LA FONTAINE et al.
SIGNATURE RESEARCH, INC.
granted certiorari in this case to resolve whether the trial
court properly applied OCGA § 9-10-31.1, Georgia's
forum non conveniens statute, to dismiss a lawsuit filed in
Georgia by residents of Michigan against a Georgia
corporation in favor of it being filed in the foreign country
where the underlying event occurred. For the reasons that
follow, we conclude that OCGA § 9-10-31.1 is
inapplicable to the case at bar.
facts relevant to this appeal are undisputed. While
vacationing in the Dominican Republic in May 2014, Appellant
Francis La Fontaine was injured in a fall from a collapsed
zip-line at a course operated by Cumayasa Sky Adventures
(CSA). She and her husband, Appellant Roberto Melendez, who
are Michigan residents, filed a tort action in Douglas County
State Court against Appellee Signature Research, Inc.
Appellee is a Georgia corporation that inspected and
certified the zip-line course operated by CSA. Appellee filed
a motion to dismiss based on forum non conveniens saying it
would submit to jurisdiction in the Dominican Republic and it
would agree to extend the applicable statute of limitations
period. Pursuant to OCGA § 9-10-31.1, the trial court
granted Appellee's motion because the balance of private
and public factors weighed in favor of adjudicating this
matter in the Dominican Republic.
appealed the trial court's decision to the Georgia Court
of Appeals on four grounds. See La Fontaine v. Signature
Research, Inc., 342 Ga.App. 454 (803 S.E.2d 609) (2017).
Relevant here, the Court of Appeals relied on its earlier
decision in Hewett v. Raytheon Aircraft Co., 273
Ga.App. 242, 248 (3) (614 S.E.2d 875) (2005),  to reject
Appellants' argument that it was error to dismiss the
case in favor of a foreign tribunal under the plain language
of OCGA § 9-10-31.1. La Fontaine, 342 Ga.App.
at 457 (2). Appellants' main argument in this Court is
that OCGA § 9-10-31.1 is inapplicable here because that
statute only allows dismissals of actions to other states and
not to other countries. We agree and consequently reverse the
Court of Appeals' judgment.
whether OCGA § 9-10-31.1 is applicable to this case is a
matter of statutory construction which is a question of law
subject to de novo review. See Fulton County Bd. of Ed.
v. Thomas, 299 Ga. 59, 61 (786 S.E.2d 628) (2016).
"[T]he fundamental rules of statutory construction . . .
require us to construe the statute according to its own
terms, to give words their plain and ordinary meaning, and to
avoid a construction that makes some language mere
surplusage." Lyman v. Cellchem Intl., Inc., 300
Ga. 475, 477 (796 S.E.2d 255) (2017) (punctuation and
citation omitted). In construing language in any one part of
a statute, a court should consider the statute as a whole.
OCGA § 9-10-31.1 provides in relevant part:
(a) If a court of this state . . . 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. As to a claim or action that would be more
properly heard in a forum outside this state, the court
shall dismiss the claim or action. . . .
(b) A court may not dismiss a claim under this Code section
until the defendant files with the court or with the clerk of
the court a written stipulation that, with respect to a new
action on the claim commenced by the plaintiff, all the
defendants waive the right to assert a statute of limitations
defense in all other states of the United States in
which the claim was not barred by limitations at the time the
claim was filed in this state as necessary to effect a
tolling of the limitations periods in those states beginning
on the date the claim was filed in this state and ending on
the date the claim is dismissed.
§ 9-10-31.1 was adopted in derogation of the common
and therefore "'must be limited strictly to the
meaning of the language employed, and not extended beyond the
plain and explicit terms of the statute.'"
Wegman v. Wegman, 338 Ga.App. 648, 652 (1) (791
S.E.2d 431) (2016) (quoting Couch v. Red Roof Inns,
291 Ga. 359, 364 (729 S.E.2d 378) (2012)).
the language of OCGA § 9-10-31.1 as a whole and giving
it its plain and ordinary meaning, dismissing a claim via
statutory forum non conveniens when the alternative forum is
a foreign country is not an action the trial court may take.
OCGA § 9-10-31.1 (a) provides discretionary factors to
help trial courts determine whether to grant a motion to
dismiss an action or to transfer venue under the doctrine of
forum non conveniens. Based on those factors, if a claim or
action would be more properly heard in "a forum outside
this state," the trial court shall dismiss the claim or
action. OCGA § 9-10-31.1 (a). Critically for this case,
OCGA § 9-10-31.1 (b) provides that a court may not
dismiss a claim via forum non conveniens until the defendant
files a written stipulation that all defendants waive the
right to assert a statute of limitations defense "in all
other states of the United States in which the claim
was not barred." (Emphasis added.)
requirement in OCGA § 9-10-31.1 (b) shows that a
"forum outside this state" in subsection (a) can
only be referring to forums in sister states. If the
legislature had not included subsection (b), then the
"forum outside this state" language in subsection
(a) might allow trial courts to dismiss cases in favor of
forums in foreign countries. However, courts must ascertain
the meaning of a statutory provision from the statute as a
whole. See Lyman, 300 Ga. 475. The legislature
included the requirement that defendants waive the right to
assert a statute of limitations defense "in all other
states of the United States" in subsection (b) in order
for a claim or action to be dismissed. Reading the statute as
Appellee urges, to include forums outside the United States,
would make subsection (b)'s waiver requirement operate
illogically. In cases like this one, a defendant would
be unable to have a claim dismissed in favor of a forum in a
foreign country unless it waived its right to raise a statute
of limitations defense in 49 states where the defendant could
not be sued in the first place, but the defendant would not
have to waive this defense in the foreign country-the very
place it argues should decide the case.
the courts cannot construe OCGA § 9-10-31.1 to force an
outcome that the legislature did not authorize. Strictly
construed, OCGA § 9-10-31.1 does not provide for
dismissals of actions unless the claim should be moved to one
of the other 49 states. Accordingly, the judgment of the
Court of Appeals affirming the dismissal of Appellants'
action pursuant to OCGA § 9-10-31.1 is reversed. We do
not address whether the action may be transferred pursuant to