In a case that took two Texas lawyers to the U.S. Supreme Court for the first time in their careers, Dallas attorney Scott Hastings emerged as the victor on Dec. 3 when the court issued its opinion.
“It’s been a very good day. It’s been a very good experience,” said Hastings, a Locke Lord partner in Dallas. He argued for Atlantic Marine Construction Co., the defendant in a construction dispute with its subcontractor, J. Crew Management Inc. [See "Lawyers From Locke Lord, Allensworth & Porter Argued Forum-Selection Case at U.S. Supreme Court," texaslawyer.com, Oct. 14, 2013.]
The case, Atlantic Marine Construction v. U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas, asked the U.S. Supreme Court which of two federal statutes controls how courts should enforce forum-selection clauses in contracts. J. Crew filed suit against Atlantic Marine in Texas, although the contract between them chose either state or federal court in Virginia for disputes.
The U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas in Austin denied Atlantic Marine’s request to transfer the case to the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit upheld that decision.
The Supreme Court on Dec. 3 held that a party could enforce a forum-selection clause with a motion to transfer under 28 U.S.C. §1406(a). Only extraordinary circumstances—not present here—would stop a transfer. The Supreme Court held that here, the district court erred by deviating from three principles: The plaintiff should have the burden to prove the transfer is unwarranted; the court should consider only public interests, not the parties’ private interests; and the original court’s “choice-of-law rules” do not transfer with the case.
The high court reversed the Fifth Circuit’s decision and remanded the case to the lower courts to reconsider Atlantic Marine’s motion to transfer.
Hastings said, “We’re very pleased with the opinion. It is a well-written and well-reasoned decision that should provide certainty to parties who negotiate forum-selection clauses in their contracts.”
J. Crew’s lawyer, Allensworth & Porter senior partner William Allensworth of Austin, did not return a call for comment.