Friday, August 4, 2017

Milestones: Choo v. Exxon Corp., 486 U.S. 140 (1988)


A Singaporean national was killed in an accident while repairing a ship owned ultimately by Exxon Corporation. Widow of the decedent, also a Singaporean national, sued Exxon in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas. The federal court dismissed based on forum non conveniens. The widow then sued again in the Texas state court, based on causes of action under Texas law. Exxon petitioned the federal court to issue an anti-suit injunction against the widow. The district court issued the injunction, and the 5th Circuit affirmed.

On appeal, the unanimous Supreme Court reversed. The majority opinion by Sandra Day O'Connor held that the federal court violated the Anti-Injunction Act, which prohibits the federal court from interfering with state court proceedings. Although the Anti-Injunction Act contains a "re-litigation" exception, the court held that the exception only applies if the district court had considered the issues on the merits. Because the district court's decision based on forum non conveniens did not consider the merits, the state court action did not fall under the re-litigation exception.


A fairly straightforward decision, but I am more curious about how this opinion changed (or didn't change) the district court's use of forum non conveniens dismissal. If the defendant wants to avoid multiple litigation in the United States, the defendant would be better off not making a forum non conveniens claim--but it does not appear that the use of forum non conveniens has decreased.

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