The doctrine of forum non conveniens is applied with great inconsistency by federal district courts. The forum non conveniens analysis is, to quote Justice Scalia, “multifarious,” but what weight should be given to those factors is left to the trial court to decide, with a de novo standard of review sometimes leading to vastly divergent outcomes in practice. Despite Justice Ginsberg’s famous dictum that the Sinochem case was a “textbook,” example he Supreme Court’s Sinochem decision has been little help in providing a standard of what a forum non conveniens dismissal should look like.  There are many questions left unanswered about the proper application of the doctrine.  What does an “adequate alternative forum” look like, anyway?

The Supreme Court, in setting guidelines for granting a motion for forum non conveniens, has required the existence of an alternate adequate forum. However, beyond the condition that an adequate alternate forum is one where the defendant is “amenable to process,” the Supreme Court has not provided much further guidance. Various factors have been examined to determine whether there is any empirical evidence of what may constitute an adequate alternate forum. For example, there is evidence that district courts in the Third and Fourth Circuits are less likely to find a foreign forum to be adequate. District courts are more likely to consider cases based on diversity jurisdiction to be adequate to resolve in a foreign forum than cases based on federal question jurisdiction. Defense litigants themselves indicate a preference of litigating in the United States versus litigating in countries that lack civil liberties, lack political rights, are politically unstable, have ineffective governments, disregard the rule of law, cannot control corruption, and are not as economically developed. In addition, district courts have been less likely to find an adequate forum in countries with these conditions. Ultimately, there is not evidence that would suggest the legal system in another country, the foreign language spoken, or the amount in controversy have an effect in influencing a district court’s view on the adequacy of the foreign forum.[1]

Although Sinochem reaffirmed the lowered presumption in favor of a foreign plaintiff, there is still little guidance otherwise as to how the factors of a forum non conveniens analysis should be weighed against one another.  As is illustrated by the contrast among the cases discussed earlier, the high degree of judicial discretion renders it almost impossible to define precisely the “multifarious factors” that go into the forum non conveniens analysis.  There is no meaningful yardstick against which to compare a “textbook” case for an immediate forum non conveniens dismissal.  But why should this be a concern?  Some might argue that it would serve the interest of justice to grant the district court judge a wide berth for discretion.

As it stands, the doctrine of forum non conveniens presents an unnecessary obstacle to both parties in cases where it is an issue, and the absence of stricter appellate oversight directly facilitates this inefficiency.  In Sinochem, the Supreme Court has given the lower courts a tightened up version of the forum non conveniens analysis, but left them without the equipment necessary to properly oversee its inevitably inconsistent application.  In the wake of Sinochem, which reaffirmed the lowered presumption in favor of a foreign plaintiff in forum non conveniens analyses, the need for further clarification of the doctrine has already arisen.  This is already reflected by the competing interpretations of the “textbook” language, and more such ambiguities are likely to be found in the broad language of the Sinochem opinion.

Though there may be something to be said about the ease with which the current standard accommodates diplomatic concerns, it is hardly clear that this would satisfy the multifarious analysis as intended by the Sinochem court.  It has been observed that “if inconsistency is the rule – would it not be just as well for the parties to select some other method (perhaps flipping a coin?) to decide the outcome?”[2]  Currently the doctrine of forum non conveniens stands as an impediment to the important goals of predictability and consistency, and thereby affects the very foundation of fairness and efficiency on which the judicial process is based.  Furthermore, since there is no evidence that the competing goal of conservation of judicial resources (by means of docket clearing) is being advanced, it can hardly be said to justify of the problems of the doctrine in its present incarnation.


[1] Michael T. Lii, An Empirical Examination of the Adequate Alternative Forum in the Doctrine of Forum Non Conveniens. 8 Rich. J. Global L. & Bus. 513 at 551 (2009).

[2] Robert J. Thornton and Perry A. Zirkel, The Consistency and Predictability of Grievance Arbitration Awards, 43 Industrial & Labor Relations Review 294.

Fix It Again, Treasury

August 15, 2011

An interesting piece in the Wall Street Journal, suggesting that the sun is setting on fiat money:

Forty years of persistent monetary interventionism have left the economy addicted to cheap credit and continuous asset inflation. Forty years of monetary expansionism have led to distorted prices, misdirected economic activity and unsustainable debt levels. Since Lehman Brothers we know that the accumulated imbalances have become so momentous that a market-driven liquidation of them is deemed politically unacceptable. Credit correction, debt deflation and liquidation—as much as the market is craving them to cleanse the economy of its dislocations—will not be allowed under any circumstances.

