An airplane was headed to
Philadelphia, but crashed into Boston harbor. Some injured parties sued
in a Massachusetts Federal Court, and some sued in Pennsylvania Federal
The defendants filed to
transfer all the suits to Massachusetts based on convenience (28 USC § 1404). The Trial judge
granted the transfer. It was appealed to the US Supreme Court.
The defendants made the
motion because the suits were for the tort of "wrongful death."
The defendants knew that a lot of States put a damages cap on these
suits. Massachusetts has a $10k cap, Pennsylvania had no cap, so they
could be liable for unlimited damages.
The US Supreme Court allowed
the transfer, but...
The US Supreme Court found
that according to §1404, the
judge can determine the forum. However, transfer is simply for the
convenience of the parties. When there is a transfer under §1404, the transferee court will act as the
transferor court, and apply the same laws that would have applied in the
judicial district where it was originally filed.
This means that the
Massachusetts Court should apply the laws of Pennsylvania!
So basically, a party can
use §1404 to move the case to a
courtroom that is more convenient for the parties and witnesses to get
to, but they cannot use §1404 to move the case to a State with laws favorable to them.
Conflict of laws has a
principle called lex loci delicti
(aka "law of the place where the tort was committed").
This case ended up even more
complicated. Since the US was one of the defendants, and suits against
the US use the laws of the place where the negligent act occurred. The
Court found that the fault for the crash was the air control tower in
Rhode Island, so they had to apply Rhode Island law!