LA FONTAINE et al.
SIGNATURE RESEARCH, INC.
MILLER, P. J., DOYLE and REESE, JJ.
Miller, Presiding Judge.
2014, Michigan residents Francis La Fontaine and her husband,
Roberto Melendez, (collectively "the Appellants")
took a vacation in the Dominican Republic. While
participating in a zipline course, La Fontaine was injured
when the line collapsed. The Appellants sued Signature
Research, Inc. ("Signature"), the Georgia
corporation that inspected the zipline, in the state court of
Douglas County.The trial court dismissed the suit under
the doctrine of forum non conveniens, and this appeal
followed. For the reasons that follow, we affirm.
Georgia, the doctrine of forum non conveniens is codified in
OCGA § 9-10-31.1, which provides that the trial court
may dismiss an action if the interests of justice and
convenience of parties renders another forum more
appropriate. Hawkins v. Blair, 334 Ga.App. 898, 901
(3) (780 S.E.2d 515) (2015). The party seeking dismissal
bears the burden of showing dismissal is warranted.
Id. "The application of the statutory standard
to the peculiar circumstances of a particular case is a
matter committed to the sound discretion of the trial
court." (Citation omitted.) Wang v. Liu, 292
Ga. 568, 569 (1) (740 S.E.2d 136) (2013).
purpose of Signature's motion to dismiss, the relevant
facts are undisputed. Cumayasa Sky Adventures operated a
zipline in the Dominican Republic. In December 2013,
Signature inspected the line and certified that it was
compliant with industry safety standards.
2014, while vacationing in the Dominican Republic, La
Fontaine was injured when the zipline collapsed. She received
treatment for her injuries in the Dominican Republic before
returning to Michigan, where she continued to receive
extensive medical care.
Appellants initially filed suit in the district court of the
Southern District of Florida,  but the district court dismissed
that complaint based on forum non conveniens. The Appellants
then filed the instant suit.
again moved to dismiss on forum non conveniens grounds, and
the trial court granted the motion. Importantly, Signature
has stipulated that it will submit to jurisdiction in the
Dominican Republic and will waive any statute-of-limitations
defenses there, as well as in every other state in the United
States in which the claim was not already barred.
Appellants first argue that the doctrine of forum non
conveniens does not require that they bring their suit in a
foreign country under common law or statute, and that
Georgia's forum non conveniens statute unconstitutionally
invades a plaintiff's right of access to the courts. They
further contend that this right of access to our courts
applies equally to Georgia residents and residents of other
states. We conclude that Georgia law does not preclude the
dismissal of this case on forum non conveniens grounds.
§ 9-10-31.1(a), which codified the common law doctrine
of forum non conveniens, provides:
If a court of this state, on written motion of a party, finds
that in the interest of justice and for the convenience of
the parties and witnesses a claim or action would be more
properly heard in a forum outside this state . . . the court
shall decline to adjudicate the matter under the doctrine of
forum non conveniens . . . [and] shall dismiss the claim or
action. . . .
Court has recognized that "[t]he doctrine of forum non
conveniens is unique in the law because it allows a trial
court to dismiss a suit that otherwise meets all of the
jurisdiction and venue requirements for access to our courts
on the grounds of administrative efficiency and
convenience." (Citations omitted.) Hewett v.
Raytheon Aircraft Co., 273 Ga.App. 242, 248 (2) (614
S.E.2d 875) (2005), overruled on other grounds by
Wang, supra, 292 Ga. at 571.
Constitutionality of OCGA § 9-10-31.1
extent that the Appellants argue that the statute is
unconstitutional and denies access to the courts, the trial
court did not rule on these arguments, and thus, we cannot
review them on appeal. Pimper v. State of Ga., 274
Ga. 624, 627 (555 S.E.2d 459) (2001); Brunswick Landing,
LLC v. Glynn County, 301 Ga.App. 288, 295 (4) (b) (687
S.E.2d 271) (2009).
Forum non conveniens after AT&T Corp. v. Sigala
Appellants argue that AT&T Corp. v. Sigala, 274
Ga. 137 (549 S.E.2d 373) (2001), which was superceded by OCGA
§ 9-10-31.1, mandates that we reverse the trial
court's order dismissing the complaint. Specifically,
they contend that Sigala limits the application of
forum non conveniens to cases brought by nonresident aliens
for injuries that occur outside the United States, and that
the codification of the forum non conveniens doctrine merely
reinforces this application. In other words, they argue that
neither Siga ...