The central banks are now boxed in. There is no exit strategy. Low interest rates and further credit growth must be sustained at all cost, and as the private sector becomes reluctant to participate, the state is increasingly the “borrower of last resort” to the central bank’s “lender of last resort.” The Fed will engage in QE3, then in QE4. After mortgage-backed securities and Treasuries, it will be corporate bonds, auto loans and credit card debt that will also end up on the central bank’s balance sheet—and, of course, more Treasurys. The ECB will continue to accumulate the ever-growing debt of European sovereigns. But when the public realizes that the mirage of solvency is only being maintained by ever-faster money creation, the confidence in the state’s paper money will evaporate quickly.[1]

The United States began its monetary history under bimetallism, a monetary policy recognizing both silver and gold as money.  Indeed, gold was the advent, as silver was considered the “ancient money.”[2]  Gold- rarer and more valuable- ultimately came to prominence. But all this changed under President Roosevelt:

In 1933, the U.S. Congress passed the Joint Resolution of June 5, 1933 that abolished all gold clauses in all public and private contracts. This meant that contracts could not require payment in gold. The Gold Reserve Act of 1934 went further, withdrawing all gold coin from circulation to be formed into gold bars. Even the Treasury could not hold gold coin unless it was in the form of gold bullion.  The Gold Reserve Act was intended to “abolish[] gold coin as a component of our monetary system.” Gold was thereafter not money, but rather a commodity. The public could not get gold in the United States. Coin collectors were able to hold gold coins but only those of numismatic value.

Gold remained in circulation for international transactions involving the federal government until 1971 when the U.S. government ceased supplying gold to foreign central banks. In short, hard currency no longer exists in the U.S. monetary system except in the form of coinage. The U.S. government systematically, from 1933 to 1971, obliterated any notion of a value standard by refusing to permit the conversion of its paper money into gold and forcing the acceptance of its inferior paper currency. By putting an end to redeemability, policymakers eliminated an effective means for imposing discipline on government-issued money. The way was opened to abuse on a grand scale.[3]

The merits of returning to a commodity-backed currency has been discussed for decades:

[U]sing present-day terminology, gold was the principal international reserve asset, although after the Great War the increasing use of foreign exchange as reserves led the variant of the gold standard in operation from 1925 to 1933 to be called a “gold exchange” standard. However, the essential element in the international gold standard — and this is a crucial point in contemporary discussions of a return to the gold standard — was that there was a close link between the domestic money supply in each country and its gold holdings. It was an “essential element of the classical gold standard… that the money supply must be limited by the gold reserves and a change in the gold reserves should be followed by a change in monetary policy.”  In part this link was reflected in “gold cover requirements,” such as the provision of United States law specifying the value of gold that had to “back” issuances of currency. More fundamental were the institutional arrangements in each country causing increased or decreased public gold holdings to lead respectively to a larger or smaller money supply.[4]


[1] Detlev S. Schlichter, Forty Years of Paper Money: Fiat currencies always end in hyperinflation and economic collapse. http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424053111903918104576500811399421094.html?mod=googlenews_wsj (August 15, 2011).

[2] For a fascinating discussion on this topic, see: Ali Khan, The Evolution of Money: A Story of Constitutional Nullifcation, 67 U. Cin. L. Rev. 393 at 402-403 (1993).

[3] Lewis D. Solomon, Local Currency: A Legal and Policy Analysis, 5 Kan. J.L. & Pub. Pol’y 59 at 64 (1996) [citations omitted].

[4] Kenneth W. Dam, From the Gold Clause Cases to the Gold Commission: A Half Century of American Monetary Law, 50 U. Chi. L. Rev. 504 at 508 (1983) [citations omitted].

The modern doctrine of forum non conveniens

Forum non conveniens, literally “the forum not coming together,” is a common law doctrine by which a suit must be dismissed if the choice of forum, because of its geographical location, presents an undue burden on one or more of the parties.  In its most recent ruling on the subject, Sincohem Int’l v. Malayasia Int’l Shipping,[1] the Supreme Court offered a new synthesis of the federal doctrine of forum non conveniens.  In addition to resolving the central legal issue of case,[2] the unanimous opinion of the Court offered a compelling dicta: that the Sinochem case presented a textbook example of a forum non conveniens dismissal.

