Stangvik v. Shiley Inc.

Decision Date21 November 1991
Docket NumberNo. S018015,S018015
Citation1 Cal.Rptr.2d 556,54 Cal.3d 744,819 P.2d 14
CourtCalifornia Supreme Court
Parties, 819 P.2d 14, 60 USLW 2382 Mellet STANGVIK et al., Plaintiffs and Appellants, v. SHILEY INCORPORATED et al., Defendants and Respondents. Jenny Mikaela Marie Therese Birgitta KARLSSON et al., Plaintiffs and Appellants, v. SHILEY INCORPORATED et al., Defendants and Respondents.
[819 P.2d 16] Robins, Kaplan, Miller & Ciresi, Bruce A. Finzen, Newport Beach, Joseph L. Dunn and Gary L. Wilson, for plaintiffs and appellants

Kaye, Scholer, Fierman, Hays & Handler, Pierce O'Donnell, Palmieri, Tyler, Wiener, Wilhelm & Waldron, Frank C. Rothrock, Gary C. Weisberg, Michele D. Murphy, Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom and Malcolm E. Wheeler, Los Angeles, for defendants and respondents.

Harvey M. Grossman, Nielsen, Merksamer, Hodgson, Parrinello & Mueller, Steve Merksamer, John E. Mueller, James C. Gross, Thomas W. Hiltachk, Arthur R. Miller, Mayer, Brown & Platt, Kenneth S. Geller, Evan M. Tager, James G. Duncan, Stephen M. Shapiro, Pillsbury, Madison & Sutro, Walter R. Allan, Alson R. Kemp, Jr., Mark H. Penskar and Dale C. Lysak, as amici curiae on behalf of defendants and respondents.

Crosby, Roach & May, Raoul D. Kennedy, Peter W. Davis, James C. Martin and Paul D. Fogel, as amici curiae.

MOSK, Justice.

In this case we address the question of the appropriate standards to be applied in deciding whether a trial court should grant a motion based on the doctrine of forum non conveniens when the plaintiff, a resident of a foreign country, seeks to bring suit against a California corporation in the courts of this state. We granted review to resolve a conflict between the opinion of the Court of Appeal in the present case on the one hand, and Corrigan v. Bjork-Shiley Corp. (1986) 182 Cal.App.3d 166, 227 Cal.Rptr. 247, and Holmes v. Syntex Laboratories, Inc. (1984) 156 Cal.App.3d 372, 202 Cal.Rptr. 773, on the other.

Plaintiffs, members of two families, one residing in Norway and the other in Sweden, are the wives and children of two men who received heart valve implants in the countries of their residence. The valves were designed and manufactured in California by defendant Shiley Incorporated (Shiley), a California corporation. In both cases, the valves allegedly failed, and the patients died. Thereafter, plaintiffs filed suit in California against Shiley and its parent company, a Delaware corporation (hereinafter defendants), alleging that the valves were defective. They sought damages based on theories of negligence, strict liability, breach of warranty, fraud, and loss of consortium. One of the complaints also sought recovery for negligent infliction of emotional distress.

Defendants moved to dismiss or stay the actions on the ground of forum non conveniens, as authorized by section 410.30 of the Code of Civil Procedure. 1 They asserted that the cases should be tried in Sweden and Norway because it was in those countries that the plaintiffs resided, the valves were sold, decedents received medical care, the alleged fraudulent representations were made, and evidence regarding the provision of health care and other matters existed. Plaintiffs countered that California was the more convenient place of trial because the valves were designed, manufactured, tested and packaged in California. The parties introduced conflicting evidence regarding plaintiffs' legal rights and remedies in Scandinavia, and each The Court of Appeal affirmed, after discussing the various private and public interest factors relevant to a determination of the appropriate forum for the trial of an action under the doctrine of forum non conveniens. It declined to follow Corrigan v. Bjork Shiley Corp., supra, 182 Cal.App.3d 166, 227 Cal.Rptr. 247 (hereafter Corrigan ), and Holmes v. Syntex Laboratories, Inc., supra, 156 Cal.App.3d 372, 202 Cal.Rptr. 773 (hereafter Holmes ), a case which preceded Corrigan by two years.

claimed that the most important and numerous documents and witnesses were located in the [819 P.2d 17] country which they asserted was the most appropriate place for trial. The trial court found in favor of defendants, concluding that California was an inconvenient forum and that Sweden and Norway provided adequate alternative forums for resolution of the actions. It stayed the actions, and retained jurisdiction to make such further orders as might become appropriate. The order was subject to seven conditions, with which defendants agreed to comply. 2

Plaintiffs claim that the convenience of the parties and public policy would be best served if the actions were tried in California, and that the Court of Appeal distorted the analysis of these factors in upholding the trial court's decision. They assert also that the appellate court failed to analyze or give weight to certain matters which prior California decisions have held are relevant to a determination of a forum non conveniens motion. Weconclude that the Court of Appeal correctly decided the case and affirm its judgment.

