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Savitri Pandeosingh v. American Medical Response

February 15, 2012

SAVITRI PANDEOSINGH , PLAINTIFF ,
v.
AMERICAN MEDICAL RESPONSE, INC. AND GLOBAL MEDICAL RESPONSE DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Block, Senior District Judge:

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

Plaintiff Savritri Pandeosingh brings this action against defendants American Medical Response, Inc. ("AMR") and Global Medical Response ("GMR") for injuries she sustained while riding in an ambulance in Trinidad and Tobago. Defendants move to dismiss the complaint for lack of personal jurisdiction and on forum non conveniens grounds. For the reasons stated below, the motion is denied.

I

The following facts are taken from the plaintiff's complaint and the parties' affidavits and declarations submitted on this motion.*fn1 In March 2008, plaintiff was in Trinidad and Tobago, riding in an ambulance with her sister and niece on the way to a hospital. The vehicle "exploded and burst into flames" and the driver and paramedic abandoned it, leaving the passengers trapped. Compl. ¶ 15. Plaintiff and her sister were severely burned.

The ambulance was owned and operated by Global Medical Response of Trinidad and Tobago ("GMRTT"), allegedly a joint venture between AMR, a provider of ambulance services, and a non-party. GMR is a wholly owned subsidiary of AMR and oversees its international operations, including GMRTT. The complaint alleges that AMR, GMR and GMRTT "operate as a single enterprise." Compl. ¶ 9. Both defendants are Delaware corporations with their principal place of business in Colorado.

It is undisputed that plaintiff is a citizen of Trinidad and Tobago and that she resided there at the time of the accident. According to plaintiff's declaration, she currently lives in Queens, New York with her daughter, a United States permanent resident. Plaintiff first obtained a visa to enter the United States in 2006, and she has been visiting family in New York for "several months" every year since. Pl. Decl. ¶ 2. After the ambulance fire, Pandeosingh received medical care in Trinidad and Tobago for approximately two weeks. She was then transferred to a hospital in Miami, Florida, where she received four months of intensive burn treatments and psychological counseling. She returned to Trinidad and Tobago in September 2008 and received medical care there. In March 2009, plaintiff traveled to New York to live with her daughter and obtain further medical care. Although it is unclear whether plaintiff has remained here continuously since then, she plans to seek to renew her current visa and "remain in New York as long as [she is] legally able." Pl. Decl. ¶ 12.

Pandeosingh first filed suit against AMR, GMR and GMRTT in Florida in April 2009, but that action was dismissed in July 2009 for lack of personal jurisdiction. See Pandeosingh v. American Medical Response, Inc., No. 09-60776, 2009 WL 2780884, *2 (S.D. Fla. 2009). She then commenced this personal injury action against AMR and GMR in New York Supreme Court, Queens County, in October 2009. Defendants removed it to this Court pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 1332, 1441 and 1446.

II

A district court has authority to dismiss a case on forum non conveniens grounds without first resolving whether it has personal jurisdiction over the defendants.

See Sinochem Intern. Co. Ltd. v. Malaysia Intern. Shipping Corp., 549 U.S. 422, 425 (2007). The Court will therefore first address defendants' contention that the case should be dismissed on forum non conveniens grounds and tried in Trinidad and Tobago. The Second Circuit has set forth a three-step analysis for forum non conveniens motions: first, the Court must determine the degree of deference to accord plaintiff's choice of forum; second, the Court must consider whether an adequate alternative forum exists; and, third, the Court must weigh relevant public and private interests. See Iragorri v. United Technologies Corp., 274 F.3d 65, 71-75 (2d Cir. 2001).

A. Deference due plaintiff's choice of forum

Any forum non conveniens analysis "starts with 'a strong presumption in favor of the plaintiff's choice of forum,'" Norex Petroleum Ltd. v. Access Industries, Inc., 416 F.3d 146, 154 (2d Cir. 2005) (quoting Piper Aircraft Co. v. Reyno, 454 U.S. 235, 255 (1981)), which defendant bears the burden of overcoming, see Iragorri, 274 F.3d at 71. "[U]nless the balance is strongly in favor of the defendant, the plaintiff's choice of forum should rarely be disturbed." Iragorri, 274 F.3d at 71 (quoting Gulf Oil Corp. v. Gilbert, 330 U.S. 501, 508 (1947)).

A plaintiff who files in her home forum is entitled to "the greatest deference," while a foreign plaintiff is entitled to "less deference," see Norex at 154, but "the degree of deference . . . moves on a sliding scale depending on several relevant considerations," Iragorri, 274 F.3d at 71. The guiding principle is that "the greater the plaintiff's or the lawsuit's bona fide connection to the United States and to the forum of choice and the more it appears that considerations of convenience favor the conduct of the lawsuit in the United States, the more difficult it will be for the defendant to gain dismissal for forum non conveniens." Id. at 72. Thus, a higher degree of deference may be owed to plaintiff's forum choice based on "the convenience of the plaintiff's residence in relation to the chosen forum, the availability of witnesses or evidence to the forum district, the defendant's amenability to suit in the forum district, the availability of appropriate legal assistance, and other reasons relating to convenience or expense." Id. In contrast, "the more it appears that the plaintiff's choice of a U.S. forum was motivated by forum-shopping reasons . . . the less deference the plaintiff's choice commands." Id.

Pandeosingh's residence in New York -- where she has been living, at least intermittently, since March 2009 -- entitles her choice of forum to a great degree of deference.Although the same deference would not apply if she had "adopted a U.S. residence for the purpose of having [her] suit tried in a U.S. Court,"id. at 72 n.3, the Court credits Pandeosingh's declaration that she moved to New York because her burns rendered the climate in Trinidad uncomfortable and the medication she requires is not available there. Moreover, given the amount of close family she has in New York -- her daughter, most notably, but also two brothers, five sisters, and "numerous" nieces, nephews and cousins -- her decision to move here after her accident does not appear to motivated by forum-shopping. In addition to the convenience of ...


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