Since 2007 when Sinochem was decided, much has been made of the “textbook” language, as it seemed to go a long way toward clarification of the murky circumstances that warrant a forum non conveniens dismissal.   Indeed, the most pernicious problem surrounding the doctrine is the utter lack of consistency and predictability endemic to forum non conveniens litigation.  However, as we can plainly see from a new crop of forum non coveniens wildly divergent litigation, this problem has not be solved.

Two recent federal trial court cases make this point salient.  The wrongful death case arising from the Air France 447 crash was recently dismissed:

The U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California dismissed the plaintiffs’ first suit in October 2010, accepting the airline’s forum non conveniens argument that France was the natural jurisdiction for cases arising from the crash of Flight 447, given that most of the defendants were French.

[...]

The plaintiffs tried to get around this argument by dropping all French defendants from the suit, naming as defendants only the U.S. companies that manufactured various components to the crashed Airbus 330. As such, the plaintiffs argued that France was no longer an available venue for their complaint.

The San Francisco-based court rejected this ploy saying that plaintiffs “cannot purposefully defeat the availability of a foreign forum and then assert unavailability to defeat forum non conveniens dismissal.”[3]

Contrast that case with the highly politicized New York case Keren Elmaliach v. Bank of China Ltd.:

In Keren Elmaliach v. Bank of China Ltd., 102026/09, New York Supreme Court Justice Barbara R. Kapnick ruled that while banks generally have no duty to protect non-customers from intentional wrongs committed by its customers, the plaintiffs had alleged facts suggesting that the state-owned Chinese bank was specifically told that it was funding terrorism and took no action. Kapnick also refused to dismiss the case on forum non conveniens grounds.[4]

The differences of outcome in these two cases is striking.  For the point of view of a  forum non conveniens analysis, there is little difference if evidence is to be had in France or China.  Indeed, China is about as far away from New York as France is from California.  The same difficulties are present in either case, so why did opposite results occur?  If there is truly a “textbook” example of a forum non conveniens dimissal, then surely it ought to serve as a useful yardstick for measuring the likelihood of such a dismissal.  Yet, there is no consistency nor predictability to be had, and as will be shown in the course of this paper, this is a direct result of the failure of the forum non conveniens doctrine to keep up with changing technology, and a failure of adequate appellate oversight of a doctrine that permits too wide a berth for the discretion of the trial court.

Prerequisites for a forum non conveniens dismissal

The doctrine of forum non conveniens allows a case to be dismissed before a hearing on the merits, even when the court might otherwise have valid jurisdiction.[5]   In order to dismiss a case on the basis of forum non conveniens the trial court must determine that there are practical considerations which render the location of the court “excessively burdensome.”[6]   The trial judge is permitted wide latitude in making the determination whether or not to dismiss on grounds of forum non conveniens, with little room for appellate supervision.  With surprisingly little guidance or oversight coming from the courts above, there is a great deal of disparity and unpredictability in the application of this doctrine. However, some of the major Supreme Court cases have attempted to clarify these muddied waters.

To determine if a case ought to be dismissed under the doctrine, the trial court judge must first ascertain whether or not an alternative forum exists in which the plaintiff’s case can be heard; if not, a forum non conveniens motion cannot go forward.  If there is determined to be an adequate alternative forum, the judge then must apply a balancing test to decide if dismissal is appropriate because of the practical considerations resulting from the location of the litigation.  In this analysis there are a number of factors relating to both the “public and private interest” which the judge must take into consideration before deciding if the practicalities of the forum warrant the dismissal of the case.[7]   These factors can include the location of evidence, the hardship which litigating in the forum would present to the defendant, and the “relative means of the parties.”[8]   A court must weigh “multifarious”[9] factors to make its determination, in a process that can become clouded by the competing interests of the plaintiff and the defendant, as well as overarching concerns of international diplomacy and judicial economy.

