The Oregon Court of Appeals finally and unequivocally recognized the availability of the forum non conveniens doctrine in Oregon state courts, laying to rest an unanswered legal question existing since the early 1900s. The case, Espinoza v. Evergreen Helicopters, Inc., 090912350, 2014 WL 5032342 (Or Ct App Oct. 8, 2014), held that the doctrine is available in Oregon and identified what standards should apply.
Espinoza involved a helicopter crash in Peru that killed all passengers and the pilot. The helicopter was owned and leased out by Evergreen. Suit was filed in Multnomah County, alleging theories of negligence related to the pilot, who was employed by Evergreen, but also alleged direct-liability based on negligent maintenance of the helicopter. The trial court granted Evergreen’s motion to dismiss for forum non conveniens because it believed the trial would center on facts, witnesses, and circumstances existing in Peru at the time of the accident. Plaintiffs appealed and argued that Oregon did not recognize forum non conveniens, and even if it did, the trial judge’s application of the federal law’s factors for forum non-conveniens was improper.
On appeal, the Oregon Court of Appeals observed that Oregon courts have historically enjoyed an inherent discretion to decline exercising jurisdiction, even though they had never explicitly recognized forum non-conveniens. The Court recognized that Oregon’s decisions regarding discretionary exercise of jurisdiction mirrored the reasoning that was an “important precursor” to the federal adoption of the forum non conveniens doctrine. As a result, the Court explicitly held that forum non conveniens is available in Oregon courts and that the federal standards—which require weighing public and private interest factors related to the evidence and court administration—should guide Oregon courts. However, the Court explicitly rejected the federal notion that a foreign plaintiff’s choice of forum should be given less deference merely because the plaintiff is a foreigner. Instead, the Court assumed that plaintiffs are in the best position to determine the most convenient and appropriate forum and that that assumption is no less reasonable simply because the plaintiff is not a resident of Oregon, or the United States.
Applying this standard, the Court vacated and remanded after concluding that the trial court completely disregarded the evidence pertaining to plaintiffs’ direct-liability theories which potentially favored trial in Oregon.
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