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In re Optimal U.S. Litigation

August 10, 2012

IN RE OPTIMAL U.S. LITIGATION


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Shira A. Scheindlin, U.S.D.J.

OPINION AND ORDER

I. INTRODUCTION*fn1

This putative class action arises out of plaintiffs' investment in the Optimal Strategic U.S. Equity Fund ("Optimal U.S." or the "Fund"), which in turn invested one-hundred percent of its assets with Bernard L. Madoff and his firm, Bernard L. Madoff Investment Securities LLC ("BMIS"). Plaintiffs allege that defendants failed to conduct adequate diligence regarding Madoff, ignored "red flags" that should have alerted them to Madoff's fraud, and made misstatements and omissions in connection with the sale of Optimal U.S. shares, causing plaintiffs to lose their investments and allowing defendants wrongfully to collect management fees.*fn2

On December 20, 2011, I denied defendants' initial motion for forum non conveniens. At that time, the balance of factors was extremely close, and I noted that the public interest factors did point slightly in favor of dismissal. However, I denied defendants' motion based primarily on the deference owed to plaintiffs' choice of forum, the United States' interest in enforcing violations of federal securities law, and the due diligence efforts conducted in New York. Defendants now move, for a second time, for dismissal on the grounds of forum non conveniens. Since the December 20 Opinion plaintiffs' federal securities law claims have been dismissed and the parties have undertaken extensive discovery efforts in Europe. This dispute now concerns claims, governed by foreign law under relevant choice-of-law principles, brought by foreign plaintiffs suing mostly foreign defendants based on alleged misstatements made abroad. Because the balance of factors has changed and now point strongly towards dismissal, defendants' motion is now granted.

II. APPLICABLE LAW

A. Forum Non Conveniens

"[F]ederal courts have the power to dismiss damages actions under the common-law forum non conveniens doctrine . . . in 'cases where the alternative forum is abroad.'"*fn3 The "decision to dismiss by reason of forum non conveniens is confided to the sound discretion of the district court."*fn4 "'[I]n the determination of a motion to dismiss for forum non conveniens, the court may consider affidavits submitted by the moving and opposing parties.'"*fn5

The Second Circuit employs a three-part test established in the seminal case of Iragorri v. United Technologies Corporation in addressing motions to dismiss under the doctrine of forum non conveniens.*fn6 "At step one, a court determines the degree of deference properly accorded the plaintiff's choice of forum. At step two, it considers whether the alternative forum proposed by the defendants is adequate to adjudicate the parties' dispute. Finally, at step three, a court balances the private and public interests implicated in the choice of forum."*fn7

"[A] court reviewing a motion to dismiss for forum non conveniens should begin with the assumption that the plaintiff's choice of forum will stand."*fn8

However, "the degree of deference given to a plaintiff's forum choice varies with the circumstances" and "the choice of a United States forum by a foreign plaintiff is entitled to less deference."*fn9 In assessing the proper measure of deference,

[f]actors disfavoring forum non conveniens dismissal "include 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." In contrast, Plaintiffs' choice of forum deserves minimal deference where that choice was motivated by "attempts to win a tactical advantage resulting from local laws that favor the plaintiff's case, the habitual generosity of juries in the United States or in the forum district, the plaintiff's popularity or the defendant's unpopularity in the region, or the inconvenience and expense to the defendant resulting from litigation in that forum."*fn10

Thus, "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 . . . to gain dismissal" whereas "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."*fn11

At step two, "the court must consider whether an adequate alternative forum exists."*fn12 "The defendant bears the burden of establishing that a presently available and adequate alternative forum exists."*fn13

Dismissal is not appropriate if an adequate and presently available alternative forum does not exist. . . . [A] forum may . . . be inadequate if it does not permit the reasonably prompt adjudication of a dispute, if the forum is not presently available, or if the forum provides a remedy so clearly unsatisfactory or inadequate that it is tantamount to no remedy at all.*fn14

However, "[a]n alternative forum is adequate if the defendants are amenable to service of process there, and if it permits litigation of the subject matter of the dispute."*fn15 "An agreement by the defendant to submit to the jurisdiction of the foreign forum can generally satisfy this requirement, and only on rare occasions will the alternative forum . . . be so unsatisfactory that the forum is inadequate."*fn16

Moreover, "[t]he availability of an adequate alternative forum does not depend on the existence of the identical cause of action in the other forum, nor on identical remedies."*fn17

"At step three, Defendants must establish that a balancing of the private and public interest factors tilts heavily in ...


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