HOLLAND, Justice, for the majority.
This case is one of approximately thirty-two cases filed against the defendant-appellee, E.I. du Pont de Nemours and Company, Inc. ("DuPont"), by Argentine nationals who claim that they were exposed to asbestos while working in textile plants located in Berazategui, Argentina and Mercedes, Argentina. At the time of the alleged exposures, which began in the early 1960's, the plants were owned by DuPont Argentina Sociedad Anomina ("DASA"). DASA, now known as DASRL, has its principal place of business in Argentina, and is a great-great grand-subsidiary of DuPont.
The plaintiff-appellant, Maria Elena Martinez ("Martinez"), is the wife of now deceased Argentine textile plant worker Santos Roque Rocha ("Rocha"). Her complaint alleges that her husband suffered injuries while employed by DASRL. The Superior Court dismissed Martinez's complaint pursuant to Superior Court Civil Rules 8 and 9 for inadequate pleading, for failure to state a claim under Superior Court Civil Rule 12(b)(6), for failure to join a necessary party under Superior Court Civil Rule 19, and on forum non conveniens grounds.
In this direct appeal, Martinez challenges each of the Superior Court's independent and alternate grounds for dismissal. We have concluded that the Superior Court properly exercised its discretion in dismissing the Complaint on the basis of forum non conveniens. Therefore, we do not reach or address the other issues.
A forum non conveniens motion is addressed to the trial court's sound discretion.
Delaware's jurisprudence in forum non conveniens cases is well established. Where there is no issue of prior pendency of the same action in another jurisdiction, our analysis is guided by what are known as the "Cryo-Maid factors":
In the Chrysler First Bus. Credit Corp. v. 1500 Locust Ltd. Partnership case,
Accordingly, to prevail under the forum non conveniens doctrine, a defendant must meet the high burden of showing that the traditional forum non conveniens factors weigh so heavily that the defendant will face "overwhelming hardship" if the lawsuit proceeds in Delaware.
This Court has held that a defendant can satisfy the overwhelming hardship standard by convincing the trial court that the case before it "is one of those rare cases where the drastic relief of dismissal is warranted based on a strong showing that the burden of litigating in this forum is so severe as to result in manifest hardship...."
We hold, as did the Court of Chancery in IM2 Merchandising & Manufacturing, Inc. v. Tirex Corp.,
The evolution of the adjective "overwhelming" in this context is consistent with the distinction between preclusive and stringent. As we acknowledged in Ison, the overwhelming hardship standard arose out of this Court's 1965 decision in Kolber v. Holyoke Shares, Inc.
In Ison, this Court also cited several other cases, including the "well-reasoned"
To summarize, although the overwhelming hardship standard is stringent, it is not preclusive. Accordingly, in deciding forum non conveniens motions to dismiss, Delaware trial judges must decide whether the defendants have shown that the forum non conveniens factors weigh so overwhelmingly in their favor that dismissal of the Delaware litigation is required to avoid undue hardship and inconvenience to them.
The Superior Court concluded that the unique circumstances presented by this foreign asbestos case created the "overwhelming hardship" required for a forum non conveniens dismissal under Delaware law.
Although Martinez challenges the Superior Court's forum non conveniens determination, she has not demonstrated that the dismissal constituted an abuse of discretion. The Superior Court specifically addressed this Court's forum non conveniens jurisprudence, acknowledging the high burden borne by a defendant seeking dismissal on that basis. As the record reflects, the Superior Court understood and conducted a detailed analysis of each of the Cryo-Maid factors, focusing on the multiple, practical problems and costs that litigating these Argentine occupational injury cases in Delaware would impose on DuPont and on the courts of Delaware.
More specifically, the Superior Court acted fully within its discretion under our precedent by giving weight to the novelty and importance of the legal issues presented in this case — especially since the governing law is set forth in Spanish, not English. That court permissibly concluded that those issues were more appropriately determined by the courts of the only sovereign whose law is at stake — Argentina — just as this Court has recognized that novel or important issues of Delaware law are best determined by Delaware courts.
Moreover, the policy issue underlying this case implicates important interests of Argentina itself, because its resolution could influence the willingness of corporations to conduct operations in Argentina.
We do not premise our affirmance on a conclusion that the Superior Court correctly decided that DuPont was not a proper defendant. Rather, we uphold the Superior Court's proper focus on a difficult and open issue of Argentine law, as supportive of that court's repeatedly expressed concerns about the resulting hardship DuPont would face. Specifically, a Delaware court was being asked to decide complex and unsettled issues of Argentine tort law, based on expert testimony extrapolating from sources of law expressed in a foreign language, that do not arise out of factual contexts like those presented in these asbestos exposure cases.
When read in full context, the Superior Court's ruling clearly focused on the implicit and logical corollary of the fourth Cyro-Maid factor, which instructs courts to consider "whether the controversy is dependent upon the application of Delaware law which the courts of this State more properly should decide than those of another jurisdiction."
Prior Law Changed
It should be evident from the foregoing discussion that there is tension among our prior forum non conveniens decisions that we cannot ignore. We respect the dissent's differing view as to how those tensions should be reconciled, and recognize that reasonable minds can part company on that point. That said, we conclude, based on the evolution of our case law and insights gleaned from that experience, that some prior decisions gave inadequate weight to the discretionary power of the trial courts to recognize the Cryo-Maid factor implicated here — the importance of the right of all parties (not only plaintiffs) to have important, uncertain questions of law decided by the courts whose law is at stake;
We take this opportunity to provide additional guidance on a question, left unresolved in Taylor, concerning Delaware trial court's inherent authority, to "promote the efficient administration of justice."
