Anglim v. Missouri Pacific R. Co.

Decision Date30 June 1992
Docket NumberNo. 74124,74124
Citation832 S.W.2d 298
PartiesLawrence J. ANGLIM, Respondent, v. MISSOURI PACIFIC RAILROAD CO., Appellant.
CourtMissouri Supreme Court

William Guerri, Dan H. Ball, James W. Erwin, Deanne M. Macer, St. Louis, for appellant.

Robert F. Ritter, Joseph L. Walsh, III, Gray & Ritter, Paul C. Hetterman, St. Louis, for respondent.


Following jury trial, a judgment was entered in favor of plaintiff Lawrence J. Anglim and against Missouri Pacific Railroad for injuries sustained in a slip and fall. The claim was brought under the Federal Employers Liability Act, 45 U.S.C. §§ 51-60 (1988) (FELA), and the Boiler Inspection Act, 45 U.S.C. §§ 22-34 (1988). Following opinion by the Missouri Court of Appeals, Eastern District, this Court granted transfer.


The first issue, and the issue moving this Court to grant transfer, is whether the trial court abused its discretion in failing to sustain defendant's motion to dismiss plaintiff's claim under the doctrine of forum non conveniens. The record before the trial court when the motion was ruled upon is extremely sparse, being limited to pleadings, the motion, suggestions in support of the motion, and three affidavits. Also before the trial court were plaintiff's suggestions in opposition to the motion to dismiss.

The petition alleges that on April 6, 1984, while plaintiff was employed as a yardmaster at defendant's Omaha, Nebraska, yard, he was injured when he slipped and fell on grease, oil, and water that had accumulated on the steps and walking surfaces of a locomotive. The petition also alleges that defendant's "principal place of business" is in St. Louis, Missouri. Defendant's answer denies any liability and also denies that its principal place of business is in St. Louis. However, it admits being a "common carrier by railroad in interstate commerce in the states of Missouri, Nebraska, and other states in the United States."

One of the affidavits attached to the motion to dismiss for forum non conveniens was that of defendant's attorney, William Hamblin. He asserted that "[a]ll of the anticipated witnesses to be called by the parties in this matter, with the exception of Dr. Shoedinger in St. Louis, either work or reside in the Omaha, Nebraska area." The second affidavit was that of Robert G. Galley, manager of the Casualty Management Office for Missouri Pacific. He stated that the defendant railroad is registered to do business and "maintains track, offices and repair facilities" in both Missouri and Nebraska. He stated that defendant is a Delaware corporation and since December 31, 1984, has had its "headquarters" in Omaha, Nebraska. The affidavit also stated that plaintiff and all witnesses except Dr. Shoedinger reside in or around Omaha, Nebraska. Neither of the affidavits indicate precisely where the Missouri offices or facilities are located or exactly what business was done at any of those offices. More particularly, neither affidavit establishes the issue raised in the pleadings, i.e., where defendant's "principal place of business" is located.

Plaintiff's counsel also filed an affidavit alleging that plaintiff was evaluated by numerous physicians and health care providers in St. Louis, including Dr. Shoedinger who examined plaintiff less than a month after the accident and performed surgery at a St. Louis area hospital. The affidavit further asserted "upon information and belief" that Missouri Pacific does business throughout Missouri, maintaining "offices and agents for the transaction of its usual and customary business in the city of St. Louis." On this record the trial court overruled the motion to dismiss.

The doctrine of forum non conveniens provides that notwithstanding proper jurisdiction and venue by the letter of the statute, a trial judge has discretion to not exercise jurisdiction if the forum is seriously inconvenient for the trial of the action involved and if a more appropriate forum is available to the plaintiff. Restatement (Second) of Conflict of Laws § 84 (1971). The doctrine is designed to prevent a plaintiff from using a liberal venue statute to vex, oppress or harass a defendant by bringing a suit in a forum unrelated to the parties or cause of action. But a plaintiff's choice of forum is not to be disturbed except for "weighty reasons" and the case should be dismissed only if the "balance is strongly in favor" of the defendant. Gulf Oil Corp. v. Gilbert, 330 U.S. 501, 508, 67 S.Ct. 839, 843, 91 L.Ed. 1055 (1947); Silversmith v. Kenosha Auto Transport, 301 N.W.2d 725, 728 (Ia.1981).

