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Hsu v. New Mighty U.S. Trust

United States District Court, District of Columbia

April 3, 2018

CHIN-TEN HSU, et al., as Executors of the will of Yueh-Lan Wang, Plaintiffs,
v.
NEW MIGHTY U.S. TRUST, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          JAMES E. BOASBERG, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         On February 2, 2018, this Court issued a Memorandum Opinion addressing whether Plaintiffs' case should be dismissed under the doctrine of forum non conveniens. Finding that Taiwan was an adequate alternative forum and that private and public factors counseled in favor of proceeding in that country, the Court concluded that dismissal was warranted. At that time, however, it did not grant Defendants' Motion to Dismiss. The Court instead retained jurisdiction in order to offer Plaintiffs the opportunity to propose particular conditions for dismissal. They have now done so and Defendants have responded, opposing certain proposals and accepting others as appropriate terms. The Court, after considering the positions of both sides, will dismiss the case pursuant to the conditions set out below.

         I. Background

         Under the doctrine of forum non conveniens, a district court considers “the convenience to the parties and the practical difficulties that can attend the adjudication of a dispute in a certain locality.” MBI Grp., Inc. v. Credit Foncier du Cameroun, 558 F.Supp.2d 21, 26-27 (D.D.C. 2008) (quoting Sinochem Int'l Co. Ltd. v. Malaysia Int'l Shipping Corp., 549 U.S. 422, 429 (2007)). If the court determines that (1) an adequate alternative forum exists and (2) public and/or private factors favor dismissal, it has the discretion to dismiss the case. In doing so, the court may also impose conditions upon its dismissal. See El-Fadl v. Cent. Bank of Jordan, 75 F.3d 668, 677 (D.C. Cir. 1996), abrogated on other grounds by Samantar v. Yousuf, 560 U.S. 305 (2010) (stating that “the district court may dismiss for forum non conveniens . . . conditioned on the defendants' submitting to jurisdiction in Jordan and on the Jordanian courts' acceptance of the case”). The latitude in determining such conditions has not been explicitly addressed by this Circuit, but such terms are generally regarded as part and parcel of the district court's broad discretion under FNC. See MBI Grp., 558 F.Supp.2d at 31-32 (noting that “[t]he D.C. Circuit has expressly authorized” conditional dismissals under FNC) (citing El-Fadl, 75 F.3d at 679); Blanco v. Banco Indus. de Venezuela, S.A., 997 F.2d 974, 984 (2d Cir. 1993) (“[F]orum non conveniens dismissals are often appropriately conditioned to protect the party opposing dismissal.”); In re Banco Santander Sec.-Optimal Litig., 732 F.Supp.2d 1305, 1330 (S.D. Fla. 2010), aff'd sub nom. Inversiones Mar Octava Limitada v. Banco Santander S.A., 439 Fed.Appx. 840 (11th Cir. 2011) (district court may impose “conditions designed to prevent prejudice to the plaintiff if the suit is reinstated in the foreign forum”).

         In its prior Opinion, the Court addressed Defendants' Motion to Dismiss under FNC. The full facts of this case are set out in the earlier Opinions, see Yueh-Lan Wang ex rel. Wong v. New Mighty U.S. Tr. (Wang I), 841 F.Supp.2d 198 (D.D.C. 2012), rev'd sub nom. Wang by & through Wong v. New Mighty U.S. Tr., 843 F.3d 487 (D.C. Cir. 2016); Yueh-Lan Wang by & through Winston Wen-Young Wong v. New Mighty U.S. Tr. (Wang II), 322 F.R.D. 11 (D.D.C. 2017); Chin-Ten Hsu v. New Mighty U.S. Tr., 2018 WL 834230 (D.D.C. Feb. 12, 2018), and the Court will not repeat them in any depth here. Briefly, however, this case is at bottom a dispute between the putative heirs of the deceased Taiwanese magnate Y.C. Wang. See Hsu, 2018 WL 834230, at *1-2. Defendants, a D.C.-based trust and its affiliates, hold a portion of Y.C.'s assets. Id. Plaintiffs, the executors of the will of Y.C.'s wife Yueh-Lan Wang, asserted that these funds were improperly disbursed and resulted in a “shorting” of Yueh-Lan's marital share of the estate. Id. at *2. Contending that resolving this contest involved complex questions of Taiwanese family and marital law - particularly in light of the multiple women claiming to be Y.C.'s wives - Defendants moved to have the case dismissed in favor of litigation in Taiwan. Id. at *3. Plaintiffs opposed dismissal under FNC, contending that Taiwan was not an adequate alternative forum and that the public and private interests favored retaining the suit here.

         After a careful analysis, the Court determined that dismissal was the appropriate outcome. As the Court concluded, Taiwan was an available and adequate alternative forum, the private factors tipped slightly in favor of dismissal, and the public factors “tip[ped] sharply in favor” of such an outcome. Id. at *12. In particular, the Court found that there were few local but “strong Taiwanese” interests at stake, and that resolving the case would “require this Court to gain a significant level of expertise regarding foreign family and inheritance law, and to resolve a number of questions of first impression arising under Taiwanese law.” Id. at *12-13. In light of such concerns, the Court exercised its broad discretion under FNC and determined that dismissal was the most practical and convenient course. Id. at *14.