The origins of forum non conveniens           

In 1947 the Supreme Court decided Gulf Oil Corp. v. Gilbert,[10] which still stands as one of the seminal cases in the development of modern forum non conveniens doctrine.  In this case, an action brought in New York by a resident against a corporation based in Pennsylvania was dismissed on the basis on forum non conveniens.   It is here that we find the Court’s first analysis of the factors which make up the forum non conveniens balancing test, and this has served as the foundation for the development of forum non conveniens doctrine in later cases.  The Gilbert court observed that “unless the balance is strongly in favor of the defendant, the plaintiff’s choice of forum should rarely be disturbed.”[11]

In order to procure a forum non conveniens dismissal, the burden of proof rests upon the defendant to demonstrate compelling evidence that the forum is too burdensome.[12]  In practice, however, it seldom works out this way.  Indeed, Gilbert marks not only the first time the Supreme Court laid down this proscriptive principle of deference towards to the plaintiff’s choice of forum, it was simultaneously the first exception to this principle.  Although plaintiff’s choice of forum is purported to be given much weight, the analysis of the Gilbert court nevertheless concluded that the trial court’s decision to dismiss on forum non conveniens was not an abuse of discretion.[13]

In the case of Piper Aircraft v. Reyno, a wrongful death action was brought in United States federal courts on behalf of the Scottish victims of an air crash against the American manufacturer in United States federal court.[14]   In the Piper decision, the Court seems to have attempted to moderate its approach to forum non conveniens with an acknowledgement that there is nothing in the ruling which compels courts to ignore the possibility of an unfavorable change in law.    In upholding the dismissal by the district court, Justice Marshall noted that a viable forum awaited the defendants, namely the courts of the United Kingdom, where “there is no danger that [the plaintiffs] will be deprived of any remedy or treated unfairly.”[15]

There is a substantial degree of continuity between Gilbert and Piper, insofar as the former served as the theoretical foundation for the latter, and the latter was thoroughly rooted in the former.  The reasoning in the Gilbert case appears to have been refracted in the lens of the Piper ruling, and as a result this has led to a trend in later decisions which runs counter to the original doctrine as espoused in Gilbert, and even Piper itself, both of which cautioned that the test must weigh greatly in favor of the defendant in order to tip the scales against the plaintiff.  Yet the distinction here is often too subtle to meet the threshold required for an abuse of discretion on the part of the trial judge.  Thus there is not much that can be done on the part of the appellate courts to curb this distortion of the doctrine by the trial courts.

Standard of review

The decision whether or not to dismiss on grounds of forum non conveniens “is committed to the sound discretion of the trial court. It may be reversed only when there has been a clear abuse of discretion[.]”[16]  This is a very important feature of the doctrine, as it serves to shield the decision of the trial court from appellate oversight, so long as the trial court’s reasoning is not so egregiously incorrect as to constitute an “abuse of discretion.”  The Supreme Court has held fast to this standard.  For instance in the Koster case the Court maintained that, with respect to the forum non conveniens balancing test, “far from laying down a rigid rule to govern discretion we said, ‘each case turns on its facts.’”[17]  It is because of this loose standard of review that forum non conveniens analyses of different courts under similar circumstances can often lead to wildly unpredictable and contradictory results.

The lack of consistency and predictability in forum non conveniens litigation

The court in Piper seemed to fear that if the choice of law became a conclusive or even substantial consideration, the courts would “have to compare the rights, remedies, and procedures available.”[18]  The fear being that these concerns would take undue primacy in the already clouded calculus that is the forum non conveniens balancing test.  The unfortunate result, however, is that “forum non conveniens cannot really be relied upon in making decisions about secondary conduct — in deciding, for example, where to sue or where one is subject to being sued. The discretionary nature of the doctrine, combined with the multifariousness of the factors relevant to its application, make uniformity and predictability of outcome almost impossible.”[19]  The lower courts do indeed take “rights, remedies, and procedures” into consideration, albeit with inconsistent results.

