia resident against a California manufacturer of bicycle parts, a California trial court erred in applying the "seriously inconvenient" standard in denying the manufacturer’s motion to dismiss or stay the suit under the doctrine of forum non conveniens, an appellate court in that state ruled. The use of that standard contravened a decision by the California Supreme Court instructing that the forum choice of a foreign plaintiff is not entitled to a presumption of convenience. Accordingly, the case was remanded to the trial court for reconsideration of the motion under the correct standard articulated by the state high court (Fox Factory, Inc. v. Superior Court of Santa Clara County, April 27, 2017, Elia, F.).

The consumer in this case was a British Columbia resident who was injured while riding a full-suspension mountain bike equipped with front fork racing shocks (Fox Vanilla 36 RC forks) manufactured by Fox Factory, Inc., d/b/a Fox Racing Shox (Fox), a California corporation. According to the complaint, the steerer tube used in the Fox racing shocks broke as the consumer landed a jump, throwing him forward and resulting in an injury to his spinal cord. He filed suit against Fox in California state court, asserting claims for negligence, strict products liability, breach of the implied warranty of merchantability, and breach of the implied warranty for a particular purpose.

The following day, the consumer filed another action in Vancouver, British Columbia, against the owner and operator of the retail shop in British Columbia that sold the bike at issue, as well as several unnamed corporations and individuals. As in the California action, the consumer alleged that the negligence of these defendants was responsible for the accident that had caused his injuries.

Fox moved to dismiss or stay proceedings in the California case on the ground of forum non conveniens, arguing that British Columbia was a suitable forum because: (1) the consumer was a resident of that province; (2) the accident took place there; and (3) all relevant evidence, medical personnel, and percipient witnesses were located there. Fox also asserted that the two cases should be tried together.

Trial court ruling. The trial court denied Fox’s motion, concluding that California was not an inconvenient forum. In so ruling, the court invoked a test articulated in Ford Motor Co. v. Insurance Co. of North America (35 Cal.App.4th 604, 611 (1995)), stating that the inquiry was not whether some other state or country provided a better forum than that of California, but whether California was a seriously inconvenient forum. According to the trial court, although some factors weighed against maintaining the action in California, others weighed in favor of it, such as whether a California defendant was manufacturing and selling defective parts.

Forum non conveniens. The state supreme court has established a two-step analysis for courts to undertake when considering a forum non conveniens motion (Stangvik v. Shiley Inc. (54 Cal.3d 744, 751 (1991)). First, a court must determine whether the alternate forum is a "suitable" place for trial. If it is, then the court must consider the private interests of the litigants and the interests of the public in retaining the action for trial in California. The private interest factors are those that make trials expeditious and relatively inexpensive, such as the ease of access to sources of proof and the cost of obtaining attendant witnesses. The public interest factors include avoidance of overburdening local courts and weighing the competing interests of California and the alternate jurisdiction.

In this case, the consumer asserted that Ford was the proper test for determining Fox’s forum non conveniens motion. According to the appellate court, however, applying the "seriously inconvenient" standard to the consumer’s lawsuit would amount to according his forum preference "great weight" in contravention of Stangvik, which clearly explained that the forum choice of a foreign plaintiff is not entitled to a presumption of convenience. A foreign plaintiff’s choice of forum is much less reasonable and is not entitled to the same preference as a resident of the state where the action is filed. Stangvik also clarified that the basis of the inconvenient forum doctrine is the need to give preference to California residents and guard against unchecked and unregulated importation of transitory causes of action for trial in the state.

Accordingly, the trial court had erred in imposing a burden on Fox to show that California was a seriously inconvenient forum in order to obtain a dismissal or stay under the forum non conveniens doctrine. As such, the case was remanded to the lower court for reconsideration of Fox’s motion under the standard articulated in Stangvik.

The case is No. H043648.

Attorneys: Paul J. Killion (Duane Morris LLP) for Fox Factory, Inc. Gary L. Simms (Law Office of Gary L. Simms) for Peter Isherwood.

Companies: Fox Factory, Inc.

MainStory: TopStory JurisdictionNews SportsandRecEquipmentNews CaliforniaNews

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