In a recent decision filed August 2, 2023 in the Supreme Court of the Republic of the Marshall Islands (the RMI) Seward & Kissel LLP secured victory for its client, Sea Justice Ltd., in the action styled Symphony Shipholding SA v. Sea Justice. The Court’s decision dismissing the action in full was secured by an S&K team led by partners Bruce Paulsen and Brian Maloney, and including support from associate Cassie Gallo and paralegal Marian Wasserman.
In the decision, the Supreme Court affirmed the trial court’s dismissal on the ground of forum non conveniens (i.e., an inconvenient forum), finding that the action – involving an allision between two vessels in Chinese territorial waters off the port of Qingdao – would be more appropriately resolved before a maritime court in China.
Notably for practitioners of RMI law, the Supreme Court expressly adopted the test laid out by the U.S. Supreme Court in Piper Aircraft Co. v. Reyno as to when dismissal for forum non conveniens matters are warranted; namely, where a defendant has sufficiently established that (1) there is an available and adequate alternative forum; (2) that the applicable private interest factors weigh in favor of the alternative forum; and (3) that the applicable public interest factors weigh in favor of the alternative forum.
In particular, the Supreme Court found that the Qingdao Maritime Court in China qualified as an adequate and available alternative forum for the litigation, and rejected arguments that the alternative forum was not “adequate” even where the plaintiff’s anticipated recovery would be substantially smaller than in the RMI, owing to alleged variations in the limitation of liability regime that might apply in the action. Furthermore, in weighing the relevant private and public interest factors, the Supreme Court found that the High Court had reasonably concluded that the Chinese forum was more appropriate – where the matter had involved a casualty that occurred in Chinese territorial waters, resulting in a large-scale investigation and clean-up effort and involving numerous witnesses located in China, among other factors.
Finally, addressing a number of novel arguments from plaintiff’s counsel, the Supreme Court also found that the High Court was entitled to dismiss the matter unconditionally, rather than imposing a stay and retaining jurisdiction pending the outcome of litigation in the alternative forum, and in denying the plaintiff’s motion for reconsideration as untimely and out of compliance with the applicable RMI rules of civil procedure.
If you have any questions about the matters addressed in this article, please reach out to Bruce G. Paulsen (212-574-1533), Brian P. Maloney (212-574-1448) or your primary attorney in Seward & Kissel’s Maritime Litigation or Maritime & Transportation groups.