This case presents the issue whether a federal court sitting in diversity should apply state or federal law in adjudicating a motion to transfer a case to a venue provided in a contractual forum-selection clause.
The dispute underlying this case grew out of a dealership agreement that obligated petitioner company, an Alabama corporation, to market copier products of respondent, a nationwide manufacturer with its principal place of business in New Jersey. The agreement contained a forum-selection clause providing that any dispute arising out of the contract could be brought only in a court located in Manhattan.
Relying on the contractual forum-selection clause, respondent moved the District Court either to transfer the case to the Southern District of New York under 28 U. S. C. § 1404(a) or to dismiss the case for improper venue under 28 U. S. C. § 1406. The District Court denied the motion. Civ. Action No. 84-AR-2460-S (Jan. 29, 1985). It reasoned that the transfer motion was controlled by Alabama law and that Alabama looks unfavorably upon contractual forum-selection clauses. The court certified its ruling for interlocutory appeal,
On appeal, a divided panel of the Eleventh Circuit reversed the District Court. The panel concluded that questions of venue in diversity actions are governed by federal law, and that the parties' forum-selection clause was enforceable as a matter of federal law. 779 F.2d 643 (1986). The panel therefore reversed the order of the District Court and remanded with instructions to transfer the case to a Manhattan court. After petitioner successfully moved for rehearing en banc, 785 F.2d 896 (1986), the full Court of Appeals proceeded to adopt the result, and much of the reasoning, of the panel opinion. 810 F.2d 1066 (1987).
Both the panel opinion and the opinion of the full Court of Appeals referred to the difficulties that often attend "the sticky question of which law, state or federal, will govern various aspects of the decisions of federal courts sitting in
If the district court determines that a federal statute covers the point in dispute, it proceeds to inquire whether the statute represents a valid exercise of Congress' authority under the Constitution. See Hanna v. Plumer, supra, at 471 (citing Erie R. Co. v. Tompkins, supra, at 77-79).
Applying the above analysis to this case persuades us that federal law, specifically 28 U. S. C. § 1404(a), governs the parties' venue dispute.
At the outset we underscore a methodological difference in our approach to the question from that taken by the Court of Appeals. The en banc court determined that federal law controlled the issue based on a survey of different statutes and judicial decisions that together revealed a significant federal interest in questions of venue in general, and in choice-of-forum clauses in particular. The Court of Appeals then proceeded to apply the standards announced in our opinion in The Bremen v. Zapata Off-Shore Co., 407 U.S. 1 (1972),
Section 1404(a) provides: "For the convenience of parties and witnesses, in the interest of justice, a district court may transfer any civil action to any other district or division where it might have been brought." Under the analysis outlined above, we first consider whether this provision is sufficiently broad to control the issue before the court. That issue is whether to transfer the case to a court in Manhattan in accordance with the forum-selection clause. We believe that the statute, fairly construed, does cover the point in dispute.
Section 1404(a) is intended to place discretion in the district court to adjudicate motions for transfer according to an "individualized, case-by-case consideration of convenience and fairness." Van Dusen v. Barrack, 376 U.S. 612, 622 (1964). A motion to transfer under § 1404(a) thus calls on the district court to weigh in the balance a number of case-specific factors. The presence of a forum-selection clause such as the parties entered into in this case will be a significant factor that figures centrally in the district court's calculus. In its resolution of the § 1404(a) motion in this case, for example, the District Court will be called on to address such issues as the convenience of a Manhattan forum given the parties' expressed preference for that venue, and the fairness of transfer in light of the forum-selection clause and the parties' relative bargaining power. The flexible and individualized analysis Congress prescribed in § 1404(a) thus encompasses
Section 1404(a) may not be the only potential source of guidance for the District Court to consult in weighing the parties' private designation of a suitable forum. The premise of the dispute between the parties is that Alabama law may refuse to enforce forum-selection clauses providing for out-of-state venues as a matter of state public policy.
It is true that § 1404(a) and Alabama's putative policy regarding forum-selection clauses are not perfectly coextensive. Section 1404(a) directs a district court to take account of factors other than those that bear solely on the parties' private ordering of their affairs. The district court also must weigh in the balance the convenience of the witnesses and those public-interest factors of systemic integrity and fairness that, in addition to private concerns, come under the heading of "the interest of justice." It is conceivable in
Because § 1404(a) controls the issue before the District Court, it must be applied if it represents a valid exercise of
We hold that federal law, specifically 28 U. S. C. § 1404(a), governs the District Court's decision whether to give effect to the parties' forum-selection clause and transfer this case to a court in Manhattan.
