Bromley v. Mitchell

Decision Date08 September 1995
Docket NumberNos. S-6399,s. S-6399
PartiesRaymond E. BROMLEY and Carolyn J. Bromley, Appellants and Cross-Appellees, v. John D. MITCHELL d/b/a Mitchell Marine Service; John D. Mitchell d/b/a Yacht Doc; and Jim Henson d/b/a Yacht Doc, Appellees and Cross-Appellants. /6449.
CourtAlaska Supreme Court

John S. Hedland, Eric J. Brown and Amy L. Vaudreuil, Hedland, Fleischer, Friedman, Brennan & Cooke, Anchorage, for appellants and cross-appellees.

John D. Mitchell, Seattle, Washington, pro se.

Jim Henson, Kirkland, Washington, pro se.

Before: MOORE, C.J., and RABINOWITZ, MATTHEWS, COMPTON and EASTAUGH, JJ.

OPINION

MOORE, Chief Justice.

I. INTRODUCTION

Alaska resident Raymond Bromley entered into an agreement with Yacht Doc, a Washington company, to purchase a sport fishing vessel. Bromley also entered into an agreement with Mitchell Marine Service, another Washington company, to make repairs to the boat. Alleging that both the sales and the repair agreements were breached, Raymond and his wife Carolyn sued John Mitchell, d/b/a Mitchell Marine Service and Yacht Doc, and Jim Henson, d/b/a Yacht Doc.

The superior court ordered the claims against Mitchell and Henson dismissed on grounds of forum non conveniens, and awarded attorney's fees to Mitchell. The Bromleys appeal these rulings. We affirm the lower court's dismissal of the claims against Mitchell and its award of attorney's fees. We reverse the court's dismissal of Henson.

II. FACTS AND PROCEEDINGS

Intent on purchasing a sport fishing vessel, Raymond Bromley responded by telephone to an ad in the "Northwest Boat Trader." John Mitchell returned Bromley's call, identifying himself as a representative of Mitchell Marine Service and of Yacht Doc, a brokerage firm in the business of locating and buying boats. Communication between the two men led to an agreement by which Yacht Doc agreed to procure a vessel for Bromley. Bromley and Mitchell entered into a separate, apparently oral, contract which provided that Mitchell Marine Service would repair the boat.

Yacht Doc located a boat and transported it to Seattle, where Mitchell Marine Service performed the repair work. Bromley retained a third party to sail the vessel from Seattle to Anchorage. The voyage north ended in Sitka, however. The Bromleys claim that because of inadequate fuel tanks and other problems, the boat could be sailed no farther.

Mitchell sued Raymond Bromley in the superior court of King County, Washington, for unpaid repairs to the boat. Before Bromley answered Mitchell's complaint, Raymond and Carolyn Bromley sued Mitchell d/b/a Mitchell Marine Service and Yacht Doc, in Anchorage, alleging that the vessel did not comport with the brokerage agreement and that the repair work had been improperly performed.

Mitchell filed a motion to dismiss the Alaska case, arguing lack of personal jurisdiction and forum non conveniens. The superior court dismissed the suit for lack of personal jurisdiction. We reversed the personal jurisdiction dismissal and remanded for a determination of Mitchell's forum non conveniens claim. Bromley v. Mitchell, Mem. Op. & J. No. 0675 (Alaska, July 28, 1993). After remand, the Bromleys amended their complaint to allege that Jim Henson, who Mitchell asserted was the owner of Yacht Doc, had also violated the brokerage agreement. 1

While the forum non conveniens issue was pending in the superior court, the Washington case was resolved in Mitchell's favor. The judgment provided that "[a]ll of the claims of the parties, or potential claims between the parties, arising from the facts referred to [in] the Plaintiff's complaint, were adjudicated and resolved." This prompted Mitchell to seek summary judgment in the Alaska case; he argued that the Bromleys' claims were compulsory counterclaims in the Washington case, and therefore were barred under the doctrine of res judicata.