We decline to adopt a broad mandate that would require a trial court, in all cases, to address public interest factors in its forum non conveniens analysis.
Accordingly, it was not an abuse of discretion for the Superior Court to conclude, based on its review of the facts and circumstances presented, and without consideration of other potential lawsuits, that this factor favored DuPont because it would be extraordinarily expensive, cumbersome, and inconsistent with the efficient administration of justice for DuPont to litigate these 32 related matters in Delaware.
For these and the other substantial reasons articulated by the Superior Court, we hold that the Superior Court acted within its discretion in determining that the relevant forum non conveniens analysis tipped overwhelmingly in favor of dismissal. Thus, we affirm the judgment of the Superior Court on the basis of the forum non conveniens analysis set forth in its opinion dated December 5, 2012.
The dissent asserts that our majority decision is driven, not from a genuine difference of opinion regarding the proper direction of forum non conveniens law, but rather from a hidden agenda of safeguarding Delaware's corporate franchise. We disclaim any such hidden motive or agenda, which we agree should play no role in this forum non conveniens debate.
BERGER, Justice, dissenting:
The majority holds that the trial court acted within its discretion in granting DuPont's motion to dismiss on the basis of forum non conveniens. After reviewing the well established Delaware law, and noting that the trial court applied each of the Cryo-Maid
In order to make a statement about Delaware's corporate franchise, the majority announces a non-existent "tension among our prior forum non conveniens decisions that we cannot ignore."
At the outset, the majority reviews the "well established" Delaware forum non conveniens law. In that process, the majority relies on such cases as Ison v. E.I. DuPont de Nemours & Co.
The trial court apparently recognized that dismissal would not be appropriate under existing law. Although it reviewed the six Cryo-Maid factors, the trial court stated that DuPont faces overwhelming hardship because it should not be a defendant:
Whether Martinez sued the wrong defendant has no bearing on whether Dupont will suffer overwhelming hardship if forced to litigate in Delaware. DuPont's status as a proper defendant requires an independent legal analysis that is separate from a forum non conveniens analysis.
The majority rewrites decades of precedent, saying that it must resolve "tension" in the existing law. But there was no tension in this Court until now. To shore up a result that would have been reversed under settled law, the majority says that "under our precedent" it was appropriate for the trial court to conclude that novel and important legal issues "were more appropriately determined by the courts of the only sovereign whose law is at stake—Argentina—just as ... novel or important issues of Delaware law are best determined by Delaware courts."
This Court has repeatedly held that "the trial court is not permitted to compare Delaware, the plaintiff's chosen forum, with an alternate forum and decide which is the more appropriate location for the dispute to proceed."
The Taylor decision is only one of more than a dozen cases holding that the applicability of foreign law, and all the inconvenience and expense associated with foreign experts, translators, etc., are not important factors that warrant dismissal on the ground of forum non conveniens.
Just as there is no "tension" to justify overruling settled law, there is no independent support for the majority's statement that this case involves difficult and novel issues of Argentine law. The majority adopts the trial court's conclusion that the "direct participant doctrine" is the basis for Martinez's claim against DuPont. It then extensively quotes the trial court's description of the Argentine experts' discussion of that doctrine, and whether it is recognized under Argentine law.
The majority never discusses or decides whether the trial court correctly analyzed Martinez's claims, because if it did, the majority might not be able to get to its real point — that Delaware corporate law should be decided in Delaware and that other jurisdictions should "stay in their lane." By making novel or important issues of foreign law a significant factor in favor of dismissing a Delaware action, the majority is demonstrating its willingness to stay in its own lane. Unfortunately, this new approach means that a plaintiff's choice of forum is considerably less secure.
The majority opinion is a cause for concern. Not surprisingly, the DuPont company has never before argued forum non conveniens successfully. It is a Delaware corporation whose headquarters is in Wilmington, Delaware. But the majority holds that it would be an overwhelming hardship for DuPont to defend a toxic tort claim if litigated five blocks from its headquarters. The majority says that it is resolving "tension" in the law, when there was neither tension nor any other acceptable reason to change the law. It then reverses decades of this Court's consistent law without even a nod to the doctrine of stare decisis. The majority strains to recast the trial court's decision, and the law, in order to make the point that other jurisdictions should not interfere with the Delaware corporate franchise. That message should not drive a decision on forum non conveniens.
Under federal jurisprudence, this type of consideration would be treated as a "public interest" factor. Id. Although we believe that the Superior Court acted within its discretion to consider this fact under the fourth Cyro-Maid factor — which asks whether the controversy is dependent upon the application of Delaware law — we note that this and similar considerations may also be properly considered, as we discuss later, by trial courts under the sixth Cyro-Maid factor, which instructs courts to consider "all other practical problems that would make the trial of the case easy, expeditious and inexpensive." Gen. Foods Corp. v. Cryo-Maid, Inc., 198 A.2d 681, 684 (Del. 1964).
The trial court attempted to distinguish Ison by stating that this case has no Delaware connections. But Martinez alleged that DuPont either shipped the asbestos from Delaware or that DuPont purchased the asbestos that allegedly caused the injury. Martinez also alleges that DuPont sent employees to work at the plant in Argentina. Moreover, even the trial court admitted that it "[was] hard-pressed to distinguish the circumstances here from those in cases like Candlewood, In Re Asbestos (Abou-Antoun), or others that have declined to find `overwhelming hardship.'" Martinez v. I.E. du Pont de Nemours & Co., 2012 WL 6840578, at *30 (Del. Super. Ct. Dec. 5, 2012).