Price v. Atchison, T. & S. F. Ry. Co.

Decision Date31 March 1954
Citation268 P.2d 457,42 Cal.2d 577,43 A.L.R.2d 756
CourtCalifornia Supreme Court
Parties, 43 A.L.R.2d 756 PRICE v. ATCHISON, T. & S. F. RY. CO. L. A. 22934.

Hildebrand, Bills & McLeod and D. W. Brobst, Oakland, for appellant.

Robert W. Walker, Frederic A. Jacobus and J. H. Cummins, Los Angeles, for respondent.

SCHAUER, Justice.

This case presents the question of the availability in California of the doctrine of forum non coveniens as a ground for refusal by a court to exercise jurisdiction over a cause of action which arose outside the State's boundaries. We have concluded that upon a proper showing and within the limitations imposed by the privileges and immunities clause of the federal Constitution (art, IV, § 2) the doctrine may be applied in this State.

Plaintiff filed this action in the superior court in Los Angeles, under the provisions of the Federal Employer's Liability Act (45 U.S.C.A. § 51 et seq.), hereinafter termed the FELA, to recover for personal injuries allegedly sustained by him on two different occasions while employed by defendant railroad company in interstate commerce. Both accidents occurred in New Mexico. Defendant answered with a general denial, and also pleaded contributory negligence by plaintiff, 1 and a settlement and release agreement made with plaintiff in New Mexico with respect to the first accident. Defendant further pleaded a special defense based on the doctrine of forum non conveniens, and in addition moved under that doctrine to dismiss the complaint. Following a hearing, the trial court granted defendant's motion, judgment of dismissal was entered accordingly, and this appeal by plaintiff followed.

From the pleadings and affidavits upon which defendant's motion to dismiss was based, the following facts appear: Plaintiff was a resident and citizen of the State of New Mexico both at the time of the accidents and when this action was brought in Los Angeles. Defendant is a Kansas corporation doing business in both New Mexico and California. All of the witnesses to the accidents reside in New Mexico rather than in this State. In order to defend the action in Los Angeles defendant will be compelled to attempt, at great expense and inconvenience, to bring approximately eighteen witnesses distances of some 900 to 1,000 miles from three cities in New Mexico, and to pay their travel, lodging, Meals and miscellaneous expenses and for their time, including professional fees of some five doctors who treated plaintiff in New Mexico. It was uncertain, however, whether any of the doctors would find it possible to leave their practice to attend a trial in Los Angeles, and if not then defendant would be obliged to present their testimonies by deposition, at the loss of the effectiveness of their personal appearance as witnesses. Defendant estimated that the trial would last approximately five to seven days and that the total extra cost of defending the action in Los Angeles rather than in New Mexico would be $4,650. During the years 1947 through and including October 30, 1952, the firm of attorneys which filed this action for plaintiff filed in the superior court in Los Angeles some sixty-seven actions against defendant based upon causes of action arising in other states under the FELA, and also filed twenty-one of such imported cases in the federal district courts in this State. None of the above related facts are denied by plaintiff or his counsel.

As declared in Leet v. Union Pac. R. R. Co. (1944), 25 Cal.2d 605, 609, 155 P.2d 42, 158 A.L.R. 1008, 'The rule of forum non conveniens is an equitable one embracing the discretionary power of a court to decline to exercise the jurisdiction it has over a transitory cause of action when it believes that the action before it may be more appropriately and justly tried elsewhere.' And in Gulf Oil Corp. v. Gilbert (1947), 330 U.S. 501, 504, 507, 67 S.Ct. 839, 91 L.Ed. 1055, 1062, it is stated that 'As formulated by Mr. Justice Brandeis, the rule is: '* * * Courts of equity and of law also occasionally decline, in the interest of justice, to exercise jurisdiction, where the suit is between aliens or non-residents or where for kindred reasons the litigation can more appropriately be conducted in a foreign tribunal.' Canada Malting Co., Ltd., v. Paterson Steamships, Ltd. (1932), 285 U.S. 413, 422, 423, 52 S.Ct. 413, 76 L.Ed. 837. * * * The principle of forum non conveniens is simply that a court may resist imposition upon its jurisdiction even when jurisdiction is authorized by the letter of a general venue statute.' (See also cases cited in dissenting opinion of Mr. Justice Frankfurter, Baltimore & Ohio R. Co. v. Kepner (1941), 314 U.S. 44, 55, 62 S.Ct. 6, 86 L.Ed. 28, 34.) It is conceded that under section 6 of the FELA (45 U.S.C.A. § 56 2) the California court has jurisdiction of both the subect matter and the parties involved in this action.

