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ALDABA v. MICHELIN NORTH AMERICA

December 29, 2005.

MARIA DE LOURDES RUELAS ALDABA, ENRIQUE RUELAS ALDABA, ALVARO RUELAS ALDABA, CESAR RUELAS ALDABA, SERGIO RUELAS ALDABA a minor, by Rutilio Ruelas Aldaba, his guardian ad litem; RUTILIO RUELAS ALDABA, MARIA MARTA RUELAS ALDABA, MARIA DE LOS ANGELES RUELAS ALDABA, MARIA DE JESUS RUELAS ALDABA and ROMAN RUELAS ALDABA as Surviving Heirs of JOSE MARIA RUELAS JUAREZ and TERESA ALDABA ARROYO, DECEASED; EFRAIN FRIDE MONTES, JOSE WILLIAMS FRIDE RUELAS, a minor, by Efrain Fride Montes, his guardian ad litem, and JONATHAN FRIDE RUELAS, a minor by, by Efrain Fride Montes, his guardian ad litem, as Surviving Heirs of MARIA INES RUELAS ALDABA, DECEASED; EFRAIN FRIDE MONTES as Surviving Heir of FATIMA IRIS RUELAS, DECEASED; JOSE RUELAS BRIONES, a minor, by Rutilio Ruelas Aldaba, his guardian ad litem; ANASTACIO RUELAS BRIONES, a minor, by Rutilio Ruelas Aldaba, Individually and as Surviving Heirs of ANGELICA BRIONES SALAZAR, Plaintiffs,
v.
MICHELIN NORTH AMERICA, INC., FORD MOTOR COMPANY; and DOES 1-100, inclusive, Defendants.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: MARILYN PATEL, District Judge

MEMORANDUM & ORDER Re: Defendant's Motion to Dismiss

On May 3, 2005 plaintiffs Maria de Lourdes Ruelas Aldaba et. al brought this class action against Michelin North America, Inc. ("Michelin") and Ford Motor Company ("Ford") alleging strict product liability, negligence, misrepresentation and negligent infliction of emotional distress. Plaintiffs seek recovery of punitive and compensatory damages resulting from a motor vehicle accident. Michelin has settled all claims with plaintiff. Now, before the court is defendant Ford's motion to dismiss plaintiffs' complaint for forum non conveniens, arguing that Mexico affords plaintiffs an available and adequate alternate forum. Having considered the parties' arguments and for the reasons stated below, the court enters the following memorandum and order.

BACKGROUND*fn1

  On December 25, 2003 plaintiff Rutilio Ruelas Aldaba ("the Driver") was driving a 1984 Ford Bronco II ("Ford Bronco") in Zacatecas, Mexico when the right-rear tire of the Ford Bronco experienced a tread/belt separation, causing the vehicle to veer to the right. When the Driver attempted to straighten the car, the Ford Bronco rolled over. Jose Maria Ruelas Juarez (age 61),*fn2 Tereza Aldaba Arroyo (age 53), Maria Ines Ruelas Aldaba (age 35), Angelica Briones Salazar (age 26), Fatima Iris Salazar (age 26), and minor children Sergio Ruelas Aldaba (age 9), Jose Ruelas Briones (age 10) and Anastacio Ruelas Briones (age 5) (the "Minor Children") were all occupants of the vehicle during this rollover incident. All the adults, except for the Driver, died as a result of the injuries they sustained during this accident. The Driver and the Minor Children all sustained severe injuries from the accident.

  Jose Maria Ruelas Juarez, one of those killed in the accident, originally purchased the Ford Bronco and the tire in San Jose, California in 2002.*fn3 The vehicle was registered in California from 2002 until the time of the accident. Pl. Opp., Exh. 7. The Ford Bronco was designed and manufactured by Ford, a company whose principal office is in Dearborn, Michigan but which conducts business within the state of California. Michelin, a New York corporation, with a principal place of business in Greenville, South California, also conducts business within California. Michelin designed and manufactured the allegedly defective tire.

  Maria de Los Ruelas Aldaba, Maria de Los Angeles, Alvaro Ruelas Aldaba ("Alvaro"), Enrique Ruelas Aldaba ("Enrique"), and Cesar Ruelas Aldaba ("Cesar"), together the ("California plaintiffs") are residents of Contra Costa county in California, save Maria de Los Angeles who is now a resident of Texas. Maria de Los Ruelas Aldaba has been a resident of California for the past six years and a resident of the United States for fourteen years. See Maria de Los Ruelas Aldaba Dec. Alvaro and Cesar have been residents of California for the past seven years. See Cesar Dec. These California plaintiffs are among the biological children of Jose Maria Ruelas Juarez and Teresa Aldaba Arroyo (who were both killed in the accident in Zacatecas) but they were not in the Ford Bronco at the time of the accident.*fn4 All the rest of the plaintiffs are residents of Mexico. All plaintiffs, including the California plaintiffs, are citizens of Mexico.