In an order applicable to both Mitchell and Henson, the superior court granted Mitchell's motion to dismiss on grounds of forum non conveniens. 2 The Bromleys then filed a motion for reconsideration. The court denied the Bromleys' motion for reconsideration and directed the Bromleys to respond to Mitchell's motion for summary judgment. The court subsequently granted the summary judgment motion in part, holding that "[t]o the extent this court's decision on forum non conveniens grounds may be reversed, those portions of the amended complaint [which consisted of repair claims against Mitchell d/b/a Mitchell Marine Service] are dismissed." After awarding Mitchell attorney's fees, the court entered final judgment.

The Bromleys appeal the forum non conveniens dismissal and the award of attorney's fees. 3

III. DISCUSSION
A. The Forum Non Conveniens Dismissal
1. Standard of review

The prevailing rule regarding review of a forum non conveniens dismissal is that such a determination is

committed to the sound discretion of the trial court. It may be reversed only when there has been a clear abuse of discretion; where the court has considered all relevant public and private interest factors, and where its balancing of these factors is reasonable, its decision deserves substantial deference.

Piper Aircraft Co. v. Reyno, 454 U.S. 235, 257, 102 S.Ct. 252, 266, 70 L.Ed.2d 419 (1981). See also Marks v. LaBerge, 146 Ariz. 12, 703 P.2d 559, 563 (App.1985) (holding that a forum non conveniens decision is "left to the sound discretion of the trial court"); Stangvik v. Shiley, Inc., 54 Cal.3d 744, 1 Cal.Rptr.2d 556, 560, 819 P.2d 14, 18 (1991) (according trial court's decision "substantial deference"); Werner v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., 116 N.M. 229, 861 P.2d 270, 274 (App.1993) (leaving decision "largely to the discretion of the trial court"); West Tex. Utils. Co. v. Exxon Coal USA, Inc., 807 P.2d 932, 935 (Wyo.1991) (applying abuse of discretion standard).

The Bromleys raise three objections to the forum non conveniens dismissal, however, that pose questions of law: (1) is the doctrine applicable where, as here, the plaintiff is a resident and domiciliary of the chosen forum; (2) was Mitchell estopped from pursuing a forum non conveniens dismissal after he filed a motion for summary judgment; and (3) was the court correct to apply the forum non conveniens dismissal to defendant Henson, even though Henson did not join in the motion? This court considers questions of law de novo, adopting a rule that is most persuasive in light of precedent, reason, and policy. Guin v. Ha, 591 P.2d 1281, 1284 n. 4 (Alaska 1979).

2. The doctrine of forum non conveniens applies where the

plaintiff is a domiciliary of the forum state

In Crowson v. Sealaska Corp., 705 P.2d 905 (Alaska 1985), we discussed five factors relevant to a forum non conveniens determination: ease of access to proof, availability and cost of witnesses, the possibility that the forum was chosen to harass, the enforceability of the judgment, and the burden on the community of litigating matters not of local concern. Id. at 908 (citing Goodwine v. Superior Court, 63 Cal.2d 481, 47 Cal.Rptr. 201, 204, 407 P.2d 1, 4 (1965) (noting general desirability of litigating local matters in local courts)). The Bromleys argue that these factors are relevant only if the action is between non-domiciliaries of the forum state. They contend that "if one [party] is a domiciliary, forum non conveniens does not apply regardless of the other factors." Based on this assertion and their Alaska domiciliary status, the Bromleys insist that the forum non conveniens dismissal must be reversed.

