A recent series of transactions involving a company called Norvergence, which entered into contracts promising delivery of telecommunications services, has led to an interesting split among the courts. The Norvergence contracts contained a “floating” forum selection clause under which the choice of law and forum were subject to immediate change if Norvergence assigned the contract. Apparently, Norvergence had a practice of immediately assigning contracts to finance companies without customers’ prior knowledge and then not delivering services, which has led to litigation all over the country.
In a Seventh Circuit case, the court held that the floating forum selection clause was enforceable either under federal law or Illinois law, and therefore the court did not need to decide which law controlled. IFC Credit Corp. v. Aliano Bros. Gen. Contractors, 437 F.3d 606 (7th Cir. 2006). However, in Preferred Capital, Inc. v. Sarasota Kennel Club, Inc., 489 F.3d 303 (6th Cir. May 29, 2007), the Sixth Circuit had to contend with the fact that both it and the Ohio Supreme Court had reached opposite conclusions -- the state court found the clause unenforceable as against public policy while the Sixth Circuit had previously upheld the very same clause -- and therefore it had to decide as a matter of first impression whose law should govern a forum selection clause in a diversity case when that clause was the sole basis for personal jurisdiction.
Splitting from the Seventh Circuit, the court analogized to the law of personal jurisdiction and concluded that the law of the forum state should control. It affirmed the finding that the clause was unenforceable and therefore that the Ohio federal court was without jurisdiction.