Forum non conveniens is an equitable doctrine invoking 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 may be more appropriately and justly tried elsewhere. (Leet v. Union Pac. R.R. Co. (1944) 25 Cal.2d 605, 609, 155 P.2d 42.) The doctrine was first applied in California in Price v. Atchison, T. & S.F. Ry. Co. (1954) 42 Cal.2d 577, 268 P.2d 457 (hereafter Price ). We described the basis of the doctrine as follows: " '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.' [p] ... [T]he injustices and the burdens on local courts and taxpayers, as well as on those leaving their work and business to serve as jurors, which can follow from an unchecked and unregulated importation of transitory causes of action for trial in this state ... require that our courts, acting upon the equitable principles ..., exercise their discretionary power to decline to proceed in those causes of action which they conclude, on satisfactory evidence, may be more appropriately and justly tried elsewhere." (Id. at pp. 582-584, 268 P.2d 457.)

In determining whether to grant a motion based on forum non conveniens, a court must first determine whether the alternate forum is a "suitable" place for trial. If it is, the next step is to consider the private interests of the litigants and the interests of the public in retaining the action for trial in California. The private interest factors are those that make trial and the enforceability of the ensuing judgment expeditious and relatively inexpensive, such as the ease of access to sources of proof, the cost of obtaining attendance of witnesses, and the availability of compulsory process for attendance of unwilling witnesses. The public interest factors include avoidance of overburdening local courts with congested calendars, protecting the interests of potential jurors so that they are not called upon to decide cases in which the local community has On a motion for forum non conveniens defendant, as the moving party, bears the burden of proof. The granting or denial of such a motion is within the trial court's discretion, and substantial deference is accorded its determination in this regard. (Piper, supra, 454 U.S. at p. 257, 102 S.Ct. at [54 Cal.3d 752] pp. 266-267; Lacey v. Cessna Aircraft Co. (3d Cir.1991) 932 F.2d 170, 178-179; Credit Lyonnais Bank Nederland, N.V. v. Manatt, Phelps, Rothenberg & Tunney (1988) 202 Cal.App.3d 1424, 1436, 249 Cal.Rptr. 559.)

[819 P.2d 18] little concern, and weighing the competing interests of California and the alternate jurisdiction in the litigation. (Piper Aircraft Co. v. Reyno (1981) 454 U.S. 235, 259-261, 102 S.Ct. 252, 267-269, 70 L.Ed.2d 419 (hereafter Piper ); Gulf Oil Corp. v. Gilbert (1947) 330 U.S. 501, 507-509, 67 S.Ct. 839, 842-843, 91 L.Ed. 1055.)

On the first of these issues, whether the case may be "suitably" tried in Norway and Sweden, the answer is clear. The Judicial Council comment to section 410.30 declares in part, "[T]he action will not be dismissed unless a suitable alternative forum is available to the plaintiff [citations]. Because of ... [this] factor, the suit will be entertained, no matter how inappropriate the forum may be, if the defendant cannot be subjected to jurisdiction in other states. The same will be true if the plaintiff's cause of action would elsewhere be barred by the statute of limitations, unless the court is willing to accept the defendant's stipulation that he will not raise this defense in the second state [citations]." (Judicial Council com., 14 West's Ann.Code Civ.Proc. (1973 ed.) § 410.30, pp. 492-493, hereinafter referred to as Judicial Council Comment.) Defendants stipulated that they would submit to jurisdiction in Sweden or Norway, respectively, as well as to the tolling of the statute of limitations during the pendency of the actions in California. Thus, the courts of Sweden and Norway present suitable forums for trial of the actions. 3

We proceed, then, to the second and more difficult question, whether the Court of Appeal erred in concluding that the balance of the private and public interests justified a stay of the actions. The court relied heavily on Piper, supra, 454 U.S. 235, 102 S.Ct. 252, in reaching its decision. Piper, like the present case, involved foreign plaintiffs who sought to hold an American manufacturer liable for deaths which occurred in a foreign country. There, an airplane built by the defendant in Pennsylvania, crashed in Scotland, killing several residents of that country. The representative of the decedents' estates filed a wrongful death action in federal district court, alleging negligence and strict liability. The district court in Pennsylvania granted...

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