In this case, a foreign seaman injured in the course of his employment aboard a vessel sued the foreign owners of that vessel for penalty wages, maintenance and cure, and damages arising from his personal injuries. The shipowners have now moved to dismiss under the doctrine of forum non conveniens. For the following reasons, I will deny the motion.
The following facts are essentially undisputed. The various independent republics that formerly comprised the nation of Yugoslavia are in the midst of a civil war. Defendant Losinjska Plovidba Oour Broadarstvo ("Losinjska") is a Croatian corporation that is owned and controlled in substantial part by the Republic of Croatia and, therefore, is an instrumentality of the Republic of Croatia. Defendants Losinjska, Island Shipping, S.A., and Cool Wind Navigation, Inc. are Croatian corporations that own, operate, possess, manage, and control the M/V Zamet (the "Vessel"). The Vessel is registered in Panama, engages in foreign commerce, and regularly calls at ports in the United States.
On November 29, 1992 in San Juan, Puerto Rico, plaintiff Slavko Vidovic, a merchant seaman, who was born in Ljubjana, Slovenia and last resided in Sarajevo, Bosnia,
signed articles of engagement and joined the Vessel as an employee. After suffering an injury while the Vessel was docked in the Port of Chester, Pennsylvania and allegedly being deprived of his wages, Vidovic filed a complaint in which he alleged claims for: (1) his personal injuries (count I); (2) maintenance, cure, earned wages, and unearned wages (count II); and (3) penalty wages (count III).
On January 14, 1994, defendants moved to dismiss the complaint for lack of subject matter jurisdiction pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1). By Memorandum and Order dated March 1, 1994, I denied the motion, finding subject matter jurisdiction over the penalty wage claim and supplemental jurisdiction over the remainder of Vidovic's claims. See Vidovic v. Losinjska Plovidba Oour Broadarstvo, No. 93-3887, slip op. at 8 (E.D. Pa. Mar. 1, 1994).
In the written Memorandum, I expressly refused to analyze the forum non conveniens arguments at that time because Vidovic had not yet had the opportunity to conduct discovery with respect to the issues relevant to the doctrine of forum non conveniens. See id. at 8 n.8. After sufficient time for discovery, defendants again move to dismiss under the doctrine of forum non conveniens.
The doctrine of forum non conveniens permits a court to dismiss a case despite the existence of jurisdiction because of consideration for the interests of the litigants and in the interest of justice. See Gulf Oil Corp. v. Gilbert, 330 U.S. 501, 507, 91 L. Ed. 1055, 67 S. Ct. 839 (1947). Under the doctrine of forum non conveniens, the district court must retain flexibility, and each case turns on its particular facts. See Piper Aircraft Co. v. Reyno, 454 U.S. 235, 249-50, 70 L. Ed. 2d 419, 102 S. Ct. 252 (1981). Under the doctrine, a district court may in the exercise of its sound discretion, dismiss a case "'when the alternative forum has jurisdiction to hear the case, and when trial in the chosen forum would establish . . . oppressiveness and vexation to defendant . . . out of all proportion to plaintiff's convenience, or when the chosen forum is inappropriate because of considerations affecting the court's own administrative and legal problems.'" See Lacey v. Cessna Aircraft Co., 862 F.2d 38, 42 (3d Cir. 1988)(Lacey I)(citations omitted). In deciding whether to dismiss a case under the doctrine of forum non conveniens, the ultimate inquiry is "where trial will best serve the convenience of the parties and the ends of justice." See id. (citation omitted).
The defendant bears the burden of persuasion as to all elements of the forum non conveniens analysis. See Lacey v. Cessna Aircraft Co., 932 F.2d 170, 180 (3d Cir. 1991)(Lacey II). This burden comprises two essential elements. The moving party must show that: (1) an adequate, alternative forum exists as to all parties; and (2) the private and public interest factors weigh heavily on the side of dismissal.
The requirement of an adequate, alternative forum is satisfied when: (a) the defendant is amenable to process in the other jurisdiction; and (b) the remedy available in the alternative forum is clearly satisfactory. See id. Here, defendants seek dismissal of this action in favor of litigation proceeding in Croatia. It is undisputed that defendants are amenable to process in Croatia.
With respect to the adequacy of the remedy available in Croatia, defendants have submitted a letter from Josip Kardum, the Deputy Minister of Justice of the Republic of Croatia. That letter, translated into English, states as follows:
Regarding your demand in connection with safety and stability of legal proceedings before the courts of Republic of Croatia we inform you as follows:
From the very beginning of the aggression on the Republic of Croatia in 1991 up to now[,] the courts in the Republic of Croatia have not interrupted with work. In that period all the courts were working continually and all parties could obtain legal protection. The same is with the courts in the UNPA zones which continued with work in other cities out of their seats.