Home » The Inconvenient Forum Conundrum: How to Dismiss or Stay a Lawsuit Filed in California

The Inconvenient Forum Conundrum: How to Dismiss or Stay a Lawsuit Filed in California

Estimated reading time: 7 minutes

California is convenient for many things: making wine, surfing waves, launching a startup — we could go on! But it’s not always a convenient forum for a lawsuit against your client.  

Where a case is heard can be as crucial as the case itself, depending on the factors at play. However, successfully extracting a case you believe was filed in an unsuitable forum will require a thorough understanding of California civil procedure. Specifically, we’re talking about the Code of Civil Procedure sections 410.30 and 418.10. 

Lucky for you, CEB has prepared a refresher on the process, which includes proposing a suitable alternative, considering the notions of substantial justice, weighing the choice between stay and dismissal, and following the guidelines for drafting your motion. Here are the critical considerations for filing a motion to dismiss or stay for inconvenient forum in California.  

Propose a suitable alternative 

Any motion to dismiss or stay for inconvenient forum will need to make the case for an alternative court. Your reasoning should tick the following three boxes: 

  1. Your client should be subject to the alternative forum’s jurisdiction. To move the case elsewhere, you’ll need to show that your client, the defendant, accepts that court’s rules and authority. And not just them — all the defendants in the case need to be OK with it, too. However, nominal defendants (who are named in the suit due to a technical connection) can’t stop a case from being moved if it really should be. 
  1. There can’t be any statute of limitations issues. You must ensure the time limit for filing the case in the alternative jurisdiction hasn’t passed. If the time limit is nearing expiration in the new forum but not the current one, the defendant can waive it, relinquishing their right to argue that the case was filed too late. 
  1. The alternative forum must provide an adequate remedy for the plaintiff. The new forum should be able to address the plaintiff’s needs. If your proposed forum is in another country that arguably lacks fairness or fails to follow fundamental legal principles, then this could be akin to the plaintiff having no recourse at all. For this step, if the defendant has satisfied their obligations for the above considerations, it’s up to the plaintiff to prove that the alternative forum doesn’t provide an adequate remedy. 

Some things don’t impact suitability 

If your proposed forum doesn’t allow the plaintiff to pursue all the same legal claims, that’s not necessarily a dealbreaker. A judge won’t rule out another court just because some claims can’t be made there.  

Likewise, If the laws governing the proposed forum are less favorable for the plaintiff, that doesn’t mean it’s unsuitable. As long as some sort of solution or remedy is available, even if it’s not as robust as the current court’s, a judge won’t automatically dismiss the idea of moving a case there. Even if the judge finds California law will likely give the plaintiff procedural and legal benefits, that can’t be counted as a point in the plaintiff’s favor in the forum non conveniens assessment. 

Keep the interest of substantial justice top-of-mind  

Your client has the burden of proof in attempting to override the plaintiff’s choice of forum, and they must demonstrate that the interest of substantial justice warrants having the action heard outside California. The judge will consider the following factors: 

  1. The plaintiff’s residence and choice of forum 

If the plaintiff lives in California and filed their lawsuit there, you will need a compelling reason to move it out of state. Residents have preferential access to California courts for two important reasons: geographical convenience and because, as taxpayers, they pay to maintain the legal system. Recent changes in the law have clarified that being a California resident doesn’t automatically mean a case remains there, but it will still be a significant factor.  

If the plaintiff doesn’t live in California, the fact that they selected it as the place for the trial doesn’t mean as much. The court will consider moving it if there’s a good reason to have the trial somewhere else.  

  1. The defendant’s residence 

A defendant corporation’s home state is typically a good place for any legal issues it’s involved in, so there’s a greater chance of the suit remaining in California if your client is based there. However, a judge might still move it if you prove another location is more appropriate. 

  1. Private and public factors 

California courts consider various factors affecting litigants and the general public when determining the appropriate forum. Private interests include where the witnesses and evidence are, how easy it is for everyone to get to the trial, and their connection to California. Public factors include how busy the courts are and if California has an interest in hearing the case because of the alleged conduct involved. While judges can consider how congested their court’s docket is, they can’t move a case elsewhere just to clear up their schedule — only if it makes sense for the case! View a list of private and public factors here.  

Monitor your deadlines 

A request to dismiss or stay the case can come before or after general appearances, but the time limits will differ.  

If you’re making the request before your general appearance, your client must file before the deadline for their initial response or within extra time provided by the court. Doing so at this point will give defendants some advantages under Code of Civil Procedure 418.10, including extra time to plead and protection against a default judgment during this period. This doesn’t waive your client’s right to challenge jurisdiction.  

After a general appearance, your client can move to dismiss or stay at any time, but this will fall under Code of Civil Procedure section 410.30 instead of 418.10. 

Stay vs. dismissal 

Since California courts can’t force jurisdiction onto other states or countries, a judge can’t simply transfer your case; they can only throw out or pause the litigation. As dismissal means losing jurisdiction entirely, judges often opt to stay the case to ensure the plaintiff has the opportunity to obtain substantial justice — though nothing is stopping the bench from dismissing a case altogether. For this reason, consider requesting a dismissal or a stay in the alternative. 

Draft your motion  

A motion to dismiss or stay based on inconvenient forum should comply with form and format requirements of California Rules of Court, rules 2.1002.119, and include the following: 

  • A memorandum supporting the motion, including the statement of facts, a concise statement of the law, evidence and arguments, and the supporting statutes, cases and texts — all adhering to a strict page limit.  
  • Optional declarations detailing additional evidence the court should consider.  
  • Optional request for the court to take judicial notice of the alternative forum’s suitability (you might prefer to wait for the plaintiff to raise any issues before filing this request). 

Make sure you file and serve your motion within the applicable notice periods, which differ before and after general appearances. 

Filing a successful motion to dismiss or stay in California due to an inconvenient forum requires a deep understanding of the civil procedure and jurisdictional laws at play. CEB’s, dare we say, convenient refresher is a vital first step for ensuring your arguments are heard in the most appropriate venue, but we also recommend checking all appropriate county or federal websites for up-to-date local rules, standing orders and other relevant information. (CEB has your back there with the most detailed resources on county ordinances available.) Whether pursuing a dismissal or stay, your client’s request must be backed by the principles of substantial justice, private and public interests, and a suitable alternative forum. 

For more on how to draft, file and serve the motion to dismiss or stay for inconvenient forum, including sample motions, reach out to schedule a free demo.