Just as a trial court's determination of a forum non conveniens motion is a two-step process, review of that determination requires two separate steps. First, an appellate court determines whether substantial evidence supports the trial court's finding as to whether a suitable alternative forum exists. In making this determination, there is no balancing of interests or exercise of discretion. The appellate court reviews the trial court's determination on balancing private and public interests for abuse of discretion. The appellate court will only interfere with a trial court's exercise of discretion where the appellate court finds that under all the evidence, viewed most favorably in support of the trial court's action, no judge could have reasonably reached the challenged result. As long as there exists a reasonable or even fairly debatable justification, under the law, for the action taken, such action will not be set aside.
In consolidated products liability actions arising from an airplane crash in China, the Superior Court stayed the actions on the ground of forum non conveniens upon the motion of defendants, the plane's Canadian manufacturer, a related Delaware corporation, the plane's New York turbojet engine manufacturer, and a Chinese commercial airline. Plaintiffs, the crash victims' relatives, appealed.
Did the trial court err in finding that China was an adequate alternative forum for litigation of plaintiff's product liability claims?
The court held that the trial court did not err in finding that China was an adequate alternative forum for litigation. The testimony of defendants' experts on Chinese law supported a conclusion that Chinese courts were capable of adjudicating complex product liability claimed. The trial of the action in California would be so inconvenient as to justify staying the action so that it could proceed in China. California was home to none of the parties. The crash occurred in China, which was home to the vast majority of the plaintiffs and one of the defendants, and where all defendants had agreed to be bound by the judgment of the court. There were no witnesses or documents in California, whereas there were witnesses and evidence in China. To the extent that the trial court gave little deference to plaintiffs' choice of California as the forum state, it did not abuse its discretion. The trial court's ruling did not have an impermissible substantive impact on plaintiffs' rights.
The court affirmed the order.