Sinochem involves a dispute over shipping steel coils
from Philadelphia to Guangzhou, China.

Today marked the U.S. Supreme Court’s majestic — and unanimous — return to the vexing subject of forum non conveniens — the common law doctrine that lets judges send cases overseas (or at least across an international frontier), often hoping that the move will their quietus make.  The Court held that federal district courts not only have discretion to dismiss cases under the doctrine but also may choose to dismiss them before determining whether or not they would have jurisdiction to decide the case on the merits.  And along the way the Justices drew fresh meaning from some "less than ‘felicitously’ crafted" statements that has muddied the forum non waters since Gulf Oil Co. v. Gilbert, 330 U.S. 501 (1947).  Sinochem Int’l Co. v. Malaysia Int’l Shipping Corp., No. 06-102 (U.S. Mar. 5, 2007).

As Blawgletter reads the opinion, the Court granted federal trial judges discretion to, um, exercise discretion. 

But the Court did not resolve an issue that recurs in the context of forum non — whether a court that may lack jurisdiction over the dispute or the parties nonetheless possesses authority to impose conditions on a forum non dismissal — such as requiring that the defendant waive jurisdictional or statute of limitations defenses or provide discovery or that the case actually make progress in the alternative forum.  Oh, well.  Any court in a storm.

Barry Barnett

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