The telecommunication advances which have advanced globalization in recent decades have on the one hand increased the amount of complex transnational litigation and on the other have significantly eased the burden that this type of litigation once posed.  As the information age marches on, some of the decades-old concerns voiced by the courts which gave rise to the present incarnation of the doctrine seem out of date and anachronistic by modern standards.[20]  Appellate oversight of forum non conveniens doctrine has simply not kept pace with changes in technology.  The physical location of evidence or witnesses is the determinative factor it was in the days of Piper or Gilbert.  As Judge Newman wisely observed, “it will often be quicker and less expensive to transfer a witness or a document than to transfer a lawsuit.”[21]

Changing the standard of review

One possible solution to the broken forum non conveniens doctrine is to alter the standard of appellate review for forum non conveniens dismissals, viz. changing it from the current abuse of discretion standard to a standard of de novo review, allowing for heightened appellate oversight.  At present the doctrine attempts to accomplish two conflicting goals, and in the process becomes susceptible to a vast disparity in interpretation.  And indeed, this schizophrenic nature of forum non conveniens was acknowledged in the Sinochem decision, where the Supreme Court felt it necessary to provide the lower courts something of a roadmap to this confused doctrine.

The Sinochem test streamlines the forum non conveniens analysis into three prongs, yet makes no provisions for its consistent application, and so the result is really no different that before, the application of the test still remains in the hands of the trial court alone, which, as we have seen, leads to unpredictable, and often contradictory, results.  As one commentator observed, the forum non conveniens balancing test “must weigh heavily in favor of the defendant before a court may dismiss, and the appropriate inquiry is not whether the trial court has reasonably balanced the factors, but whether the trial court’s balancing was correct.”[22]

Changing the standard of review would not limit the district court judge’s authority to dismiss based on forum non conveniens should the case so warrant.  A de novo standard would ensure that the analysis underlying the dismissal has been applied properly and in accordance with the standard as set out in Sinochem.  Thus, changing to a de novo standard of review ought to eliminate many of the difficulties posed by the doctrine in its present form. Otherwise, under the current regime of abuse of discretion review, the Sinochem ruling becomes yet another note in the multifarious chorus of forum non conveniens factors.  Short of implementing this new standard of appellate review there are no measures in place to assure that the correct weight is given to each factor of the balancing test and it is difficult to see how the Sinochem ruling will be enforced at all.

 

Conclusion

In a global community the number of international lawsuits brought in United States courts have inevitably increased, and in these sorts of cases the doctrine of forum non conveniens often occupies a place of central importance.  A forum non conveniens dismissal carries with it the potential that the case might never be heard at all.  Likewise, the rejection of a legitimate forum non conveniens motion can bring about a great deal of unnecessary litigation. Clearly this sort of inconsistency in application can be very unfair to plaintiffs and defendants alike, and is not what we want in our judicial system.

This presents a pressing public policy concern, and although the Sinochem decision did much to clear up procedural issues, the forum non conveniens analysis itself remains subject to only the loosest of oversight.  Although the rule of law set forth in Sinochem does help to put a finer point on the issue, it does not seem likely to change the current state of affairs unless further measures are taken. A change in the standard of review from abuse of discretion to de novo seems to be the most effective solution to the problem.  This would be the most effective way to correct the disparity and ensure that the proper balancing of factors is being made in the trial court’s forum non conveniens analysis.  It is imperative that this problem be addressed in order to properly oversee which cases truly warrant a forum non conveniens dismissal and which do not.


[1] Sinochem International Co., Ltd. v. Malaysia International Shipping Corporation, 549 U.S. 422 (2007)

[2] A district court has discretion to respond at once to a defendant’s forum non conveniens plea, and need not take up first any other threshold objection. In particular, a court need not resolve whether it has authority to adjudicate the cause (subject-matter jurisdiction) or personal jurisdiction over the defendant if it determines that, in any event, a foreign tribunal is the more suitable arbiter of the merits of the case. Id. at Pp. 5–12.

[3] Travis Sanford, Court Again Bars Case Over Air France Crash, June 21, 2011 http://www.courthousenews.com/2011/06/21/37561.htm

[4] Brendan Pierson, Judge Allows Exploration of Bank’s Role in Terrorism, July 18, 2011, http://www.law.com/jsp/article.jsp?id=1202501543028&Judge_Allows_Exploration_of_Banks_Role_in_Terrorism

[5] Sinochem, 127 S. Ct. at 1190-1191.

[6] Wiwa v. Royal Dutch Petroleum Co., et. al., 226 F.3d 88 (2d Cir. 2000).

[7] Piper Aircraft Co. v. Reyno, 454 U.S. 235, 257 (1981).

[8] Presbyterian Church of Sudan v. Talisman Energy, Inc., 244 F. Supp. 2d 289, 341 (S. D. N. Y. 2003).

