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Law School Case Brief

Tucker v. Cochran Firm-Criminal Def. Birmingham L.L.C. - 2014 OK 112, 341 P.3d 673

Rule:

Except where the balance of public and private interests tilts strongly in favor of the defendant, the plaintiff's choice of forum should rarely be disturbed. A valid forum-selection clause is one of those instances where a plaintiff's choice of a forum at the time of litigation may be disturbed by the plaintiff's previous contractual choice of a different forum for litigation. When a valid forum-selection clause is present, the plaintiff's choice of forum merits no weight. Rather, as the party defying the forum-selection clause, the plaintiff bears the burden of establishing that transfer to the forum for which the parties bargained is unwarranted. One reason for this is the plaintiff has effectively exercised its venue privilege before a dispute arises when the plaintiff and defendant made a valid agreement on the judicial venue of their dispute. Because the private interests in selecting a forum for disputes are determined contractually between the parties, a party challenging the selection is usually left only two choices, challenging the validity of the forum-selection clause or showing that public interest or public policy requires non-enforcement of the clause. 

Facts:

Plaintiff Christopher Tucker filed a lawsuit in Oklahoma state court against defendant Cochran Firm-Criminal Defense, Birmingham, L.L.C., ("Firm"), the law firm Tucker had hired to represent him in a criminal case. The parties signed a written contract at the time Tucker hired the Firm. Tucker alleged that the Case Manager for the law firm, John Pride, had misrepresented the nature of the services that the Firm would provide and that the Firm committed fraud, legal malpractice and negligence, violated the Oklahoma Consumer Protection Act, committed the tort of outrage, and breached the parties' agreement. The trial judge granted the Firm's amended motion to dismiss based on the forum-selection clause in the parties' agreement that provided that any dispute arising under the parties agreement was to be interpreted under California law and venue in any legal action was in Los Angeles, California. Tucker appealed, and the appellate court reversed the trial court's order dismissing the claims and remanded the matter for further proceedings in the trial court. The court concluded that the forum-selection clause should not be enforced because the parties' agreement was improperly executed by the Firm, and thus the forum-selection clause could be invalid. The Firm filed a petition for certiorari, which was granted by the Supreme Court of Oklahoma.

Issue:

Was the forum-selection clause enforceable?

Answer:

Yes.

Conclusion:

The judgment of the court of appeals was vacated, the judgment of the district court was reversed, and the matter was remanded for further proceedings. The court held that an interstate forum-selection clause was separable from the contract in which it appeared, and its validity like any other provision in a contract was subject to the requirements of a valid contract. It also noted that when a parties' agreement had an interstate forum-selection clause and a party sought its judicial enforcement in an Oklahoma court by seeking dismissal of the Oklahoma proceeding, then the proper procedure for its enforcement was by a motion pursuant to 12 O.S. § 2012(B)(6), or Rule 13 motion for summary judgment.

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