In the Leet case we held that a court of this State having jurisdiction over an action under the FELA could not refuse to exercise it. Our holding was based primarily upon our view that the decision of the United States Supreme Court in Miles v. Illinois Central R. R. Co. (1942), 315 U.S. 698, 62 S.Ct. 827, 86 L.Ed. 1129, was 'completely decisive that the doctrine of forum non conveniens is no justification for a state court to refuse jurisdiction of an action under the Federal Employers' Liability Act. Likewise, it is conclusive that the state court must take jurisdiction. It has no choice in the matter and no rule or policy on its part alters the situations (pages 612-613 of 25 Cal.2d page 46 of 155 P.2d) * * * From the foregoing it is clear that the California court had jurisdiction to proceed with the trials of the above entitled causes and was required to exercise such jurisdiction. (25 Cal.2d at page 616, 155 P.2d at page 48) * * *' It now appears, however, that since our decision in the Leet case the United States Supreme Court has considered the question in Southern R. Co. v. Mayfield (1950), 340 U.S. 1, 71 S.Ct. 1, 95 L.Ed. 3, 6, and has declared that the Miles case did not limit 'the power of a State to deny access to its courts to persons seeking recovery under the Federal Employers' Liability Act if in similar cases the State for reasons of local policy denies resort to its courts and enforces its policy impartially * * * so as not to involve a discrimination against Employers' Liability Act suits and not to offend against the Privileges-and-Immunities Clause of the Constitution,' and that if a State court held to the contrary 'because it felt under compulsion of federal law as enunciated by this Court so to hold, it shoudl be relieved of that compulsion.' The court further expressly recognized the power of each State 'According to its own notions of procedural policy * * * (to) reject, as it may accept, the doctrine (of forum non conveniens) for all causes of action begun in its courts,' including those arising under the FELA, so long as it discriminates against neither citizens of sister States nor FELA actions.

In other words, as declared in the Mayfied case, in refusing to exercise jurisdiction under the doctrine of forum non conveniens, a State may not, by reason of the Privileges and Immunities Caluse of the federal Constituion (art IV, § 2), allow suits in its courts by its own non-resident citizens 'for liability under the Federal Employers' Liability Act arising out of conduct outside that State and discriminatorily deny access to its courts to a non-resident who is a citizen of another State. But if a State chooses to '(prefer) residents in access to often overcrowded Courts' and to deny such access to all non-residents, whether its own citizens or those of other States, it is a choice within its own control. This is true also of actions, for personal injuries under the Employers' Liability Act. Douglas v. New York, N. H. & H. R. Co. (1929), 279 U.S. 377, 387, 49 S.Ct. 355, 73 L.Ed. 747. Whether a State makes such a choice is, like its acceptance or rejection of the doctrine of forum non conveniens, a question of State law not open to review' by the United States Supreme Court, provided the State 'enforces it spolicy impartially * * * so as not to involve a discrimination against Meployers' Liability Act suits and not to offend against the Privileges-and-Immunities Caluse of the Constitution.' (Pages 3-4 of 340 U.S. pages 2-3 of 71 S.Ct.) In the Douglas case the court declared (page 387 of 279 U.S. page 356 of 49 S.Ct.), 'There are manifest reasons for preferring residents in access to often overcrowded Courts, both in convenience and in the fact that broadly speaking it is they who pay for maintaining the Courts concerned.'

It is unquestioned that the courts of this State have accepted an exercised jurisdiction over transitory causes of action, which arose outside of California in favor of citizens of other jurisdictions, nonresident in California, whether based on the common-law or a statute of a sister State or a statute of the United States (see Schultz v. Union Pacific R. R. Co. (1953), 118 Cal.App.2d 169, 178, 257 P.2d 1003, 1009, and authorities cited in footnote 17), provided the law of the sister State is not in direct conflict with the express provisions of the law or the public policy of California, and is not contrary to fundamental principles of justice or good morals, or injurious to the welfare of the people. (Loranger v. Nadeau (1932), 215 Cal. 362, 366, 10 P.2d 63, 84 A.L.R. 1264; Hudson v. Von Hamm (1927), 85 Cal.App. 323, 326- 331, 259 P. 374; Thome v. Macken (1943), 58 Cal.App.2d 76, 136 P.2d 116.) California courts have also accepted jurisdiction of FELA cases both as to causes of action which arose in this State, and as to those which arose outside California in favor of non-resident noncitizen plaintiffs against a foreign corporation doing business in this State. (See Leet v. Union Pac R. R. Co. (1944), supra...

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