On June 20, 2013, the Florida Supreme Court issued its opinion in Cortez v. Palace Resorts, Inc., et al. (SC11-1908), where it considered whether the forum non conveniens doctrine was properly applied in a lawsuit brought in Florida by a resident of California, based on alleged negligence of the defendants that led to harmful events in Mexico. After considering the factors relevant to a forum non conveniens claim, the Supreme Court held that the lawsuit could proceed in Florida.

The Plaintiff alleged that she was sexually assaulted by a masseur during a complementary massage while she was vacationing at a resort in Mexico. The massage was part of a benefits package that Plaintiff received in exchange for attending a timeshare sales presentation. Once back in the States, Plaintiff filed suit in Miami-Dade County for negligent vacation packaging against a set of Florida defendants that were engaged in promoting and selling the resort at which the Plaintiff was allegedly assaulted. Plaintiff alleged that the Florida defendants had their principal place of business in Miami, and that they controlled their marketing and promotional activities for the resort in question from their Miami location.

The defendants filed a motion to dismiss based on forum non conveniens, asserting that Mexico was the more convenient forum to litigate the matter, as the action was based entirely on events that took place in Mexico. The trial court granted the motion, and asserted that as the Plaintiff was a California resident, her choice to litigate in Florida was afforded less deference than a if the Plaintiff had significant contacts with the forum state. The Third District of Appeal affirmed the dismissal. Rabie Cortez v. Palace Holdings, S.A. de C.V., 66 So.3d 959 (Fla. 3d DCA 2011).

The Supreme Court began its analysis by pointing out that the forum non conveniens doctrine is an equitable remedy, and it only can come into play where personal jurisdiction over defendants has already been secured. This distinguishes forum non conveniens analysis from the legal requirements that must be met before a court may exercise personal jurisdiction against a nonresident defendant (i.e. an applicable long-arm statute and sufficient minimum contacts in the forum state to satisfy due process requirements). As the legal threshold to invoke personal jurisdiction is relatively permissive, the Florida Supreme Court adopted the doctrine of forum non conveniens in Kinney System Inc., v. Continental Insurance Co., 674 So.2d 86 (Fla. 1996) in order to prevent Florida’s judicial resources from being expended on disputes that have little connection with the state. In Kinney, the Court adopted the federal test for forum non conveniens claims, which requires a court to (1) determine whether there is an available adequate alternative forum which could exercise jurisdiction over the entire case; (2) consider the private interests at stake, considering the strong presumption against disturbing a choice of forum; (3) if the private interests are nearly balanced, the court must consider public interest factors; and (4) if the court finds that the balancing of interests favors the alternative forum, to consider if the plaintiffs can reinstate their suit without undue inconvenience or prejudice.

After examining these factors, the Court held that the deference afforded to a plaintiff’s choice Florida as a forum for a suit is not limited to Florida residents. The Court went on to note that “the proper focus of the forum non conveniens inquiry and the analysis of the private interest factors is not to decide where the best location for bringing suit would be, but rather [if] it is in the interest of Florida’s courts to use their inherent power to decline to exercise jurisdiction over the dispute because Florida is an inconvenient forum.” (Op. at 23-24; emphasis in the original). According to the court, it was crucial that the alleged negligent vacation packaging, the main remaining cause of action at issue, was a matter of Florida tort law; this strongly militated against any finding that Florida was an inconvenient forum to hear the suit.

In sum, the Court clarified in Cortez that U.S. citizens and residents are afforded the same presumption of deference if they select Florida as their choice of forum as do Florida residents.

The Deference Afforded to a Plaintiff’s Choice of Forum in Florida is Not Limited to Florida Residents

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