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DMC Machinery America Corp. v. Heartland Machine & Engineering, LLC

United States District Court, S.D. Indiana, Indianapolis Division

September 25, 2018

DMC MACHINERY AMERICA CORP., Plaintiff,
v.
HEARTLAND MACHINE & ENGINEERING, LLC, et al. Defendants.

          ORDER ON MOTION TO DISMISS FOR FORUM NON CONVENIENS (DKT. 117)

          SARAH EVANS BARKER, UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT JUDGE

         Plaintiff DMC Machinery America (“DMC America”), a Michigan corporation, filed this action for breach of contract and business torts against Defendants Hanwha Corporation (“Hanwha”), a South Korean corporation, Ilrim Nano Tec Company (“Ilrim”), also a South Korean corporation, and Heartland Machine & Engineering (“Heartland”), an Indiana single-member limited liability company. Now before the Court is Defendant Hanwha Corporation's (“Hanwha”) motion to dismiss for forum non conveniens. For the reasons explained below, the motion is granted.

         Background

         This case comes before the Court on transfer from the Northern District of Illinois. Dkts. 75, 76. There, the Hon. John W. Harrah granted the motion of defendant FFG DMC Company (“FFG”), a South Korean corporation, to dismiss it from the action for forum non conveniens. Dkts. 64, 65. Judge Harrah also granted Hanwha's separate motion to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction, see Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(2), improper venue, see Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(3), and, in the alternative, forum non conveniens. Dkts. 66, 67. DMC America then filed an unopposed motion to transfer the action to this district, Dkt. 71, which Judge Harrah granted. Dkt. 74. On arrival here, DMC America sought and was granted leave to file an amended complaint, which brought Hanwha (but not FFG) back into the case. Dkt. 104. Hanwha responded by filing the instant motion. Dkt. 117.

         The factual background of the case is twice set out in Judge Darrah's rulings, Dkt. 65, at 1-3, Dkt. 67, at 1-3, and the now operative amended complaint, Dkt. 104, is identical in relevant parts to the original complaint, Dkt. 1, reviewed by Judge Darrah. See Dkt. 97 ¶ 7. Accordingly, we see no need to fully restate the facts here.

         In brief, under the terms of two South Korean contracts, the “Share Transfer Agreement” and the “Export Agency Agreement, ” DMC America, an American subsidiary of Ilrim, alleges it has the exclusive right to distribute FFG's products, computer numerical control or “CNC” machine tools, in the United States. But, it alleges further, FFG has in fact been selling its products to Hanwha, who in turn has sold them to Heartland for distribution in the U.S. market. DMC America claims this to be breach of the Share Transfer and Export Agency Agreements (Count I) and intentional interference with contractual relationships (Counts II, III). DMC America also claims that Heartland is in breach of a purchase agreement for machine tools and parts (Count IV).

         Analysis

         “[A] district court may dismiss a case on forum non conveniens grounds when it determines that there are ‘strong reasons for believing it should be litigated in the courts of another, normally a foreign, jurisdiction.” Deb v. SIRVA, Inc., 832 F.3d 800, 805 (7th Cir. 2016) (italics added) (quoting Fischer v. Magyar Államvasutak Zrt., 777 F.3d 847, 866 (7th Cir. 2015)). We have no cause to decide whether, under the Erie doctrine, state or federal forum non conveniens law applies in diversity cases (including this mixed diversity and alienage case), a question the Supreme Court has three times left open. Seales v. Panamanian Aviation Co., No. 07-CV-2901 (CPS)(CLP), 2009 WL 395821, at *10 n.11 (E.D.N.Y. Feb. 18, 2009) (citing cases). The parties are in tacit agreement that federal law applies, and the “vast majority” of federal circuits who have decided the question apply federal law. Esfeld v. Costa Crociere, S.P.A, 289 F.3d 1300, 1305 (11th Cir. 2002). See Id. n.8 (citing cases). We follow their lead here.

         “While many considerations are part of th[e] [forum non conveniens] inquiry, the focus is ‘the convenience to the parties and the practical difficulties that can attend the adjudication of a dispute in a certain locality.'” Fischer, 777 F.3d at 866 (quoting Sinochem Int'l Co. v. Malaysia Int'l Shipping Corp., 549 U.S. 422, 429 (2007)). The inquiry proceeds in two steps. Kamel v. Hill-Rom Co., 108 F.3d 799, 802-03 (7th Cir. 1997). “[A] court first must determine if an alternative and adequate forum is available and then go on to balance the interests of the various participants.” Deb, 832 F.3d at 807 (citing Kamel, 108 F.3d at 802).

         The first step itself involves “a two-part inquiry: availability and adequacy.” Kamel, 108 F.3d at 802. “An alternative forum is available if all parties are amenable to process and are within the forum's jurisdiction. An alternative forum is adequate when the parties will not be deprived of all remedies or treated unfairly.” Id. at 803 (internal citation omitted) (citing Piper Aircraft Co. v. Reyno, 454 U.S. 235, 265-66 (1981)). If the defendant passes the first step, “the court decides whether to keep or dismiss the case by weighing various private and public interest factors.” In re Bridgestone/Firestone, Inc., Tires Prod. Liab. Litig., 420 F.3d 702, 704 (7th Cir. 2005). Beginning from a strong presumption in favor of plaintiff's chosen forum, Deb, 832 F.3d at 806, courts weigh and balance the “rather alarming[ly]” nonexclusive “laundry list” of factors, Abad v. Bayer Corp., 563 F.3d 663, 668 (7th Cir. 2009), set out in Gulf Oil Corp. v. Gilbert, 330 U.S. 501 (1947):

the relative ease of access to sources of proof; availability of compulsory process for attendance of unwilling, and the cost of obtaining attendance of willing, witnesses; possibility of view of premises, if view would be appropriate to the action; and all other practical problems that make trial of a case easy, expeditious and inexpensive. There may also be questions as to the enforceability of a judgment if one is obtained. The court will weigh relative advantages and obstacles to fair trial. It is often said that the plaintiff may not, by choice of an inconvenient forum, “vex, ” “harass, ” or “oppress” the defendant by inflicting upon him expense or trouble not necessary to his own right to pursue his remedy. . . .
Administrative difficulties follow for courts when litigation is piled up in congested centers instead of being handled at its origin. Jury duty is a burden that ought not to be imposed upon the people of a community which has no relation to the litigation. In cases which touch the affairs of many persons, there is reason for holding the trial in their view and reach rather than in remote parts of the country where they can learn of it by report only. There is a local interest in having localized controversies decided at home. There is an appropriateness, too, in having the trial of a diversity case in a forum that is at home with the state law that must govern the case, rather than having a court in some other forum untangle problems in conflict of laws, and in law foreign to itself.

Abad, 563 F.3d at 668 (ellipsis in original) (quoting Gilbert, 330 U.S. at 508-09).

         Before proceeding to the merits of Hanwha's motion, however, we must address the parties' argument over whether DMC America is barred from relitigating Judge Darrah's forum non conveniens ruling as to Hanwha under the doctrine of ...


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