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OTT v. KAISER-GEORGETOWN COMMUNITY HEALTH PLAN

May 18, 1988

MICHAEL OTT, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
KAISER-GEORGETOWN COMMUNITY HEALTH PLAN, INC., Defendant



The opinion of the court was delivered by: HARRIS

 STANLEY S. HARRIS, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

 This matter is before the Court upon defendant's motion to dismiss on the ground of forum non conveniens or, in the alternative, for a bifurcated trial. Upon consideration of the motion, the opposition thereto, the reply pleading, and the entire record herein, the Court concludes that the motion to dismiss on the ground of forum non conveniens should be granted.

 Michael Ott was born in Maryland and the Otts have continued to reside in Maryland since Michael's birth. Mrs. Ott and Michael received all their prenatal treatment in Maryland from physicians who are licensed by the State of Maryland and who practice medicine in Maryland. Kaiser is licensed as a health maintenance organization to do business in Maryland. The sole connections this action has with the District of Columbia are that Kaiser is incorporated in the District of Columbia and Mr. Ott, who works in the District of Columbia, receives Kaiser medical insurance for himself and his family as an employment benefit.

 The Court need not abstain from assuming jurisdiction over this action because the Otts have pending an action against Kaiser in Maryland state court. Colorado River Water Conservation Dist. v. United States, 424 U.S. 800, 817-19, 47 L. Ed. 2d 483, 96 S. Ct. 1236, leave to file petition for reh'g denied, 426 U.S. 912, 48 L. Ed. 2d 839, 96 S. Ct. 2239 (1976). However, the Court has the discretion to dismiss the action on the ground of forum non conveniens so long as an adequate alternative forum is available. Gulf Oil Corp. v. Gilbert, 330 U.S. 501, 91 L. Ed. 1055, 67 S. Ct. 839 (1947); Pain v. United Technologies Corp., 205 U.S. App. D.C. 229, 637 F.2d 775, 779 (D.C. Cir. 1980), cert. denied, 454 U.S. 1128, 71 L. Ed. 2d 116, 102 S. Ct. 980 (1981). There is a split of authority among the circuits on the question whether federal courts in diversity cases are required to apply the local rule of forum non conveniens under the doctrine of Erie R. R. Co. v. Tompkins, 304 U.S. 64, 82 L. Ed. 1188, 58 S. Ct. 817 (1938). Founding Church of Scientology of Washington, D.C. v. Verlag, 175 U.S. App. D.C. 402, 536 F.2d 429, 434 n. 13 (D.C. Cir. 1976). Although the issue has never been squarely addressed by the Court of Appeals for this circuit, federal courts in the District of Columbia have in practice used the federal law of forum non conveniens. Id. In any case, the law of forum non conveniens in the District of Columbia appears to be identical to federal law on the point at issue in this case. *fn1"

 
As a prerequisite, the court must establish whether an adequate 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. 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 a 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.

 Pain, 637 F.2d at 784-85.

 The "private interest factors" are defined as:

 
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 to the enforcibility [ sic ] of a judgment if one is obtained. The court will weigh relative advantages and obstacles to fair trial.

 Id. at 782 (quoting Gulf Oil, 330 U.S. at 508). However, when a plaintiff chooses a competent but clearly inappropriate forum in which to bring suit, the plaintiff must show some reasonable justification for bringing suit in the inappropriate forum rather than in a forum that has more significant connections with the defendant or the res, act, or event in suit. Id. at 784 (citing Ginsburg, The Competent Court in Private International Law: Some Observations on Current Views in the United States, 20 Rutgers L.Rev. 100 (1965)).

 The "public interest factors" are explained as follows:

 
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 ...

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