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Sunil Gupta, M.D., LLC v. Lauten

United States District Court, S.D. Alabama, Southern Division

January 12, 2018

SUNIL GUPTA, M.D., LLC d/b/a Retina Specialty Institute, Plaintiff,
WRIGHT B. LAUTEN, Defendant.



         This action is before the Court on the motion to dismiss for forum non conveniens (Doc. 34) filed by Defendant Wright B. Lauten. The Court has referred the motion (Doc. 34) to the undersigned Magistrate Judge for entry of a recommendation as to the appropriate disposition, in accordance with 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B)-(C), Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 72(b), and S.D. Ala. GenLR 72(a)(2)(S). See (Doc. 33 at 1); S.D. Ala. GenLR 72(b); (11/15/2017 electronic referral).

         Plaintiff Sunil Gupta, M.D., LLC, d/b/a Retina Specialty Institute (“RSI”) has timely filed a response (Doc. 36) in opposition to the motion, and Lauten has timely filed a reply (Doc. 38) to the response.[1] The motion is now under submission (see Doc. 33 at 1) and is ripe for disposition. Upon consideration, the undersigned RECOMMENDS that Lauten's motion to dismiss for forum non conveniens (Doc. 34) be GRANTED.

         I. Background

         On or about November 23, 2016, Lauten brought a state court action in the Circuit Court of Mobile County, Alabama, Case No. 02-CV-2016-902495 (hereinafter, “the State Court Action”), asserting numerous claims against RSI and its individual members (collectively, the “RSI Group”). In order to fully resolve all claims between them in the State Court Action, on or about January 5, 2017, Lauten and the RSI Group entered into a settlement agreement (hereinafter, “the Settlement Agreement”). Following the execution of the Settlement Agreement, all claims between Lauten and the RSI Group were dismissed with prejudice in the State Court Action on January 18, 2017. (See Doc. 1 at 3, ¶¶ 9 - 11).

         RSI initiated the present action by filing a Complaint for Declaratory Judgment (Doc. 1) with the Court. The one-count Complaint, brought under the federal Declaratory Judgment Act, 28 U.S.C. §§ 2201-2202, seeks a declaration of Lauten's obligations to RSI under certain provisions of the Settlement Agreement.

         II. Analysis

         Lauten argues that this action is due to be dismissed under the doctrine of forum non conveniens because the Settlement Agreement contains a forum-selection clause specifying a non-federal forum for any claims based on the terms of the Settlement Agreement.[2] See Pappas v. Kerzner Int'l Bahamas Ltd., 585 F. App'x 962, 964 (11th Cir. 2014) (per curiam) (unpublished) (“[I]n Atlantic Marine Construction Co. v. United States District Court, 571 U.S. __, 134 S.Ct. 568, 187 L.Ed.2d 487 (2013), …the Supreme Court declared that a motion to dismiss for forum non conveniens, and not a Rule 12(b)(3) motion for improper venue, is the appropriate means to enforce a valid forum-selection clause if that clause requires the dispute to be litigated in a non-federal forum.”). To obtain dismissal of a case for forum non conveniens, generally “[t]he moving party must demonstrate that (1) an adequate alternative forum is available, (2) the public and private factors weigh in favor of dismissal, and (3) the plaintiff can reinstate his suit in the alternative forum without undue inconvenience or prejudice[, ]” and the “defendant has the burden of persuasion as to all elements of a forum non conviens motion…” Leon v. Millon Air, Inc., 251 F.3d 1305, 1311 (11th Cir. 2001).

         However, in Atlantic Marine, “the Supreme Court set forth a modified version of the forum non conveniens doctrine applicable in cases where there is a valid forum-selection clause in a contract…Under that version, the burden is on the plaintiff to show that dismissal of the complaint is unwarranted…” Pappas, 585 Fed.Appx. at 964 (citing Atlantic Marine, 134 S.Ct. at 581-83)). In that regard, Atlantic Marine held as follows:

In the typical case not involving a forum-selection clause, a district court considering a [28 U.S.C.] § 1404(a) motion (or a forum non conveniens motion)[3] must evaluate both the convenience of the parties and various public-interest considerations. Ordinarily, the district court would weigh the relevant factors and decide whether, on balance, a transfer would serve “the convenience of parties and witnesses” and otherwise promote “the interest of justice.” § 1404(a).
The calculus changes, however, when the parties' contract contains a valid forum-selection clause, which represents the parties' agreement as to the most proper forum. The enforcement of valid forum-selection clauses, bargained for by the parties, protects their legitimate expectations and furthers vital interests of the justice system. For that reason, and because the overarching consideration under § 1404(a) is whether a transfer would promote the interest of justice, a valid forum-selection clause should be given controlling weight in all but the most exceptional cases. The presence of a valid forum-selection clause requires district courts to adjust their usual § 1404(a) analysis in three ways.
First, the plaintiff's choice of forum merits no weight. Rather, as the party defying the forum-selection clause, the plaintiff bears the burden of establishing that transfer to the forum for which the parties bargained is unwarranted. Because plaintiffs are ordinarily allowed to select whatever forum they consider most advantageous (consistent with jurisdictional and venue limitations), we have termed their selection the plaintiff's venue privilege. But when a plaintiff agrees by contract to bring suit only in a specified forum-presumably in exchange for other binding promises by the defendant-the plaintiff has effectively exercised its venue privilege before a dispute arises. Only that initial choice deserves deference, and the plaintiff must bear the burden of showing why the court should not transfer the case to the forum to which the parties agreed.
Second, a court evaluating a defendant's § 1404(a) motion to transfer based on a forum-selection clause should not consider arguments about the parties' private interests. When parties agree to a forum-selection clause, they waive the right to challenge the preselected forum as inconvenient or less convenient for themselves or their witnesses, or for their pursuit of the litigation. A court accordingly must deem the private-interest factors to weigh entirely in favor of the preselected forum...[W]hatever inconvenience the parties would suffer by being forced to litigate in the contractual forum as they agreed to do was clearly foreseeable at the time of contracting.
As a consequence, a district court may consider arguments about public-interest factors only. Because those factors will rarely defeat a transfer motion, the practical result is that forum-selection clauses should control except in unusual cases. Although it is conceivable in a particular case that the district court would refuse to transfer a case ...

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