In the typical case not involving a forum-selection clause, a district court considering a 28 U.S.C.S. § 1404(a) motion, or a forum non conveniens motion, must evaluate both the convenience of the parties and various public-interest considerations. Ordinarily, the district court would weigh the relevant factors and decide whether, on balance, a transfer would serve the convenience of parties and witnesses and otherwise promote the interest of justice. In addition, enforcement of valid forum-selection clauses, bargained for by the parties, protects their legitimate expectations and furthers vital interests of the justice system.
A subcontractor sued a construction company over a pay dispute in the Western District of Texas despite the contract containing a forum selection clause requiring suit in Virginia. The construction company filed a motion to dismiss the suit on the ground of it being improper, which was denied by the district court. The U.S. Court of Appeals denied the company's petition for a writ of mandamus. The case was elevated to the Supreme Court of the United States on a writ of certiorari.
Was the venue proper?
The U.S. Supreme Court rejected the company's argument that a forum selection clause could be enforced by a motion to dismiss under § 1406(a) or Rule 12(b)(3) and held that a forum selection clause should be enforced by a motion to transfer under § 1404(a). Whether venue was wrong or improper was governed by 28 U.S.C.S. § 1391. Whether there was a forum selection clause had no bearing on whether a case fell within one of the § 1391 categories; a case filed in a district that fell within § 1391 could not be dismissed under § 1406(a) or Rule 12(b)(3). Venue was proper so long as the requirements of § 1391(b) were met. Although a forum selection clause did not render venue wrong or improper within § 1406(a), the clause could be enforced through a motion to transfer under § 1404(a), which required that a forum selection clause be given controlling weight in most cases. A forum selection clause pointing to a state or foreign forum could be enforced through the doctrine of forum non conveniens, and § 1404(a) was a codification of this doctrine.