[9] American Dredging Co. v. Miller, 510 U.S. 443 (1994), 455.

[10] Gulf Oil Corp. v. Gilbert, 330 U.S. 501 (1947).

[11] Id. at 502 – 509.

[12] Strategic Value Master Fund, Ltd. v. Cargill Fin. Serv. Corp., 421 F.2d 741, 754 (S. D. N. Y. 2006).

[13] Gilbert, 330 U.S. at 509-512.

[14] Piper, 454 U.S. at 254.

[15] Id. at 255.

[16] Id. at 257.

[17] Koster v. (American) Lumbermens Mut. Casualty Co., 330 U.S. 518, 528 [citation omitted].

[18] Piper, 454 U.S. at 251.

[19] American Dredging, 510 U. S. at 443.

[20] David W. Robertson, The Federal Doctrine of Forum Non Conveniens: “An Object Lesson in Uncontrolled Discretion, 29 Tex. Int’l L.J. 353, at 367. Illustrative of the problems that the doctrine of forum non conveniens represents as something of a judicial relic is Professor Roberston’s observation: “In 1947 the Gulf Oil Corporation 112 Court was persuaded that serious inconvenience would result from bringing a defendant to trial in New York on a case that belonged in Virginia. Consider what would have been involved in handling a Virginia matter in New York in that era. We had no commercial jet travel, no personal or office computers, no photocopy technology, no fax machines. Clerks and secretaries did not have electric typewriters, or even ‘white-out’ substances — we used manual typewriters and erasers.”  It is not simply that the old decisions are “out of touch” with the fast pace of the modern era, rather that the emphasis placed on these on these concerns is weighted too heavily in the forum non conveniens analysis.

[21] Calavo Growers of California v. Belgium, 632 F.2d 963, 969 (2d Cir. 1980)  (Newman, J., concurring), cert. denied.  Judge Newman goes on to opine that “[j]et travel and satellite communications have significantly altered the meaning of “non conveniens.”

[22] Jacqueline Duval-Major, One-Way Ticket Home: the Federal Doctrine of Forum Non Conveniens and the International Plaintiff, 77 Cornell L. Rev. 650, 684 (1992).

I commented on seeing this crisis coming over a year and a half ago, and I take no pleasure in seeing it borne out.  Via H&J, a recent report published in the Duke Law Journal states:

Sanction motions and sanction awards for e-discovery violations have been trending ever-upward for the last ten years and have now reached historic highs. At the same time, the frequency of sanctions against counsel for e-discovery violations, though small in number, is also increasing. Although serious e-discovery misconduct by parties and counsel should continue to be the subject of sanctions, appropriate consideration should be given to the complexity of e-discovery in ruling upon the increasingly frequent e-discovery sanction motion.

The e-discovery process is indeed complex.  But it is possible for a prudent attorney to avoid an ethical lapse with sufficient diligence and a thorough understanding of the technology involved in the process.  See, for instance, the Qualcom case:

One common but easily avoided e-discovery trap involves the failure to properly oversee the production of electronically stored information.  Courts are increasingly willing to sanction attorneys for failing to make “reasonable inquiry” into their clients’ production of electronically stored information during discovery.

[...]

The Qualcomm court determined that some of Qualcomm’s attorneys “assisted, either intentionally or by virtue of acting with reckless disregard for their discovery obligations” in Qualcomm’s discovery violations. While there was no direct evidence that Qualcomm’s attorneys helped to conceal damaging emails, the court found that the attorneys “contributed” to the discovery violation because they chose “to accept the unsubstantiated assurances of an important client that its search was sufficient” and ignored warning signs that Qualcomm’s document search and production were inadequate. The court imposed considerable sanctions against both Qualcomm and its attorneys because the attorneys did not make a “reasonable inquiry” into Qualcomm’s discovery search and production.  In addition to substantial monetary sanctions against Qualcomm, the court referred the sanctioned attorneys to the state bar for investigation and possible sanctions and ordered the attorneys to participate in a comprehensive discovery program to identify the failures in their case management and discovery protocol.

from Navigating E-Discovery: How to Avoid Common Pitfalls

In order to obtain service by publication there must be a “diligent search and inquiry” for the party being served.  It is the obligation of the party seeking service to embark upon this diligent search, and an affidavit attesting that such a search has indeed been performed must be filed with the court before attempt at service by publication can be valid.[1]

