Zooming Out of Forum Non Conveniens

A recently published note in the Columbia Law Review, written by Christabel Narh, draws a connection between the federal courts’ technological learning curve during the pandemic and the future of forum non conveniens. Zooming Our Way Out of the Forum Non Conveniens Doctrine argues that the federal courts’ trial-by-fire with videoconferencing and remote litigation during the pandemic should spark a reevaluation of the old forum non conveniens framework set out in Gulf Oil Corp. v. Gilbert (1947). Now that the federal courts have greater experience with such technology and are working towards institutionalizing its use, Gulf Oil’s emphasis on the difficulty posed by far-flung evidence and witnesses seems increasingly quaint. Here is the abstract:

The effects of the pandemic have shed light on the evolution of technology in the legal space, including the use of technology in videoconferencing proceedings and facilitating court procedures. Despite the benefits associated with technology, the rapid adoption of videoconferencing proceedings in courts may have unprecedented impacts on the relevance and practicality of the forum non conveniens doctrine. Additionally, the drastically different approaches that federal courts have taken in response to the disproportionate geographic effects of the pandemic may give way to forum shopping. Plaintiffs may be more incentivized to bring their cases to forums that allow for videoconferencing proceedings as a strategic way to circumvent a defendant’s potential forum non conveniens argument in a motion to dismiss.

This Note argues that videoconferencing technology allows courts to effectively transcend the restrictions of geography while mitigating arguments about the relative convenience of different forums. Creating more uniform rules for videoconferencing proceedings will ensure easier predictability and uniformity in the forum non conveniens analysis. Specifically, this Note recommends that Congress and the courts mandate standardized technological videoconferencing requirements and adopt the original understanding of the forum non conveniens doctrine for lower courts to more explicitly consider the benefits of technology when making a forum non conveniens determination.