Denial of Rail Defendant’s Forum Non Conveniens Motion Reversed on Appeal

Superior Court of Pennsylvania, December 21, 2021

The plaintiff filed a complaint against CSX Transportation, Inc. (CSXT) pursuant to the Federal Employers’ Liability Act alleging that his employment-based exposure to asbestos, diesel exhaust/fumes, and second-hand smoke either caused or contributed to the development of his colon cancer. The plaintiff worked for CSXT and its predecessors as a train brakeman and conductor beginning in 1974.

CSXT is a Virginia corporation that is headquartered in Florida. The plaintiff is a Maryland resident and worked for CSXT and its predecessors almost entirely in Maryland. In the 1970s and 1980s, while employed by CSXT’s predecessors, the plaintiff occasionally traveled to a railyard in Pennsylvania. The plaintiff’s immediate family members, as well as many of his former coworkers and supervisors, also reside in Maryland. His cancer diagnosis and treatment have taken place exclusively in Maryland.

CSXT filed a motion to dismiss based on the doctrine of forum non conveniens. The trial court denied the motion, finding that, in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, it was “no more vexatious to conduct … remote litigation in Maryland or Pennsylvania.” Following CSXT’s filing of a motion to amend the order, the court further found that CSXT “did not sustain its burden of proving that there were any substantially weighty issues to overcome [Green’s] chosen forum[.]” CSXT appealed.

In Pennsylvania, the doctrine of forum non conveniens provides as follows: “When a tribunal finds that in the interest of substantial justice the matter should be heard in another forum, the tribunal may stay or dismiss the matter in whole or in part on any conditions that may be just.” The two most important factors a trial court must consider are that: (1) the plaintiff’s choice of forum should be disturbed only for ‘weighty reasons’ and (2) the action may not be dismissed unless an alternate forum exists.

The Superior Court found that the trial court evaluated CSXT’s motion using the “weighty reasons” standard. The court next considered whether the trial court properly applied the private and public factors as outlined in Plum v. Tampax Incorporated. The court found that the trial court’s “reference to COVID-19’s equal impact on the courts of Maryland and Pennsylvania” was “peripheral, if not immaterial, in the context of its larger analysis of the public and private factors” but did not reverse the trial court’s decision on this ground. Ultimately, the court held that Maryland was the most appropriate forum for the case as it would allow for the litigation to proceed “more easily, expeditiously, and inexpensively.” Accordingly, the Superior Court reversed the order and remanded to the trial court to dismiss the complaint without prejudice to refiling it in a more appropriate court.