The first Missouri case to refer to the doctrine of forum non conveniens by name was State ex rel. Southern Ry. Co. v. Mayfield, 359 Mo. 827, 224 S.W.2d 105 (1949), cert. granted, 339 U.S. 918, 70 S.Ct. 623, 94 L.Ed. 1342 vacated, 340 U.S. 1, 71 S.Ct. 1, 95 L.Ed. 3 (1950), although the doctrine was not applied there. This Court both acknowledged and applied the doctrine in Elliott v. Johnston, 365 Mo. 881, 292 S.W.2d 589 (1956). There the plaintiff's lawyer and a cooperative, if not collusive, defendant arranged for suit to be filed and service of process to be had in Vernon County, Missouri. The claim arose out of an automobile accident that had occurred in an adjoining Kansas county. The parties and all witnesses resided in Kansas. Obviously, the substantive law of Kansas was applicable to the case. The trial court found, inter alia, that the trial could take at least twelve days, would be burdensome on taxpayers, and that "the Missouri dockets and that of Vernon County are already overloaded." The trial court's decision to dismiss on the basis of the forum non conveniens doctrine was affirmed. 292 S.W.2d at 594-95.

The doctrine was again acknowledged in Loftus v. Lee, 308 S.W.2d 654 (Mo.1958). But there this Court held that an action filed in Jackson County, Missouri, involving an auto accident that occurred in a Kansas suburb of Kansas City, Missouri, between two Kansas residents was not so unjust and oppressive as to justify application of the doctrine of forum non conveniens. The trial court's dismissal on that basis was reversed. 308 S.W.2d at 661.

The applicability of the doctrine to FELA cases was in doubt for a time due to constitutional concerns about denying nonresidents access to Missouri courts. See State ex rel. Southern Ry. Co. v. Mayfield, 340 U.S. 1, 71 S.Ct. 1, 95 L.Ed. 3 (1950); State ex rel. Southern Ry. Co. v. Mayfield, 362 Mo. 101, 240 S.W.2d 106 (Mo. banc 1951); see also Loftus v. Lee, 308 S.W.2d at 657. However, this Court subsequently held the doctrine of forum non conveniens applicable to a FELA action notwithstanding prior decisions to the contrary. State ex rel. Chicago, Rock Island & Pacific R.R. Co. v. Riederer, 454 S.W.2d 36, 38-39 (Mo. banc 1970). This Court's most recent statement of the doctrine in a FELA case is found in Besse v. Missouri Pacific R.R. Co., 721 S.W.2d 740 (Mo. banc 1986), cert. denied, 481 U.S. 1016, 107 S.Ct. 1894, 95 L.Ed.2d 501 (1987). Finally, this Court held that the doctrine has no intrastate application. Willman v. McMillen, 779 S.W.2d 583, 586 (Mo. banc 1989).

In Riederer, at least six factors were identified that trial courts were to use as a guide in exercising their discretion to apply the doctrine of forum non conveniens:

(1) place of accrual of the cause of action,

(2) location of witnesses,

(3) the residence of the parties,

(4) any nexus with the place of suit,

(5) the public factor of the convenience to and burden upon the court, and

(6) the availability to plaintiff of another court with jurisdiction of the cause of action affording a forum for plaintiff's remedy.

454 S.W.2d at 39. However, neither Riederer nor its progeny purport to give an exclusive listing of facts to be considered in deciding whether to apply the doctrine of forum non conveniens or the respective weight accorded to any particular factor. Precise rules dictating when the doctrine is applicable might seem attractive. However, evidentiary permutations justifying application of the doctrine are unpredictable. The more prudent course is not "to catalogue the circumstances which will justify or require either grant or denial of remedy." Gulf Oil Corp. v. Gilbert, 330 U.S. at 508, 67 S.Ct. at 843. In deciding whether to dismiss, a trial court necessarily must determine facts and, in doing so, weighs evidence and assesses the credibility of witnesses as to the reasons given for selecting or opposing a particular forum. Witness intangibles and knowledge common in the community where the case is tried impact on the weight and credibility of evidence. 1 Because the application of the doctrine of forum non conveniens is fact intensive and the weight to be accorded any factor is dependent on the circumstances, trial court discretion is essential. Nevertheless, discretion is not the equivalent of whim; discretion must be applied with control. Besse, 721 S.W.2d at 742.

On appeal, in determining whether the trial court's ruling amounted to an abuse of discretion, only those facts will be considered that were before the trial court when it ruled on the motion to dismiss, 2 and the evidence will be viewed in a light favorable to the result of the trial court. Also on appeal, discretionary rulings are presumed correct, and the appellant bears the burden of showing an abuse of discretion. State ex rel. Webster v. Lehndorff Geneva, 744 S.W.2d 801, 804 (Mo. banc 1988). Judicial discretion is abused when the trial court's ruling is clearly against the logic of the circumstances then before the court and is so arbitrary and unreasonable as to shock the sense of justice and indicate a lack of careful consideration; if reasonable persons can differ about the propriety of the action taken by the trial court, then it cannot be said that the trial court abused its discretion. Id. In the context of an appeal from an order overruling a...

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