But what does a diligent search and inquiry look like?  The statutes aren’t very helpful in this regard, but the the case law might be instructive.  If  we look at the 1926 Florida Supreme Court case of Ortell v. Ortell,[2] we see at least what a diligent search ought not to look like:

The fact that this affidavit stated that the affiant believed the present mail address of the defendant to be Hendersonville, North Carolina, does not cure the defect with reference to the inadequacy of the affidavit as applied to the residence of the defedant [...]. For aught that appears in the affidavit, this “mailing address” may have been purely transient, temporary, and ineffective.  Furthermore, in view of the generality of the mailing address given, it would have been a better compliance with the spirit of the statute either to have given the street address in Hendersonville, which we judicially know was by no means a village[.]


[1] § 49.051 Fla. Stat. (2010)

[2] Marie Phyllis Ortell v. Frank J. Ortell, 91 Fla. 50 (1926)

What happens to a civil complaint where the opposing party cannot be served?  Such is often the case is divorces, what we call a “dissolution of marriage” action here in Florida, where the party seeking the divorce often has not had contact with the opposing party and may even be unaware of their whereabouts.  The answer is found in a form of service of process known as “constructive” service.

In order for a court to obtain jurisdiction over dissolution of marriage cases, proper service of process must be made upon the respondent.  Dissolutions of marriage are actions in rem, and thus the res of the action over which the court asserts jurisdiction is the marriage itself.  Therefore the court does not need personal jurisdiction over the respondent to dissolve a marriage; the court merely requires jurisdiction over the marriage itself, or one of the parties to the marriage (the petitioner).

Although the court needs no personal jurisdiction over the respondent, service of process upon the respondent is still required in order that the court to obtain a valid judgment over the res of the action.  In cases where the respondent cannot be found, and substituted service of process[1] cannot be made on an appropriate party, it is still possible to effect constructive service upon the respondent by means of service by publication.  Service by publication can only be had for proceedings in rem.[2]

An affidavit of diligent search and inquiry is a “condition precedent to service by publication.”[3] Diligent search and inquiry is essential to any attempt at constructive service.[4] The last known address of the defending party must be contained within the affidavit.  But what exactly constitutes a “diligent search and inquiry” with respect to service of process?  The answer is not as clear as one might like it to be, and as I will go on to show, this lack of clarity can be quite problematic when it comes to ensuring due process for respondents.


[1] “Substituted service and constructive service have not always been distinguished by the courts.” Trawick’s Florida Rules and Practice, Section 8:19, at page 165

[2] Id.

[3] Florida’s Statute Title VI, Chapter 49.031

[4] Trawick’s, supra N1, at page 169

According to a comparative study of fifty-nine nation by Koppel, Moody and Nemerov, published in the Texas Review of Law and Policy, concluded that “there is a statistically significant relationship between higher per capita gun ownership and freedom from corruption, economic freedom, and economic success. [...] As a general (but not invariable) rule, countries with more guns have more economic freedom, less corruption, and more economic success. [...] [T]he data raise serious doubts about whether the gun-reducing agenda makes sense as a categorical imperative, at least if freedom ranks highly in one’s hierarchy of values.”

The study went on to discuss some of the ways in which “Freedom causes guns” but also ways in which “guns cause freedom,” to wit: “American civil rights workers were able to protect themselves from the Ku Klux Klan because so many civil rights workers had guns.” The study also shows only rare circumstances in which guns reduce freedom, such as the Ivory Coast and the Congo, concluding that “guns in the wrong hands reduce freedom.”

Quote of the Day

July 14, 2009

The funniest thing I’ve heard in a while, during today’s Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing of Sonia Sotomayor.  After noting that Justice Scalia had consulted five dictionaries to determine the definition of the word “modified,” Senator Chuck Schumer asked, “Do you believe dictionaries are binding law in the United States?”

Many thanks to Caffeinated Thoughts author Shane Vander Hart for calling my attention to an interesting piece by Randy E. Barnett on the recent Senate Judiciary Committee’s confirmation hearing for Sonia Sotomayor.  I was dismayed to see an article in such a publication as the Wall Street Journal miss the mark so often with respect to some very basic issues Constitutional Law, so I wrote a response to some of the questions Mr. Barnett raised.