  Other than the individuals who were in the Ford Bronco at the time of the accident, there were no eyewitnesses to the accident. Plaintiffs have identified approximately 207 individuals who were involved in the design and/or manufacture of the Ford Bronco and these individuals are located in Michigan. See Aff. Watts ΒΆ 3.

  On December 12, 2004 plaintiffs, comprising the Driver and surviving heirs resident in both California and Mexico, filed suit in federal district court for damages for personal injuries and wrongful death. On August 4, 2005 defendants Ford and Michelin filed a joint motion to dismiss for forum non conveniens. On October 5, 2005 Michelin settled with plaintiffs and withdrew from the motion to dismiss.

  LEGAL STANDARD

  I Forum Non Conveniens

  The common law principle of forum non conveniens allows a court to decline otherwise proper jurisdiction when the chosen forum is disproportionately inconvenient to the defendant or inappropriately burdensome on the court. Piper Aircraft Co. v. Reyno, 454 U.S. 235, 241 (1981). The applicable standard is whether "defendants have made a clear showing of facts which . . . establish such oppression and vexation of a defendant as to be out of proportion to plaintiff's convenience, which may be shown to be slight or nonexistent . . ." Cheng v. Boeing Co., 708 F.2d 1406, 1410 (9th Cir. 1983). Consequently, dismissal for forum non conveniens is "an exceptional tool to be employed sparingly," and courts have declined to "perceive it as a doctrine that compels plaintiffs to choose the optimal forum for their claim." Ravelo Monegro v. Rosa, 211 F.3d 509, 514 (9th Cir. 2000), cert. denied, 531 U.S. 1112 (2001) (emphasis added). Dismissal for forum non conveniens by a court is appropriate where there is (1) an adequate alternate forum and (2) the balance of private and public interests clearly indicates that trial in the alternate forum would be more convenient for the parties. See Gulf Oil Corp v. Gilbert, 330 U.S. 501, 506-08 (1947);*fn5 Lockman Found. v. Evangelical Alliance Mission, 930 F.2d 764, 767 (9th Cir. 1991); Lueck v. Sundstrand Corp., 236 F.3d 1137, 1142-43 (9th Cir. 2001). While there is usually a "strong presumption in favor of honoring the plaintiff's choice of forum, a foreign plaintiff's choice is afforded less deference." Creative Tech., Ltd. v. Aztech Sys. Pte., Ltd., 61 F.3d 696, 703 (9th Cir. 1995). See also Piper Aircraft, 454 U.S. at 255-56 ("When the home forum has been chosen, it is reasonable to assume that this choice is convenient. When the plaintiff is foreign, however, this assumption is much less reasonable. Because the central purpose of any forum non conveniens inquiry is to ensure that the trial is convenient, a foreign plaintiff's choice deserves less deference."). In adopting this "home forum" standard, the Supreme Court indicated that the appropriate distinction to draw was between a "resident or citizen plaintiff . . . and [a] foreign plaintiff . . ." Id. (emphasis added). Consequently, a resident or citizen plaintiff's choice of forum will not be disturbed unless the "private interest" and "public interest" factors strongly favor trial in the foreign country." See Dole Food Co. v. Watts, 303 F.3d 1104, 1118 (9th Cir. 2002).

  DISCUSSION

  I. Availability and Adequacy of Mexico as an Alternative Forum

  In order to dismiss an action under forum non conveniens, the alternative forum must be both available and adequate. Lueck, 236 F.3d 1143. An alternative forum is available if all parties are amenable to process and are subject to the jurisdiction of the forum. See Lockman, 930 F.2d at 768; Piper Aircraft, 454 U.S. at 242. A forum is inadequate if it does not provide plaintiff with a "sufficient remedy for his wrong." Dole, 303 F.3d at 1118. However, the prospect of a lesser recovery does not justify denying a forum non conveniens motion. See Lockman, 930 F.2d at 769 (citing Borden, Inc. v. Meiji Milk Prod. Co., 919 F.2d 822, 829 (2nd Cir. 1990)). See also Lueck, 236 F.3d at 1143. Neither does the fact that the "foreign forum does not provide the same range of remedies as are available in the home forum." Ceramic Corp. of Am. v. Inka Mar. Corp., 1 F.3d 947, 949 (9th Cir. 1993). The "alternative ...


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