United States District Court, E.D. Louisiana
ORDER AND REASONS
ANN VIAL LEMMON UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
IS HEREBY ORDERED that defendant's
Motion to Dismiss Pursuant to Federal Rules of Civil
Procedure 12(b)(1) and 12(b)(6) (Rec. Doc. 15) is
GRANTED, and this matter is dismissed.
a defamation suit arising out of alleged defamatory
statements made in connection with state court child custody
litigation. Plaintiff herein, Cynthia Sternberg, alleges that
her ex-husband, Tom Sternberg, and her childhood friend,
Cleon Brown Randon, made defamatory statements in the
affidavits provided with Tom Sternberg's February 16,
2017 petition for ex parte custody brought pursuant to
Louisiana Code of Civil Procedure article 3945.
parte custody petition was filed on February 16, 2017, and
was set for hearing before a hearing officer on March 15,
2017. Petitioner, Tom Sternberg, failed to appear at the
hearing and thus the article 3945 petition was dismissed, in
an order providing seven days, or until March 22, 2017, for
him to file objections. No. objections having been filed, on
March 27, 2017, final judgment was entered dismissing the
petition. On March 1, 2019, the Sternbergs entered into a
settlement agreement, which specifically covered "all
litigation of all the issues involved in this divorce."
Rec. Doc. 15-1, § I. Further, this global settlement
agreement included a clause in which the parties agreed that
"any breach will be adjudicated in the [22nd
Judicial District Court in St. Tammany Parish]" and that
each party "waive[d] any right to bring suit in any
other state or jurisdiction other than the [22nd
Judicial District Court in St. Tammany Parish]. Id.
at ¶¶ 4, 6.
Cynthia Sternberg filed the instant defamation suit in this
court. Tom Sternberg has moved to dismiss arguing that the
suit is prescribed, because it was brought more than one year
after the alleged defamatory statements were made, and that
the court lacks jurisdiction, because by the terms of the
parties' settlement, any related litigation must be filed
in the 22nd Judicial District. Cynthia Sternberg
opposes, arguing that the claims are not prescribed because
they did not come into existence until the entry of the
settlement agreement, and that the forum selection clause is
inapplicable to her defamation suit, because the state court
section in which the prior litigation proceeded is a family
court that does not have jurisdiction to hear the defamation
the motion to dismiss based on the forum selection clause is
premised on Federal Rule 12(b)(1), the Supreme Court has
instructed that "the appropriate way to enforce a
forum-selection clause pointing to a state or foreign forum
is through the doctrine of forum non
conveniens."Atl. Marine Const. Co. v. U.S. Dist.
Court for W. Dist. of Texas, 571 U.S. 49, 62-63 (2013).
Under the forum non conveniens doctrine, a court may decline
to exercise jurisdiction over a case properly before it if
the case may be more conveniently tried in another forum.
In re Volkswagen of Am., Inc., 545 F.3d 304, 313
(5th Cir. 2008).
usual case, courts consider private and public interest
factors in determining convenience. Weber v. PACT XPP
Techs., AG, 811 F.3d 758, 766-67 (5th Cir. 2016). The
private interest factors are: the relative ease of access to
sources of proof, the availability of compulsory process to
secure the attendance of witnesses, the cost of attendance
for willing witnesses, and all other practical problems that
make trial of a case easy, expeditious and inexpensive.
In re Volkswagen of Am., Inc., 545 F.3d at 315. The
public interest factors are: the administrative difficulties
flowing from court congestion, the local interest in having
localized interests decided at home, the familiarity of the
forum with the law that will govern the case. and the
avoidance of unnecessary problems of conflict of laws or in
the application of foreign law. Id. However, when
there is a valid forum selection clause, “[i]nstead of
independently weighing the private interests of the parties,
the court should deem the private-interest factors to weigh
entirely in favor of the preselected forum.” In re
Lloyd's Register N. Am., Inc., 780 F.3d 283, 293-94
(5th Cir. 2015) (citing Atl. Marine, 134 S.Ct. at
582)(internal quotations omitted)). "As a consequence, a
district court may consider arguments about public-interest
factors only. Because those factors will rarely defeat a
transfer motion, the practical result is that forum-selection
clauses should control except in unusual cases."
Atl. Marine, 134 S.Ct. at 582.
case, Cynthia Sternberg's sole argument against the
applicability of the forum selection clause is that the
selected forum, the 22nd Judicial District Court
for the Parish of St. Tammany, is a family court that has no
jurisdiction over defamation claims. However,
"[d]istrict courts are tribunals of general jurisdiction
in Louisiana." Tanner v. Beverly Country Club,
217 La. 1043, 1072, 47 So.2d 905, 915 (1950). Therefore, even
though the 22nd Judicial District Court may
dedicate certain sections to specific areas of law, the court
is nonetheless a court of general jurisdiction. Thus, while
the Sternberg's divorce and incidental litigation may
have proceeded in a family law section, that does not mean
that no section of the 22nd Judicial District
court can assert jurisdiction over plaintiff's defamation
claim. Accordingly, plaintiff has not demonstrated the
extraordinary circumstances needed to override the forum
Cynthia Sternberg has not argued that the forum selection
clause is otherwise invalid. Under the Bremen rule,
forum selection clauses “are prima facie valid and
should be enforced unless enforcement is shown by the
resisting party to be unreasonable under the
circumstances.” The BREMEN v. Zapata Off-Shore
Co., 407 U.S. 1, 15 (1972). The Bremen rule,
announced in an admiralty case, has been explicitly held to
apply to motions to dismiss based on a forum selection clause
filed in cases before federal courts sitting in diversity.
International Software Systems, Inc. v. Amplicon,
Inc., 77 F.3d 112, 115 (5th Cir.1996).
“Unreasonableness potentially exists where (1) the
incorporation of the forum selection clause into the
agreement was the product of fraud or overreaching; (2) the
party seeking to escape enforcement will for all practical
purposes be deprived of his day in court because of the grave
inconvenience or unfairness of the selected forum; (3) the
fundamental unfairness of the chosen law will deprive the
plaintiff of a remedy; or (4) enforcement of the forum
selection clause would contravene a strong public policy of
the forum state.” Haynsworth v. The
Corporation, 121 F.3d 956, 963 (5th Cir.1997).
has failed to argue that any of these concerns were present
in confecting the forum selection clause included in the
operative settlement agreement, and the court's review of
the record does not indicate that any were present. Plaintiff
herself is an attorney, and the settlement agreement was
reached after lengthy litigation, and read into the record in
open court, in a proceeding in which plaintiff agreed to its
terms. Accordingly, the court ...