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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; where the court has considered all relevant public and private interest factors, and where its balancing of these factors is reasonable, its decision deserves substantial deference.
A chemical plant operated by Union Carbide India Limited (UCIL) in Bhopal, India released a lethal gas known as methyl isocyanate, resulting in the deaths of over 2,000 persons and injuries of over 200,000. Four days after the Bhopal accident, the first of some 145 purported class actions in federal district courts in the United States was commenced on behalf of victims of the disaster. The Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation assigned the actions to the Southern District of New York where they became the subject of a consolidated complaint filed in June 1985. In the meantime, India enacted the Bhopal Gas Leak Disaster (Processing of Claims) Act, granting to its government, the Union of India (UOI) the exclusive right to represent the victims in India or elsewhere. Thereupon the UOI, purporting to act in the capacity of parens patriae, and with retainers executed by many of the victims, filed a complaint in the Southern District of New York. The UOI's decision to bring suit in the United States was attributed to the fact that, although numerous lawsuits had been instituted by victims in India against UCIL, the Indian courts did not have jurisdiction over Union Carbide Corporation (UCC), the parent company, which was a defendant in the United States actions. The UCC filed a motion to dismiss the actions on grounds of forum non conveniens, which the Southern District of New York granted. Plaintiffs appealed.
Did the district court err in dismissing the actions on grounds of forum non conveniens?
The court modified the district court's order and affirmed the modified order. The court held that there was no abuse of discretion in the district court's dismissal of personal injury actions because all but a few of the 200,000 individual plaintiffs were Indian citizens located in India, and defendant had consented to the jurisdiction of Indian courts. However, the court held that the district court erred in when it imposed a condition that defendant consent to enforcement of a final Indian court judgment. The court also found error in the requirement that defendant consent to granting plaintiffs broad discovery rights under the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure when defendant was confined to the more limited discovery authorized under Indian law.