330 U.S. 518 (1947), 206, Koster v. (American) Lumbermens Mutual Casualty Co.

Docket Nº:No. 206
Citation:330 U.S. 518, 67 S.Ct. 828, 91 L.Ed. 1067
Party Name:Koster v. (American) Lumbermens Mutual Casualty Co.
Case Date:March 10, 1947
Court:United States Supreme Court
 
FREE EXCERPT

Page 518

330 U.S. 518 (1947)

67 S.Ct. 828, 91 L.Ed. 1067

Koster

v.

(American) Lumbermens Mutual Casualty Co.

No. 206

United States Supreme Court

March 10, 1947

Argued December 19, 1946

CERTIORARI TO THE CIRCUIT COURT OF APPEALS

FOR THE SECOND CIRCUIT

Syllabus

1. In the circumstances of this case, a federal district court in New York was justified in applying the doctrine of forum non conveniens and dismissing a derivative suit brought in his home district on the ground of diversity of citizenship by a policyholder in an Illinois mutual insurance company alleging breaches of trust in the management of the company's affairs and praying for an accounting and restitution. Pp. 521-532.

2. In a derivative suit, a federal district court may refuse to exercise its jurisdiction when a defendant shows much harassment and plaintiff's response not only discloses little countervailing benefit to himself in the choice of forum, but also indicates such disadvantage as to support the inference that the forum chosen would not ordinarily be thought a suitable one to decide the controversy. Pp. 531-532.

3. This Court cannot say that the district court abused its discretion in this case in giving weight to the undenied sworn statements of fact in defendant's motion papers, especially where plaintiff's answering affidavit failed to advance any reason of convenience to the plaintiff. P. 531.

4. Where the doctrine of forum non conveniens is invoked in a derivative suit, the complexities and unique features of such suits are relevant to the application of the doctrine. Pp. 522, 525-526.

5. Although a plaintiff's own interest in a derivative suit may be small, if the conditions laid down by Rule 23 of the Rules of Civil Procedure for secondary actions by shareholders are complied with and jurisdiction is established, the federal courts are empowered to entertain such suits; but the peculiarities of such suits should not be overlooked. Pp. 523-524.

6. Where there are hundreds of potential plaintiffs, all equally entitled voluntarily to invest themselves with the corporation's cause of action and all of whom could with equal show of right go into their many home courts, the claim of any one plaintiff that a forum is appropriate merely because it is his home forum is considerably weakened. P. 524.

Page 519

7. In applying the doctrine of forum non conveniens, the ultimate inquiry is where trial will best serve the convenience of the parties and the ends of justice. P. 527.

8. Rogers v. Guaranty Trust Co., 288 U.S. 123, considered; Williams v. Green Bay & Western R. Co., 326 U.S. 549, distinguished. Pp. 528-529.

153 F.2d 888 affirmed.

Applying the doctrine of forum non conveniens, a federal district court in New York dismissed a derivative suit brought by a policyholder in an Illinois mutual insurance company. 64 F.Supp. 595. The Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed. 153 F.2d 888. This Court granted certiorari. 329 U.S. 700. Affirmed, p. 532.

JACKSON, J., lead opinion

MR. JUSTICE JACKSON, delivered the opinion of the Court.

This is a derivative action, in equity as are all such derivative actions, begun by plaintiff as a member and policyholder of Lumbermens Mutual Casualty Company "in the right of Lumbermen's and on behalf of all its members and policy holders." It was brought in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York, of which plaintiff is a citizen. Jurisdiction rests on diversity of citizenship. The defendants are the Lumbermens Mutual Casualty Company, a nominal defendant, organized under the laws of Illinois; one James S. Kemper, president and manager thereof, a citizen of Illinois, and James S. Kemper & Co., an Illinois corporation. The relief asked is that the other defendants account to Lumbermens for damages it has sustained and for profits they

Page 520

have realized on certain transactions. It is alleged that defendant Kemper, as an officer of the company, has been guilty of breaches of trust by which he, his family corporation and his friends have profited. Plaintiff charges that Kemper's salary was improvidently increased from less than $75,000 to over $251,000; that, although Lumbermens was staffed and equipped to write insurance without the intervention of any agency, he employed the Kemper Company and paid it "substantial sums" as "commissions, fees and otherwise" to Lumbermens' prejudice and Kemper's profit, and that Kemper caused assets of Lumbermens to be [67 S.Ct. 830] sold to himself and favorites at prices less than their values. Kemper individually was never served in New York. Unless he should be found within that jurisdiction, some of the alleged causes of action cannot be tried in this action, in any event, for want of an indispensable party. Some of its issues could be tried without him.

