This matter comes before the court on defendants' joint motion to dismiss the cases before this court on grounds of forum non conveniens. For the reasons articulated below, defendants' motion to dismiss is conditionally granted.
On August 19, 1980, plaintiffs' decedents were passengers on Saudi Arabian Airlines Flight 163, a regularly-scheduled flight between Riyadh, Saudi Arabia and Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. As the aircraft took off from Riyadh airport, a fire broke out on board the plane. Although the pilot was able to maneuver the plane back to the airport and to land it without incident, by the time the plane was opened all of its occupants were dead. According to the plaintiffs, the deaths were caused by inhalation of smoke and poisonous gases and by failure of the doors and emergency exits to open or to be opened. Plaintiffs have sued Saudi Arabian Airlines
("SAA"), the operator of the plane, Trans World Airlines, Inc. ("TWA"), the company which trained SAA personnel in the operation of the plane, and Lockheed Corporation ("Lockheed"), the manufacturer of the plane.
The instant cases were originally filed in various jurisdictions throughout the country,
but in the interest of the efficient use of judicial resources, the Judicial Panel on Multi-district Litigation determined that all these actions should be consolidated for pretrial proceedings. Because this court had received the first federal case filed after the accident in question, this court received the assignment of handling the consolidated proceedings and, as a result, all other federal cases arising out of this disaster were transferred to this court. Of the consolidated cases before this court, eight had been brought on behalf of resident real parties in interest (i.e. United States relatives of United States decedents) and the remainder had been brought on behalf of foreign real parties in interest (i.e. foreign relatives or representatives of foreign decedents). At oral argument on this forum non conveniens motion, counsel for the parties informed the court that all the resident (i.e. United States) cases had been settled; thus, at present, all the cases pending before this court have been brought on behalf of foreign real parties in interest.
In considering a forum non conveniens motion, the trial court's basic function is to "weigh (the) relative advantages and obstacles to fair trial."
Gulf Oil Corp. v. Gilbert, 330 U.S. 501, 508, 67 S. Ct. 839, 843, 91 L. Ed. 1055 (1974) ("Gilbert"). Such a determination represents the "exercise( ) of structured discretion by (a) trial judge( ) appraising the practical inconveniences posed to the litigants and to the court should a particular action be litigated in one forum rather than another." Pain v. United Technologies Corp., 205 U.S. App. D.C. 229, 637 F.2d 775, 781 (D.C.Cir.1980), cert. denied, 454 U.S. 1128, 102 S. Ct. 980, 71 L. Ed. 2d 116 (1981). Although the plaintiff's initial forum choice is normally to be given "considerable, but not conclusive, weight" in the exercise of this discretion, id. at 783, this presumption in favor of the initial forum choice applies with less than maximum force when the real parties in interest are foreign. See Piper Aircraft Co. v. Reyno, 454 U.S. 235, -- - -- , 102 S. Ct. 252, 265-66, 70 L. Ed. 2d 419 (1981); cf. Pain, 637 F.2d at 786 (plaintiffs' initial forum choice entitled to less deference when connection between plaintiffs, controversy and forum is tenuous).
Although, over time, a substantial body of forum non conveniens caselaw has been developed, the instant motion is largely controlled by the principles of two recent decisions: 1) the seminal forum non conveniens decision in this circuit- Pain v. United Technologies Corp., 205 U.S. App. D.C. 229, 637 F.2d 775 (D.C.Cir.1980), and 2) the Supreme Court's most recent forum non conveniens decision- Piper Aircraft Co. v. Reyno, 454 U.S. 235, 102 S. Ct. 252, 70 L. Ed. 2d 419 (1981).
In Pain, the Court of Appeals established a four-step test for a trial judge to follow in considering a forum non conveniens motion.
As a prerequisite, the court must establish whether an adequate alternative forum exists which possesses jurisdiction over the whole case. Next, the trial judge must consider all relevant factors of private interest, weighing in the balance a strong presumption against disturbing plaintiffs' initial forum choice n(
). If the trial judge finds this balance of private interests to be in equipoise or near equipoise, he must then determine whether or not factors of public interest tip the balance in favor of trial in a foreign forum. If he decides that the balance favors such a foreign forum, the trial judge must finally ensure that plaintiffs can reinstate their suit in the alternative forum without undue inconvenience or prejudice.