Multiple Actions Dismissed Against Brake Manufacturer Due to Forum Non Conveniens

NEW JERSEY — Multiple deceased plaintiffs brought actions against Honeywell alleging they contracted mesothelioma as a result of exposure to asbestos from Bendix brakes while working as mechanics in the United Kingdom. The plaintiffs filed in New Jersey despite the alleged exposure oversees. Honeywell moved for dismissal based on the doctrine of forum non conveniens after discovery was conducted. Judge Cantor granted dismissal in the majority of the cases and Judge Viscomi also granted dismissal in the remaining case. The plaintiffs appealed arguing abuse of discretion.

The court began its analysis and stated that forum non conveniens may be invoked when the forum is inappropriate for the plaintiff. The burden falls upon the defendant to establish that the doctrine should be applied. Specifically, the doctrine balances public and private factors to determine if the forum is appropriate. However, the initial question is whether an alternate forum exists. Public interest factors include “1) the administrative difficulties which follow from having litigation “pile up in congested centers” rather than being handled at its origin, 2) the imposition of jury duty on members of a community having no relation to the litigation 3) the local interest in the subject matter that affected members of the community may wish to view the trial and 4) the local interest in having localized controversies decided at home.” Private interest factors on the other hand include, “1) the relative ease of access to sources of proof, 2) the availability of compulsory process for attendance of unwilling witnesses and the cost if obtaining the attendance of willing witnesses, 3) whether a view of the premises is appropriate to the action, and 4) all other practical problems that make trial of the case “easy, expeditious and inexpensive, including the enforceability of the ultimate judgment.” Judge Cantor pointed out that the United Kingdom is the “proper alternative” forum because the plaintiffs resided in the United Kingdom. Further, they had the right to maintain suit in the United Kingdom. Judge Viscomi stated in her opinion that the United Kingdom is the proper alternative forum because “the United Kingdom processes workplace asbestos litigation against claimants’ employers.” As for applying the public interest factors, the judges noted that there was no local interest in hearing the matter, the witnesses were overseas and the actual products at issue were manufactured in Europe.

The court quickly concluded that there was no abuse of discretion at the trial level. In particular, the court noted that the plaintiffs had not established that their claims could not be brought against Honeywell in the United Kingdom. In fact, Honeywell’s expert indicated that filing claims “against such a plaintiffs’ employer is more common than filing against the product manufacturer. The court was persuaded that the case was “localized” in the United Kingdom. Accordingly, there was no abuse of discretion.

Only the Westlaw citation is currently available at 2019 WL 1040674.