It is so ordered.
I concur in full. I write separately only to observe that enforcement of valid forum-selection clauses, bargained for by the parties, protects their legitimate expectations and furthers vital interests of the justice system. Although our opinion in The Bremen v. Zapata Off-Shore Co., 407 U.S. 1, 10 (1972), involved a Federal District Court sitting in admiralty, its reasoning applies with much force to federal courts sitting in diversity. The justifications we noted in The Bremen to counter the historical disfavor forum-selection clauses had received in American courts, id., at 9, should be understood to guide the District Court's analysis under § 1404(a).
The federal judicial system has a strong interest in the correct resolution of these questions, not only to spare litigants unnecessary costs but also to relieve courts of time-consuming pretrial motions. Courts should announce and encourage rules that support private parties who negotiate such clauses. Though state policies should be weighed in the balance, the authority and prerogative of the federal courts to determine the issue, as Congress has directed by § 1404(a), should be exercised so that a valid forum-selection clause is given controlling weight in all but the most exceptional cases. See The Bremen, supra, at 10.
JUSTICE SCALIA, dissenting.
I agree with the opinion of the Court that the initial question before us is whether the validity between the parties of a contractual forum-selection clause falls within the scope of 28 U. S. C. § 1404(a). See ante, at 26-27, 29. I cannot agree, however, that the answer to that question is yes. Nor do I believe that the federal courts can, consistent with the twin-aims test of Erie R. Co. v. Tompkins, 304 U.S. 64 (1938), fashion a judge-made rule to govern this issue of contract validity.
When a litigant asserts that state law conflicts with a federal procedural statute or formal Rule of Procedure, a court's first task is to determine whether the disputed point in question in fact falls within the scope of the federal statute or Rule. In this case, the Court must determine whether the scope of § 1404(a) is sufficiently broad to cause a direct collision with state law or implicitly to control the issue before the Court, i. e., validity between the parties of the forum-selection clause, thereby leaving no room for the operation of state law. See Burlington Northern R. Co. v. Woods, 480 U.S. 1, 4-5 (1987). I conclude that it is not.
Although the language of § 1404(a) provides no clear answer, in my view it does provide direction. The provision vests the district courts with authority to transfer a civil action to another district "[f]or the convenience of parties and witnesses, in the interest of justice." This language looks to the present and the future. As the specific reference to convenience of parties and witnesses suggests, it requires consideration of what is likely to be just in the future, when the case is tried, in light of things as they now stand. Accordingly, the courts in applying § 1404(a) have examined a variety of factors, each of which pertains to facts that currently exist or will exist: e. g., the forum actually chosen by the plaintiff, the current convenience of the parties and witnesses, the current location of pertinent books and records, similar litigation pending elsewhere, current docket conditions, and familiarity of the potential courts with governing state law. See 15 C. Wright, A. Miller, & E. Cooper, Federal Practice and Procedure §§ 3848-3849, 3851, 3853-3854 (2d ed. 1986). In holding that the validity between the parties of a forum-selection clause falls within the scope of § 1404(a), the Court inevitably imports, in my view without adequate textual foundation, a new retrospective element into the court's deliberations, requiring examination of what the
The Court largely attempts to avoid acknowledging the novel scope it gives to § 1404(a) by casting the issue as how much weight a district court should give a forum-selection clause as against other factors when it makes its determination under § 1404(a). I agree that if the weight-among-factors issue were before us, it would be governed by § 1404 (a). That is because, while the parties may decide who between them should bear any inconvenience, only a court can decide how much weight should be given under § 1404(a) to the factor of the parties' convenience as against other relevant factors such as the convenience of witnesses. But the Court's description of the issue begs the question: what law governs whether the forum-selection clause is a valid or invalid allocation of any inconvenience between the parties. If it is invalid, i. e., should be voided, between the parties, it cannot be entitled to any weight in the § 1404(a) determination. Since under Alabama law the forum-selection clause should be voided, see Redwing Carriers, Inc. v. Foster, 382 So.2d 554, 556 (Ala. 1980), in this case the question of what weight should be given the forum-selection clause can be reached only if as a preliminary matter federal law controls the issue of the validity of the clause between the parties.
