A helicopter crashed in the Gulf of Mexico. Its owner sued three defendants — Rolls-Royce, who built the engine bearing in question; the designer of the “pontoon flotation” system that deployed after the crash; and a repair company that worked on that system. Rolls-Royce sought severance and transfer to Indiana, based on a forum selection clause in its warranty, and relying on the recent case of Atlantic Marine Construction v. Western District of Texas, 134 S. Ct. 568 (2013). The district court denied its motions; in a 2-1 decision, the Fifth Circuit reversed. In re: Rolls Royce Corp., 775 F.3d 671 (5th Cir. 2014).
After confirming that mandamus relief was available, despite the novel procedural context of a combined transfer and venue motion, the majority reviewed the applicability of Atlantic Marine. “For cases where all parties signed a forum selection contract, the analysis is easy: except in a truly exceptional case, the contract controls.” For a situation such as this one, however, the analysis is more subtle: “While Atlantic Marine noted that public factors, standing alone, were unlikely to defeat a transfer motion, the Supreme Court has also noted that section 1404 was designed to minimize the waste of judicial resources of parallel litigation of a dispute. The tension between these centrifugal considerations suggests that the need — rooted in the valued public interest in judicial economy — to pursue the same claims in a single action in a single court can trump a forum-selection clause.”
The dissent “believe[s] the majority have erroneously and confusingly diminished the scope of Atlantic Marine,” concluding: “Simple two-party disputes are near a vanishing breed of litigation. It seems highly unlikely that the Supreme Court granted certiorari and awarded the extraordinary relief of mandamus simply to proclaim that a forum selection clause must prevail only when one party sues one other party. The Court is not naive about the nature of litigation today.”