The district court, on motion to dismiss under the doctrine of forum non conveniens,1 found that Lumbermens does business in forty-eight states, but its home and principal place of business are in Illinois. There its directors live; there all records are kept, and no witness shown to be necessary to either side of the case resides outside of Illinois. The plaintiff himself lives in New York, but he does

Page 521

not appear to have attended any meetings of policyholders or to have raised objection to the acts alleged, or otherwise to have personal knowledge so that he could possibly be a witness except as to his ownership of the policy of insurance which is not denied. It would appear necessary for him to make his own case largely from books and records in Chicago and from testimony of officers and witnesses resident there. It also is evident that the legality of many of these transactions will turn on the law of Illinois, under which Lumbermens exists and within whose territory the questioned acts took place. That would be home law if the case were tried in Chicago; it would be foreign law to New York and the case, if tried there, would involve conflict of laws. It also is urged that plaintiff's total of premium payments is less than $250, which would be the maximum possible interest he personally could have in the controversy.

Under these circumstances, two courts below concurred in the view that the case should not be tried in New York, as there was ample remedy available in the state and federal courts of Illinois. Both relied upon Rogers v. Guaranty Trust Co., 288 U.S. 123. The dissenting judge below considered that our more recent decision in Williams v. Green Bay & Western R., 326 U.S. 549, implies disapproval of the Rogers case and restricts application of the doctrine of forum non conveniens. We brought the case here on certiorari. 329 U.S. 700.

This case involves the special problems of forum non conveniens which inhere in derivative actions, and which have been little considered by this Court. Williams v. Green Bay & Western R.R., 326 U.S. 549, was not a derivative action brought in the right of a nominal defendant corporation. Rogers v. Guaranty Trust Co., 288 U.S. 123, was a derivative action, but that feature of the case was given almost no attention, and the emphasis was entirely on the extent to which it involved inquiry into

Page 522

the "internal affairs of a foreign corporation," certainly not the most distinguishing feature of these actions.

The stockholder's derivative action, to which this policyholder's action is analogous, is an invention of equity to supply the want of an adequate remedy at law to redress breaches of fiduciary duty by corporate managers. Usually the wrongdoing officers also possess the control which enables them to suppress any effort by the corporate entity to remedy such wrongs. Equity therefore traditionally entertains the derivative or secondary action by which [67 S.Ct. 831] a single stockholder may sue in the corporation's right when he shows that the corporation on proper demand has refused to pursue a remedy, or show facts that demonstrate the futility of such a request. With possible rare exceptions, these actions involve only issues of state law, and, as in the present case, can get into federal courts only by reason of diversity in citizenship of the parties. Their existence and peculiar character were recognized by this Court in the old Equity Rules.Rule 27, 226 U.S. 656. The complexities and unique features of these actions, however, are relevant to the forum non conveniens issue, for in these, as in all other petitions for equitable relief, he who seeks equity must do equity, and the court will be alert to see that its peculiar remedial process is in no way abused.

The cause of action which such a plaintiff brings before the court is not his own, but the corporation's.2 It is the

Page 523

real party in interest, and he is allowed to act in protection of its interest somewhat as a "next friend" might do for an individual, because it is disabled from protecting itself. If, however, such a case as this were treated as other actions, the federal court would realign the parties for jurisdictional purposes according to their real interests. In this case, which is typical of many, this would put Lumbermens on the plaintiff's side. Illinois corporations would then appear among plaintiffs and among defendants, and jurisdiction would be ousted. Indianapolis v. Chase National Bank, 314 U.S. 63. But jurisdiction is saved in this class of cases by a special dispensation, because the corporation is in antagonistic hands. Doctor v. Harrington, 196 U.S. 579.

Plaintiffs also, as in this case, often have only a small financial interest in a large controversy. Plaintiffs, like this one, if their own financial stake were the test, sometimes do not have a sufficient individual interest to make up the required jurisdictional...

To continue reading

FREE SIGN UP