Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Milestones: Sinochem Int'l Co. v. Malaysia Int'l Shipping Corp., 549 U.S. 422 (2007)


A dispute arose between a Chinese importer and a Malaysian shipping company concerning an alleged misrepresentation in the bill of lading. The Chinese importer sued the Malaysian company in the Chinese admiralty court; the Malaysian company, in response, sued the Chinese importer in Philadelphia, where the material to be shipped was loaded.

The district court found that it had subject matter jurisdiction over the matter, but was unclear about the personal jurisdiction over the Chinese importer. Then the district court dismissed the case under forum non conveniens. The Third Circuit reversed, holding that forum non conveniens was available only after personal and subject matter jurisdictions were conclusively established.

The Supreme Court reversed in a unanimous opinion penned by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Noting that forum non conveniens is a "supervening venue provision," the court held that a district court need not consider beyond convenience, fairness and judicial economy and may bypass any jurisdictional determination.


In the last several years, the Supreme Court--almost always unanimously--has been moving toward chipping away the ability for foreign litigants to litigate in the United States courts. Through Sinochem, the court empowers the judiciary with one of the most weapons of litigation avoidance and allows it to be used liberally, without regard to procedural posture.

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