Civil Procedure I, Pages 187–192

Piper Aircraft v. Reyno

Supreme Court of the United States, 1981

Facts:

A small commercial aircraft crashed in Scotland going from England to Australia. The pilots and five subjects were all killed. Them and their relatives were all Scottish citizens. The plane was manufactured in Pennsylvania by the defendants. The plane was owned by a UK company. The plaintiff was a legal secretary to the attorney who brought suit. She did not know any of the decedents, but brings this on their behalf in the US because it has strict liability tort law unlike Scotland. Defendants sought transfer from California to Pennsylvania as that was were they did business, which was granted. They then sought dismissal on the grounds of forum non conveniens.

Procedural History:

The district court granted dismissal on the grounds of forum non conveniens. The Third Circuit reversed, on the ground that dismissal for forum non conveniens is never appropriate where the law of the alternative forum is less favorable to the plaintiff.

Issue:

Is forum non conveniens inapplicable where the alternative forum's law is less favorable to the defendant?

Rules:

  • Less weight should be given to foreigners' forum non conveniens complaints.

  • The forum non conveniens determination is committed to the sound discretion of the trial court. It may be reversed only when there has been a clear abuse of discretion.

Reasoning:

If change in law was a valid objection, forum non conveniens would become virtually useless. It would also flood the courts with foreigners who would know they couldn't get their cases dismissed easily. Scotland also has a substantial interest in this case, as that is where the accident happened. Mixing Scottish and Pennsylvanian laws could also be confusing to the judge and jury.

Rule/Holding:

The possibility of a change in substantive law should ordinarily not be given conclusive or even substantial weight in the forum non conveniens inquiry.

Judgment:

Reversed.

Note:

Adds "relative ease of access" to the location of physical evidence factor.

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