We have said that an arbitration clause is a "kind of forum-selection clause," Scherk v. Alberto-Culver Co., 417 U.S. 506, 519 (1974), and the contrast between this explicit pre-emption
Third, it has been common ground in this Court since Erie, 304 U. S., at 74-77, that when a federal procedural statute or Rule of Procedure is not on point, substantial uniformity of predictable outcome between federal and state courts in adjudicating claims should be striven for. See also Klaxon Co. v. Stentor Electric Mfg. Co., 313 U.S. 487, 496 (1941). This rests upon a perception of the constitutional and congressional plan underlying the creation of diversity and pendent jurisdiction in the lower federal courts, which should quite obviously be carried forward into our interpretation of ambiguous statutes relating to the exercise of that jurisdiction. We should assume, in other words, when it is fair to do so, that Congress is just as concerned as we have been to avoid significant differences between state and federal courts in adjudicating claims. Cf. Southland Corp. v. Keating, 465 U.S. 1, 15 (1984) (interpreting Federal Arbitration Act to apply to claims brought in state courts in order to discourage forum shopping). Thus, in deciding whether a federal procedural statute or Rule of Procedure encompasses a particular
Since no federal statute or Rule of Procedure governs the validity of a forum-selection clause, the remaining issue is whether federal courts may fashion a judge-made rule to govern the question. If they may not, the Rules of Decision Act, 28 U. S. C. § 1652, mandates use of state law. See Erie, supra, at 72-73; Hanna v. Plumer, 380 U.S. 460, 471-472 (1965) (if federal courts lack authority to fashion a rule, "state law must govern because there can be no other law"); DelCostello v. Teamsters, 462 U.S. 151, 174, n. 1 (1983) (O'CONNOR, J., dissenting) (Rules of Decision Act "simply requires application of state law unless federal law applies"); see also id., at 159, n. 13.
In general, while interpreting and applying substantive law is the essence of the "judicial Power" created under Article III of the Constitution, that power does not encompass the making of substantive law. Cf. Erie, supra, at 78-79. Whatever the scope of the federal courts' authority to create federal common law in other areas, it is plain that the mere
In deciding what is substantive and what is procedural for these purposes, we have adhered to a functional test based on the "twin aims of the Erie rule: discouragement of forum-shopping and avoidance of inequitable administration of the laws." Hanna, supra, at 468; see also ante, at 27, n. 6; Walker v. Armco Steel Corp., supra, at 747. Moreover, although in reviewing the validity of a federal procedural statute or Rule of Procedure we inquire only whether Congress or the rulemakers have trespassed beyond the wide latitude given them to determine that a matter is procedural, see Burlington Northern R. Co. v. Woods, 480 U. S., at 5; Hanna, supra, at 471-474, in reviewing the lower courts' application of the twin-aims test we apply our own judgment as a matter of law.
Under the twin-aims test, I believe state law controls the question of the validity of a forum-selection clause between the parties. The Eleventh Circuit's rule clearly encourages forum shopping. Venue is often a vitally important matter, as is shown by the frequency with which parties contractually provide for and litigate the issue. Suit might well not be pursued, or might not be as successful, in a significantly less
I believe creating a judge-made rule fails the second part of the twin-aims test as well, producing inequitable administration of the laws. The best explanation of what constitutes inequitable administration of the laws is that found in Erie itself: allowing an unfair discrimination between noncitizens and citizens of the forum state. 304 U. S., at 74-75; see also Hanna, 380 U. S., at 468, n. 9. Whether discrimination is unfair in this context largely turns on how important is the matter in question. See id., at 467-468, and n. 9. The decision of an important legal issue should not turn on the accident of diversity of citizenship, see, e. g., Walker, supra, at 753, or the presence of a federal question unrelated to that issue. It is difficult to imagine an issue of more importance, other than one that goes to the very merits of the lawsuit, than the validity of a contractual forum-selection provision. Certainly, the Erie doctrine has previously been held to require the application of state law on subjects of similar or obviously lesser importance. See, e. g., Walker, supra (whether filing of complaint or service tolls statute of limitations); Bernhardt v. Polygraphic Co. of America, 350 U.S. 198,
For the reasons stated, I respectfully dissent.