Federal Courts May Rule On Forum Motions Without First Determining Jurisdiction

Before considering dispositive motions going to the merits of the case, federal courts typically must be satisfied that they have subject-matter and personal jurisdiction.

In Sinochem Int’l Co. Ltd. v. Malaysia Int’l Shipping Corp., 127 S. Ct. 1184 (U.S. Mar. 5, 2007), the Supreme Court confirmed that the same considerations do not apply to a motion to dismiss based on forum non conveniens because such a motion is not a disposition on the merits. Such motions do not entail the court’s assumption of any substantive law-declaring power; therefore, there is no requirement that the court first undertake the discovery necessary to ascertain that it has either subject-matter or personal juris­diction. Here, the Supreme Court characterized the international dispute at issue as being a textbook case for immediate dismissal because the jurisdictional issues would be difficult to determine and the forum non conveniens considerations weighed heavily in favor of dismissal.