Gulf Oil Corp. v. Gilbert

330 U.S. 501, 67 S. Ct. 839 (1947)



If the combination and weight of factors requisite to given results are difficult to forecast or state, those to be considered are not difficult to name. An interest to be considered, and the one likely to be most pressed, is the private interest of the litigant. Important considerations are the relative ease of access to sources of proof; availability of compulsory process for attendance of unwilling, and the cost of obtaining attendance of willing, witnesses; possibility of view of premises, if view would be appropriate to the action; and all other practical problems that make trial of a case easy, expeditious and inexpensive. There may also be questions as to the enforceability of a judgment if one is obtained. The court will weigh relative advantages and obstacles to fair trial. But unless the balance is strongly in favor of the defendant, the plaintiff's choice of forum should rarely be disturbed.


Respondent-plaintiff, Virginia resident, and public warehouse operator brought a tort action in New York alleging that the petitioner-defendant, in violation of the ordinances of Virginia, so carelessly handled a delivery of gasoline to his warehouse tanks and pumps as to cause an explosion and fire which consumed the warehouse building, caused injury to his business, and burned the property of customers in his custody under warehousing agreements. Petitioner-defendant oil company is a Pennsylvania corporation, qualified to do business in both Virginia and New York, and it has designated officials of each state as agents to receive service of process. When sued in New York, the defendant, invoking the doctrine offorum non conveniens, claimed that the appropriate place for trial is Virginia, where the plaintiff lives and defendant does business, where all events in litigation took place, where most of the witnesses reside, and where both state and federal courts are available to plaintiff and are able to obtain jurisdiction of the defendant. The case, on its merits, involves no federal question and was brought in the US District Court solely because of diversity in citizenship of the parties. The District Court considered that the law of New York as to forum non conveniens applied and that it required the case to be left to Virginia courts. It therefore dismissed the action. The Court of Appeals disagreed as to the applicability of New York law, took a restrictive view of the application of the entire doctrine in federal courts and reversed. On certiorari, the court reversed.


Did the district court abuse its discretion in dismissing the suit pursuant to the doctrine of forum non conveniens?




The court concluded that the district court had not exceeded its powers or the bounds of its discretion in dismissing plaintiff's complaint and remitting it to the courts of his own community. The appeals court judgment was too restrictive. The task of the trial court would be simplified by trial in Virginia. If trial was in a state court, it could apply its own law to events occurring there. If in federal court by reason of diversity of citizenship, the court would apply the law of its own state in which it is likely to be experienced. The course of adjudication in New York federal court might be beset with conflict of laws problems all avoided if the case is litigated in Virginia where it arose.

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