The Applicability of the Doctrine of Forum Non Conveniens in the District of Columbia
January 5, 2016 By Emily F. Belanger
In Garcia v. AA Roofing Company, LLC, the District of Columbia Court of Appeals was faced with the issue of whether the Superior Court erred in dismissing the Plaintiff’s action without prejudice on the grounds of forum non conveniens.
“The purpose of the doctrine of forum non conveniens . . . is to avoid litigation in a seriously inconvenient forum, rather than to ensure litigation in the most convenient forum.” Hechinger Co. v. Johnson, 761 A.2d 15, 20 (D.C. 2000) (emphasis in original) (internal quotation marks omitted). In resolving a motion to dismiss for forum non conveniens, the trial court must evaluate private interest factors, such as the plaintiff’s choice of forum and the convenience of parties and witnesses, as well as public interest factors, including adjudication of disputes most closely linked to the forum and avoidance of burdening courts with the application of a foreign jurisdiction’s law.
In this case, the Plaintiff, a resident of Fairfax County, Virginia, brought suit alleging breach of contract, violation of the Virginia Consumer Protection Act, fraud, and common law conspiracy to defraud, stemming from, what Plaintiff called “shoddy,” roof work performed in March 2011 to Plaintiff’s McLean, Virginia home. Plaintiff brought suit against AA Roofing Company, LLC, Wayne Hammond, a Maryland resident and the owner and principal manager of AA Roofing Company, LLC, and Holger Kuessner, a District of Columbia resident who works in the field of home improvement and who recommended to Plaintiff AA Roofing Company, LLC.
Plaintiff filed his action in the Superior Court of the District of Columbia and the Defendants filed a Motion to Dismiss for Forum Non Conveniens arguing that the District of Columbia had nothing to do with the case, that Virginia substantive law applied, and that Virginia, rather than the District of Columbia, had an interest in the matter as it was the jurisdiction where Plaintiff’s alleged claims occurred. The Superior Court granted the Defendants’ Motion.
The Plaintiff appealed the decision to dismiss his action by the Superior Court of the District of Columbia arguing, in part, that the lower court erroneously failed to give any weight to the Defendants’ significant relationships to the District of Columbia and the significant relationship between the Plaintiff’s causes of action and the District of Columbia.
The Court reversed the lower court’s decision to dismiss the Plaintiff’s action. In doing so, the Court looked, in part, to the Defendants’ relationships with the District of Columbia, as well as, the relationship between the Plaintiff’s action and the District of Columbia.
First, with respect to the Defendants’ relationships with the District of Columbia, the Court cited (1) Plaintiff’s allegation that Defendant Kuessner sent correspondence and made phone calls from his office in the District of Columbia to urge Plaintiff to hire AA Roofing Company, LLC and to secure an estimate from Defendant Hammond for roof work on Plaintiff’s residence; (2) AA Roofing Company, LLC’s holding itself out as a “local roofing company in Washington, D.C.”; and (3) Plaintiff’s allegation that Defendant Hammond and AA Roofing Company, LLC regularly perform roofing services in the District of Columbia.
Further, with respect to the argument that there was a significant relationship between the Plaintiff’s causes of action and the District of Columbia, the Court noted that the lower court unreasonably failed to consider the interest of District of Columbia residents in holding accountable those individuals who engage in unfair trade practices involving a type of service those same individuals also provide in the District of Columbia