Pozo Parra v. Continental Tire North America Inc. (7/28/2009)

August 1, 2009

Arizona Court of Appeals Division One Holds That Deference to Plaintiff’s Choice of Forum Precludes Dismissal of Suit on Forum Non Conveniens Grounds Absent Strong Showing of Public and Private Interests Favoring Suit in Alternative Forum.

A faulty tire caused an automobile accident in Sonora, Mexico, resulting in various injuries.  Plaintiffs, including a U.S. citizen and a non-citizen resident, brought suit in Maricopa County against the companies that manufactured and sold the tire.  Defendants moved to dismiss on the grounds of forum non conveniens, contending that the lawsuit’s connection to Arizona was “tenuous” and that Sonora provided a more convenient forum.  The superior court granted the motion and dismissed the complaint.  Plaintiffs appealed.

The Court of Appeals reversed and remanded, holding that the superior court had abused its discretion by giving insufficient weight to the plaintiff’s choice of forum.  To prevail on a motion to dismiss for forum non conveniens, a defendant must demonstrate (1) the existence of an available alternative forum to hear the case, and (2) that the alternative forum is a more convenient place to litigate the case.  A plaintiff’s choice of forum should not be disturbed unless the balance of convenience factors weighs heavily in favor of the alternative forum.   

The appeals court concluded that the defendant failed to prove that Sonora would be a significantly more convenient forum.  Although some potential case witnesses were Mexico residents, none of them had seen the accident occur.  Defendants had not shown that any necessary evidence from any witness in Mexico could not be obtained pursuant to the Hague Convention.  Moreover, the record did not demonstrate that the majority of likely witnesses, including the plaintiffs and the “multitude of witnesses, lay and expert” with information about the manufacture of the tire, would be unavailable to testify in Arizona.  Many of the relevant documents and much of the testimony concerning the tire’s manufacture and design would presumably be in English, and would require translation for a trial in Mexico.  Accordingly, the private interests weighed, if at all, only slightly in favor of the alternative forum.

The public interests, on the other hand, weighed in favor of the Arizona forum.  The tire at issue was sold in Arizona, to an Arizona resident; the accident killed one United States citizen, injured another, and also injured a Mexican citizen residing in the United States.  Little weight could be given to the factor of court congestion in Arizona, because the record did not reveal how quickly the case could be tried in Sonora.

  Judge Johnsen wrote the opinion; Judges Swann and Gemmill concurred.