Mr. Barnett feels some of the following questions ought to be asked of the prospective Supreme Court Justice:

Does the Second Amendment protect an individual right to arms? What was the original meaning of the Privileges or Immunities Clause of the 14th Amendment? (Hint: It included an individual right to arms.)

I’m afraid Mr. Barnett is mistaken here. Nowhere in the text of the Constitution is there a mention of “an individual right to arms,” rather the Second Amendment protects a collective right to keep and bear arms, to wit: “the right of the people to keep and bear Arms shall not be infringed.”  Moreover, the recent precedent set by certain activists justices in D.C. v. Heller appears to have broadened this right significantly.

Does the 14th Amendment “incorporate” the Bill of Rights and, if so, how and why?

I certainly hope the Senate Judiciary Committee does not waste Mrs. Sotomayor’s valuable time in asking this question.  Simply put, yes the Fourteenth Amendment incorporates the Bill of Rights.

Does the Ninth Amendment protect judicially enforceable unenumerated rights?

As to the function of the Ninth Amendment, this can be a confusing subject, however upon some research I found a quote from Prof. Lawrence Tribe that sums up Mr. Barnett’s mistake quite nicely: “It is a common error, but an error nonetheless, to talk of ‘ninth amendment rights.’ The ninth amendment is not a source of rights as such; it is simply a rule about how to read the Constitution.”  So to ask whether the Ninth Amendment protects anything is really a logically incoherent question.

Does the Necessary and Proper Clause delegate unlimited discretion to Congress?

The “Necessary and Proper Clause,” Art. I Sec 8 Clause 18, does indeed delegate sweeping authority to the Congress, but it is by no means “unlimited,” if for no other reason than that the Bills of Rights and the Constitution itself serve to limit that power.

Where in the text of the Constitution is the so-called Spending Power (by which Congress claims the power to spend tax revenue on anything it wants) and does it have any enforceable limits?

The “so-called Spending Power” (and it is indeed called so by lawyers and judges) is found in Art. I Sec. 8 Clause 1 of the Constitution, though much like the Dormant Commerce Clause that permits regulation of interstate commerce, it not stated explicitly, rather it is implied by the power to collect taxes. It is essentially the other side of the coin, if Congress can lay taxes, they must implicitly have the power to spend the revenues so collected. And indeed there are severe limitations, see: Article I, Section 9, Clause 7. This is particularly curious of Mr. Barnett’s concerns, since the questions that are usually associated with the Spending Power is not whether it exists but whether the Congress may place conditions on its spending to effectively bribe states into adopting legislation, as was done during the Reagan administration, withholding federal highway funds from states that did not raise the drinking age to 21.

Even asking whether “We the People” in the U.S. Constitution originally included blacks and slaves — as abolitionists like Lysander Spooner and Frederick Douglass contended, or not as Chief Justice Roger Taney claimed in Dred Scott v. Sandford — will tell us much about a nominee’s approach to constitutional interpretation. Given that this is hardly a case that will come before them, on what grounds could nominees refuse to answer such questions?

As to the Dred Scott case, there is really only one acceptable opinion from a Supreme Court nominee with respect to this decision: that that case was wrongly decided.

Perhaps the Wall Street Journal ought to do some better fact-checking in the future, and I certainly hope that none of the Senators on the Judiciary Committee are silly enough to take Mr. Barnett’s advice and waste time with these questions.

A recent discussion at the blogcatalog involved an interesting news article.  This reminded me of an equal unlikely lawsuit that happened right here is the United States, in the Western District of Pennsylvania to be precise.  In this case, Gerald Mayo, a rather unfortunate soul who prayed the court to proceed in forma pauperis, that is to say as an indigent with all litigation fees waived by the court, against the party who, as Mayo alleged in his complaint, had violated his civil rights and was “the cause of [his] downfall.”  The opposing party that Mayo named?  “Satan, and his Staff.”

The almost appropriately named District Judge Weber issued a tongue-in-cheek opinion, citing concerns as to whether the court could exercise personal jurisdiction over the defendant, and noting that if Mayo’s suit against the Dark One did proceed, a class action certification under FRCP would be almost certain as joinder of all interested parties would surely be impracticable.

As with most dealings with the Devil, this case did not end happily for Mr. Mayo: “Prayer denied.

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