Where can a lawsuit be filed in New Mexico and the doctrine of Forum Non Convenience

07 Aug 2020
New Mexico Venue laws are unique in that they allow a nonresident defendant to be sued in any county in New Mexico. The question arises, can a New Mexico state District Court Judge transfer a case to another county if that county is more convenient under the doctrine of Forum Non-Conveniens?

Prior to the case First Financial Trust Co. v. Scott, 122 N.M. 572 (N.M. 1996) New Mexico State District Court judges could transfer a case from one county in New Mexico to another county which was more convenient to the parties. This done on the doctrine known as "forum non conveniens'. forum non conveniens is court doctrine which basically states that a case should be filed and tried where it is most convenient to the parties. The courts look to where the evidence is located where the incident that gives rise the location occurred. However, most states, including New Mexico has adopted venue laws which state where a lawsuit can be filed. It is the Plaintiff's choice where to file a lawsuit and as long as that place is valid under the law most State courts allow that choice. New Mexico prior to the Scott decision was the exception to that rule and allowed intrastate transfers of cases where they believed it most appropriate. However, the Scott case prohibits intrastate transfer of cases in New Mexico based on the doctrine of forum non conveniens. The Court reasoned that it was up to the legislature, not the Courts, to decide venue laws and that the intrastate state transfer of cases was a way Courts could frustrate and invalidate the legislature's prerogative to decide where cases could be filed. It is interesting to note that in Federal Courts when someone argued that a case was inconvenient in the State it was filed and should be filed in a different state Federal Judges were powerless to transfer the case and could only dismiss the case. However, in 1948 the legislature passed 28 USC 1444(a) which gave Federal Judges the power to transfer cases to different states. Most federal courts have lessened the standard to transfer the case under 1444(a) because the believe that the passage of this statue was designed to make it easier to for Defendant's to obtain a transfer since their case was not dismissed. However if someone believes that a case is more convenient in another country, or if a State Judge believes a case is more convenient in another State then the only thing that Judge can do is dismiss the case and therefore the higher standard applies. When a Judge is going to dismiss a case so it can be refiled in another country or must be dismissed to file in another state courts apply a heavy burden on the moving party and give preference to the Plaintiff's decision.

When weighing the forum non conveniens factors, the district court "should give deference to the plaintiff's choice of forum." Marchman, 120 N.M. at 85, 898 P.2d at 720. "[U]nless the balance is strongly in favor of the defendant, the plaintiff's choice of forum should rarely be disturbed." Pierce v. Albertson's Inc., 121 N.M. 369, 373 (N.M. 1996). [T]he plaintiff's choice of forum is "given considerable weight" and will not be disturbed unless other factors tip the balance heavily in the defendant's favor.” Am. Prop.-Mgmt. Corp. v. Liberty Mut. Grp., Inc., Civ. No. 17-764 KK/JHR, at *7 (D.N.M. Dec. 22, 2017) citing “Scheidt v. Klein, 956 F.2d 963, 965 (10th Cir. 1992).

The New Mexico Supreme in Pierce v. Albertson’s went on to state:

“The courts of this state have a duty to hear matters properly brought before them, and we will not expand the doctrine of forum non conveniens in abrogation of this duty. As Chief Justice Marshall noted over one hundred and fifty years ago:

It is most true that this court will not take jurisdiction if it should not: but it is equally true, that it must take jurisdiction if it should. The judiciary cannot, as the legislature may, avoid a measure because it approaches the confines of the constitution. We cannot pass it by because it is doubtful. With whatever doubts, with whatever difficulties, a case may be attended, we must decide it if it be brought before us. We have no more right to decline the exercise of jurisdiction which is given, than to usurp that which is not given. The one or the other would be treason to the constitution. Questions may occur which we would gladly avoid, but we cannot avoid them. All we can do, is to exercise our best judgment, and conscientiously to perform our duty. Cohens v. Virginia, 19 U.S. (6 Wheat.) 264, 404, 5 L.Ed. 257 (1821) (certain punctuation omitted). Although Chief Justice Marshall was writing about subject-matter jurisdiction, we find these comments also applicable to our discussion of the doctrine of forum non conveniens.

Pierce v. Albertson's Inc., 121 N.M. 369, 373 (N.M. 1996).

In fact,a Court does not even look at the convenience of the parties in a dismissal case if the law where the case is filed applies to that case. Generally the Court should look at the personal interest and private interest of the parties. However, those factors would only come into place if the Court were to find that if the law where the case is filed applies. “The court must confirm that foreign law is applicable” in the jurisdiction where the Defendant asserts is more convenient. “If the answer . . . is no, the forum non conveniens doctrine is inapplicable”. Gschwind v. Cessna Aircraft Co., 161 F.3d 602, 605-606 (10th Cir. 1998).


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