Firm Newsletter - October 2016

Photo by grublee/iStock / Getty Images

Photo by grublee/iStock / Getty Images

Defendants did not "Slumber on their Rights" in Seeking Mandamus Relief after 6 Years

The Texas Supreme Court recently ruled on the issue of whether mandamus relief on forum non conveniens is barred where there is a delay in seeking such relief.

In In re Oceanografia, a merchant vessel caught fire while ferrying workers to an off-shore drilling site in Mexico. The fire destroyed the vessel and caused the death of one of the workers onboard. The vessel was traveling in Mexican waters when the accident occurred. It was operated by Oceanografia, S.A. de C.V., a Mexican entity and chartered from Candies Mexican Investments, S. de R.L. de C.V. (“CMI”), also a Mexican entity. CMI was controlled by an affiliate, Otto Candies LLC, a Louisiana entity and OSA International, LCC, a Texas entity, and Oceanografia’s marketing affiliate.

In July 2008, the surviving workers and the deceased worker’s beneficiaries sued Oceanografia, CMI, Otto Candies, and OSA in Cameron County, TX district court. Oceanografia, CMI, and Otto Candies subsequently moved to dismiss the case on forum non conveniens grounds, and Oceanografia filed a special appearance. The trial court overruled the special appearance and denied the motion to dismiss. Oceanografia then appealed the special appearance ruling. The Texas Supreme Court denied Oceanografia’s petition for review in 2013. Oceanografia’s appeal stayed the commencement of a trial. In June 2014, Defendants sought mandamus relief from the court of appeals on forum non conveniens grounds. However, the court of appeals held Defendants’ delay barred them from seeking mandamus relief.

The Texas Supreme Court did not agree. The Court analogized this case with In re E.I. du Pont de Nemours & Co., where a defendant’s four-year delay in moving to dismiss the case on forum non conveniens grounds did not bar mandamus relief.

The Court held that Oceanografia was not at fault for its delay in seeking mandamus relief from the denial of its motion to dismiss for forum non conveniens because it could have compromised Oceanografia’s special appearance appeal. Plaintiffs argued that mandamus relief should have been sought immediately by Defendants. Defendants countered that the delay was not unreasonable due to the determination of whether plaintiffs would bring suit together or separately and whether some plaintiffs would be allowed into the U.S. As a result, the Court believed the defendant’s explanations were sufficient to show that they did not ‘slumber on their rights.’” Rivercenter Associates v. Rivera, 859 S.W.2d at 367. Moreover, plaintiffs could not show how they had been prejudiced due to Defendants’ delay in seeking mandamus relief.

Finally, the Court analyzed the six factors contained in Section 71.051(b) of the Texas Civil Remedies and Practice Code considered in determining whether to dismiss a claim for forum non conveniens. The Court focused on 3 of the 6 factors:

“an alternate forum exists in which the claim or action can be tried;” (2) “the alternate forum, as a result of the submission of the parties or otherwise, can exercise jurisdiction over all the defendants properly joined to the plaintiff’s claim;” and (3) “the stay or dismissal would not result in unreasonable duplication or proliferation of litigation.”

The Court ruled that these factors weighed in favor of Defendants. Thus, the Court conditionally granted Defendants’ mandamus relief and ordered the trial court to dismiss the case on forum non conveniens grounds.

Downloadable .PDF - October 2016