         It did not, however, actually dismiss the case at that time. Instead, the Court determined that, in addition to conditioning “[its] dismissal upon Defendants' continued submission to Taiwan's jurisdiction and waiver of their statute-of-limitations defenses, ” it would “provide [Plaintiffs] with the opportunity to request additional conditions” that would address their “remaining concerns regarding their ability to re-file in Taiwan.” Id. The Executors took the Court up on that offer and, in late February, filed a Memorandum proposing nine conditions for dismissal. See ECF 53-1 (Pl. Proposed Conditions). Defendants responded, accepting certain of Plaintiffs' proposals but rejecting and modifying others. See ECF 54 (Def. Resp.). The Executors in turn replied with a somewhat edited version of their original terms. See ECF 55 (Pl. Reply); ECF 55-1 (Pl. Revised Proposed Order). The Court must now determine which, if any, of these proposed conditions it will apply to its Order of dismissal.

         II. Analysis

         A. Consent to Jurisdiction

         The first condition at issue is the specific Taiwanese court in which Defendants will submit to service of process and personal jurisdiction, should this case be re-filed overseas. In its prior Opinion, the Court held that “Taiwan is an available and adequate forum for this suit.” Hsu, 2018 WL 834230, at *8. That determination rested in part upon Defendants' representation that, should Plaintiffs choose to re-file in that country, they would submit to service of process and personal jurisdiction before a Taiwanese court. Id. at *5-6. Now, although acquiescing to that condition generally, Defendants ask the Court to limit such consent to service of process and jurisdiction solely before a court in Taipei, Taiwan. Plaintiffs respond that such geographic specificity is unwarranted and unnecessary.

         On this condition, the Court agrees with the Executors. Although Defendants note that the waivers they submitted refer specifically to Taipei, see ECF Nos. 47-9 (Decl. of Susan Wang), 47-10 (Decl. of William Wong), 47-11 (Decl. of Donald Kozusko), their filings during litigation were not so limited. Rather, Defendants repeatedly discussed their “concession to service and jurisdiction in Taiwan, ” ECF No. 47-1 (Motion to Dismiss) at 25, their “declarations agreeing to submit to the jurisdiction of an appropriate court in Taiwan, ” and their position that “Taiwan courts will enforce” such agreements. See ECF No. 50 (Def. Reply) at 14-15. This Court similarly referred to Taiwan, rather than Taipei, when assessing the impact of Defendants' waivers on the availability of Taiwanese courts. See Wang II, 322 F.R.D. at 25 (finding that Defendants “effectively concede that they are not amenable to process in Taiwan, but agree in affidavits to submit themselves to its jurisdiction” and that “on [the] Taiwanese personal-jurisdiction issue, such a confession is sufficient to overcome any problems”); Hsu, 2018 WL 834230, at *9 (Defendants “have now consented to . . . foreign jurisdiction” in Taiwan). In light of Defendants' representations throughout this case and the conclusions of the prior Opinions, the Court is satisfied that the equitable outcome is to condition dismissal upon Defendants' consent to service of process and personal jurisdiction in Taiwan generally, rather than Taipei specifically.

         The Court also notes that Defendants are unable to provide any legal precedent for conditioning dismissal upon consent to jurisdiction in a foreign city rather than in a nation. Cf. MBI Grp., 558 F.Supp.2d at 31-32 (conditioning dismissal upon defendants' submitting to jurisdiction in Cameroon); El-Fadl, 75 F.3d at 679 (conditioning dismissal on defendants' submitting to jurisdiction in Jordan). They have, moreover, offered no evidence that Taipei is the only proper venue for Plaintiffs' claims in Taiwan nor given any other rationale for their desire to restrict jurisdiction to a given city. Indeed, such geographic specificity is not required when determining whether a foreign system is available and adequate under FNC; the doctrine instead allows courts to avoid making in-depth inquiries into foreign law. See Hsu, 2018 WL 834230, at *12 (public-interest factors include “the avoidance of unnecessary problems . . . in the application of foreign law”); In re Air Crash Off Long Island, N.Y., on July 17, 1996, 65 F.Supp.2d 207, 215 (S.D.N.Y. 1999) (noting that “inquiry into foreign jurisdictional law . . . [is] easily obviated by use of the typical conditional dismissal device”). The Court therefore declines to delve into the minutiae of Taiwanese venue provisions or potential distinctions among its various courts. It instead will condition its dismissal upon Defendants' consent to service of process and personal jurisdiction in Taiwan writ large.

         B. Waiver of Defenses

         The second condition proposed by Plaintiffs addresses Defendants' waiver of statute-of-limitations and other similar defenses. The Executors request that the Court condition its dismissal upon Defendants' waiving “any defenses based on limitations, statute of limitations, statutes of repose and/or laches.” Rev. Proposed Order at 1. They propose that this waiver be applied to “any of the claims asserted in the Second Amended Complaint or any additional claims that Plaintiffs assert against Defendants in the Taiwan Action that arise out of the conduct, transactions or occurrences set out - or attempted to be set out - in the Second Amended Complaint as that clause within Rule 15(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure” has been interpreted by U.S. courts. Id. Although Defendants accept the types of defenses listed in this condition - i.e., those based on limitations, repose, and/or laches - ...


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