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Airflow Catalyst Systems, Inc v. Huss Technologies Gmbh

November 2, 2011

AIRFLOW CATALYST SYSTEMS, INC., PLAINTIFFS,
v.
HUSS TECHNOLOGIES GMBH, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Charles J. Siragusa United States District Judge

DECISION AND ORDER

INTRODUCTION

This is an action for breach of contract, in which Plaintiff maintains that Defendant sold it defective cement substrates for use in manufacturing catalytic converters. Now before the Court is a motion to dismiss, for forum non conveniens, by Defendant, which is headquartered in Germany.*fn1 For the reasons that follow, the application is denied.

BACKGROUND

The following facts are taken from the Complaint, declarations, affidavits, and exhibits presently before the Court.*fn2 Plaintiff manufactures diesel catalytic converters, and is a Delaware Corporation with its corporate office in Rochester, New York, and a manufacturing facility in Wayland, New York. Plaintiff has fourteen (14) employees at its manufacturing facility. Affidavit of Thomas Roberts [#7-1] ("Roberts Aff."), ¶ 2. Defendant makes cement substrates used in manufacturing catalytic converters, and is a German company with its main offices located in Nuremberg, Germany. Defendant employs sales staff in the United States, and maintains offices in Palm Desert, California, and Hartland, Michigan. Plaintiff does not maintain staff or offices outside of the United States.

In August 2009, Plaintiff's Product Development Manager, Thomas Roberts ("Roberts"), attended a trade conference in Dearborn, Michigan, where Defendant had a sales booth manned by its Sales Manager, Alan Pittel ("Pittel"). Pittel provided Roberts with sales materials concerning Defendant's products. In November 2009, Pittel traveled to Rochester to make a sales presentation to Plaintiff. Some of Defendant's other staff in Germany participated in the presentation by conference call.*fn3 Roberts Aff. ¶ ¶ 4-5. Subsequently, at Plaintiff's request, Defendant sent a sample of its product to Plaintiff in Rochester. In February 2010, Defendant sent additional product samples to Plaintiff. In March 2010, Roberts traveled to Germany, where he met with Defendant's representatives. Roberts Aff. at ¶ 10. In July 2010, Pittel sent Plaintiff a sales proposal and proposed contract, which Plaintiff accepted. In that regard, Plaintiff's representatives signed the contract in Rochester and forwarded it to Michigan, where Pittel apparently signed it. Affidavit of Steffanie LaBarr ("LaBarr Aff.") at ¶ 5; see also, Affidavit of Claus Holdschuh ("Holdschuh Aff.") at ¶ 6 & Ex. 2. The contract, which called for Plaintiff to buy 121 catalytic converter substrates*fn4 from Defendant, included an international trade term, "EXW," whereby Defendant arranged for shipment to Plaintiff in Wayland, New York,*fn5 and Plaintiff paid the shipping cost. The contract did not include a forum selection clause or choice of law provision. The contract did include a warranty provision, indicating that Defendant's products would be free from defects "as shipped and packaged at" Defendant's facility in Germany, and that Defendant warranted the product from twelve months from time of delivery. As per the contract, Plaintiff made payment by wire transfer to Defendant's bank in Germany. Defendant shipped seventy-two of the substrates to Plaintiff, but Plaintiff determined that they did not meet the required specifications. Roberts Aff. at ¶ 16.*fn6

On November 10, 2010, Plaintiff commenced this action in New York State Supreme Court, Monroe County. The Complaint asserts claims for breach of contract, and breach of express and implied warranties. On December 14, 2010, Plaintiff served the Summons and Complaint on Alan Pittel, the Sales Manager at Defendant's office in Hartland, Michigan. On December 15, 2010, Plaintiff served the Summons and Complaint on Phil Surma, the Managing Director at Defendant's office in Palm Desert, California. On January 11, 2011, Defendant removed the action to this Court, on the basis of diversity jurisdiction.

On February 28, 2011, Defendant filed the subject motion to dismiss for forum non conveniens. Defendant maintains that the following facts support its application: 1) Defendant is located in Germany, and it manufactured and shipped the subject product in Germany; 2) Roberts traveled to Germany prior to executing the contract; 3) pursuant to the contract, purchase orders were to be emailed to Defendant in Germany; 4) payment was made through a German bank; 5) three of Defendant's anticipated witnesses are located in Germany; 6) some of the unshipped product remains in Germany; 7) German law should apply to this dispute; and 8) judgments are executed in Germany through a separate court proceeding, and there is a possibility that a German court might refuse to enforce a judgment against Defendant, if it is found that this Court did not have jurisdiction.*fn7

On October 27, 2011, counsel for the parties appeared before the undersigned for oral argument.

DISCUSSION

The legal principles to be applied on a motion to dismiss for forum non conveniens are well settled:

Forum non conveniens is a discretionary device permitting a court in rare instances to dismiss a claim even if the court is a permissible venue with proper jurisdiction over the claim. The doctrine authorizes courts to dismiss cases where an alternative forum has jurisdiction to hear the case, and when trial in the chosen forum would establish oppressiveness and vexation to a defendant out of all proportion to plaintiff's convenience. Courts may decline to exercise jurisdiction under this doctrine when it is determined that, weighing relative advantages and obstacles to fair trial in the alternative fora, and the practical considerations of which forum will make trial of a case more easy, expeditious and inexpensive, the balance is strongly in favor of the defendant's request for dismissal in favor of a more convenient forum.

In deciding whether to dismiss for forum non conveniens, courts in this Circuit undertake a three-step analysis. First, courts determine the degree of deference due the plaintiff's choice of forum. Second, courts examine whether there is an adequate alternative forum for the dispute. Third, courts engage in a balanced assessment of the competing private interests of the parties in the choice of forum, and the public interests of the alternative fora under consideration. Throughout this analysis, the defendant bears the burden of showing that each step tilts strongly in favor of trial in the foreign forum. The action should be dismissed only if the chosen forum is shown to be genuinely inconvenient and the selected forum significantly preferable.

1. The Degree of Deference Accorded a Plaintiff's Choice of Forum Any review of a forum non conveniens motion starts with a strong presumption in favor of the plaintiff's choice of forum. However, the strength of this presumption, and the degree of deference due the plaintiff's selection, varies with the circumstances. The degree of deference to be accorded the plaintiff's choice of forum is not determinative of the final outcome; rather, it merely re-calibrates the scales for the remaining two steps of the analysis. The greater the degree of deference to which the plaintiff's choice of forum is entitled, the stronger a showing of inconvenience the defendant must make to prevail in securing forum non conveniens dismissal. Conversely, where less ...


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