The Bromleys' legal premise is incorrect. Both Crowson and cases from other jurisdictions demonstrate that, while forum non conveniens motions will be granted only in exceptional cases where the plaintiff is a domiciliary of the chosen forum, the doctrine remains applicable in such circumstances. Crowson recognizes this principle when it notes that "[w]here ... plaintiff is a bona fide resident of the forum state, the doctrine of forum non conveniens has only an extremely limited application." Crowson, 705 P.2d at 908 (affirming lower court's refusal to dismiss on forum non conveniens grounds where plaintiff was Alaska corporation with principal place of business in Juneau). Thus, under Alaska law, the doctrine of forum non conveniens can apply to cases brought in Alaska by Alaskan plaintiffs. Crowson's treatment of this issue is in keeping with the vast majority of states. While the Bromleys' proposed rule was once the law in a number of jurisdictions, "Florida is apparently the only state that still holds as a matter of law that there can be no dismissal of an action if one of the parties is a resident." 15 Charles A. Wright, Arthur R. Miller & Edward H. Cooper, Federal Practice and Procedure § 3828 n. 42 (1986). Crowson 's rule is also in accord with federal law, where courts follow the principle that "[a forum non conveniens] dismissal should not be automatically barred when a plaintiff has filed suit in his home forum. As always, if the balance of conveniences suggests that trial in the chosen forum would be unnecessarily burdensome for the defendant or the court, dismissal is proper." Piper Aircraft Co., 454 U.S. at 256 n. 23, 102 S.Ct. at 266 n. 23.

In short, the doctrine of forum non conveniens is applicable. Consequently, to obtain a reversal of the dismissal of their case, the Bromleys must demonstrate that the trial court abused its discretion in dismissing the case to a more convenient forum.

3. The superior court's forum non conveniens dismissal of

Mitchell was not an abuse of discretion

The Bromleys offer two additional arguments that the lower court improperly granted Mitchell's forum non conveniens motion. First, they contend that the trial court was wrong to override "the weighty presumption in favor of a party's right to have access to courts of that party's residence" because this case fails to exhibit "any of the vices" which prompt courts to grant forum non...

To continue reading

Request your trial
17 cases
  • Valley Hosp. Ass'n, Inc. v. Mat-Su Coalition for Choice, MAT-SU
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Alaska (US)
    • 21 Noviembre 1997
    ...Guin v. Ha, 591 P.2d 1281, 1284 n. 6 (Alaska 1979). We review the award of attorney's fees for abuse of discretion. Bromley v. Mitchell, 902 P.2d 797, 804 (Alaska 1995). An abuse of discretion is established only where the court's determination is manifestly unreasonable. Id. B. The Alaska ......
  • ASRC Energy Serv. Power & Commc'ns, LLC v. Golden Valley Elec. Ass'n, Inc., s. S–12630
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Alaska (US)
    • 10 Febrero 2012
    ...Stoyer, 10 P.3d 594, 596 (Alaska 2000) (quoting Pugliese v. Perdue, 988 P.2d 577, 581 (Alaska 1999)). FN90. Id. FN91. Bromley v. Mitchell, 902 P.2d 797, 804 (Alaska 1995). FN92. Mackie v. Chizmar, 965 P.2d 1202, 1204 (Alaska 1998). FN93. Kenai Chrysler Ctr., Inc. v. Denison, 167 P.3d 1240, ......
  • Bodzai v. Arctic Fjord, Inc., S-8828.
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Alaska (US)
    • 15 Octubre 1999
    ...damages for its breach"). 25. Brown, 816 P.2d at 1372. 26. See Gilmore & Black, supra note 5, § 6-21(a), at 337. 27. Bromley v. Mitchell, 902 P.2d 797, 800 (Alaska 1995) (quoting Piper Aircraft Co. v. Reyno, 454 U.S. 235, 257, 102 S.Ct. 252, 70 L.Ed.2d 419 (1981)). See also Crowson v. Seala......
  • Hughes v. Foster Wheeler Co., S-6928
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Alaska (US)
    • 7 Marzo 1997
    ...cannot be the prevailing party within the terms of Civil Rule 82. 10 We recently considered the same argument in Bromley v. Mitchell, 902 P.2d 797 (Alaska 1995). We [T]he trial court's award is legally supported by our precedents and logically supported by the fact that Mitchell has obtaine......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT