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What Does "Forum Non Conveniens" Mean?

When forum non conveniens is invoked, the defendant must petition the court to move the case to another, more convenient, jurisdiction.
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  • Written By: Dee S.
  • Edited By: Jenn Walker
  • Last Modified Date: 20 November 2014
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Forum non conveniens is a Latin phrase that translates to mean a forum or jurisdiction that is not convenient. It is a legal doctrine that is most often used when the jurisdiction chosen by the plaintiff is not convenient for witnesses or creates an undue hardship on the defendant. When this doctrine is invoked, the defendant must petition the court to move the case to another, more convenient, jurisdiction.

One of the best ways to better understand the doctrine of forum non conveniens is to look at several examples of how it is most often used during legal proceedings. For example, this doctrine can be used if a person has a car collision while on vacation. If the plaintiff files her lawsuit in the place where she actually resides instead of where the accident occurred, all the witnesses and the defendants will be forced to travel for depositions and court dates. In that case, the defendant may ask the court if the jurisdiction can be moved to the place where the accident occurred. If granted, it will thereby release the witnesses and the defendant from traveling long distances to attend court and will make the location more convenient.

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Other common examples of the doctrine of forum non conveniens include shipping cases and corporate litigation cases. In both kinds of cases, there are often many parties involved in a lawsuit. The parties are often from many different states or countries. For shipping cases in particular, lawsuits are often filed in a local court. The local court, however, may decide that federal law should be used and move the case to a federal court on grounds of forum non conveniens. Also, corporate lawsuits are often filed in the corporate headquarters location. In this case, the doctrine may be invoked to move the lawsuit to the place of business.

There are several factors that help the court determine whether it should grant a motion for forum non conveniens. The location of important witnesses, records, and other relevant evidence can help the court consider whether the jurisdiction is inconvenient. In addition, if the defendant suffers undue hardship, the doctrine may be invoked. Most courts, though, will not change the jurisdiction simply to transfer hardship from one party to another party. If a particular court is not equipped to handle a particular trial, then the forum may be changed as well.

Several countries, such as the United States, Canada, and Australia, use the doctrine of forum non conveniens. Other countries, such as the United Kingdom and the other countries of the European Union acknowledge the doctrine, but set serious limits to its use.

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