Products Liability Law Daily Massachusetts not a convenient forum for Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant disaster litigation
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Tuesday, April 9, 2019

Massachusetts not a convenient forum for Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant disaster litigation

By David Yucht, J.D.

The difficulty in accessing evidence located in Japan, the difficultA proposed class action against General Electric Co. by individuals and businesses injured as a result of the tsunami-related nuclear disaster in Japan was dismissed based on forum non conveniens.y of compulsory process, and the lack of a strong local interest in the dispute weighed in favor of dismissing a lawsuit for property and economic damages stemming from the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant disaster based on the doctrine of forum non conveniens, according to the federal district court in Massachusetts. Moreover, Japan provided an adequate forum to resolve these issues. Consequently, the matter was dismissed (Imamura v. General Electric Co., April 8, 2019, Saris, P.).

Four individuals and six business entities from Fukushima Prefecture in Japan brought this proposed class action against General Electric Co. (GE) seeking monetary damages for property damage and economic harm caused by the 2011 tsunami and resulting nuclear disaster at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant (FNPP) [see Products Liability Law Daily’s November 21, 2017 analysis]. Claiming that GE negligently designed the nuclear reactors and safety mechanisms, the plaintiffs sued individually and on behalf of putative classes of over 150,000 persons and hundreds of businesses that suffered property damage or economic injury as a result of the FNPP disaster. They alleged many problems with GE’s design of the plant, including lowering the bluff over the ocean where the plant was built to reduce costs; placing the emergency generators and seawater pumps in a building basement without protection against flooding; not ensuring a backup power source in case the generators failed; and not including space to accommodate sufficient emergency equipment. According to the complaint, these design issues were especially problematic given the region’s well-known history of tsunamis. The court allowed GE’s motion to dismiss based on forum non conveniens.

Forum non conveniens. The court found that there was an adequate remedy available in Japan and that a trial in Massachusetts would be overly burdensome for the individuals involved and the court. The court noted that if a foreign court was plainly more suitable for adjudicating a particular case, a court may dismiss for forum non conveniens without resolving whether it has subject matter jurisdiction. Forum non conveniens permits dismissal of a case when "an alternative forum is available in another nation which is fair to the parties and substantially more convenient for them or the courts." It was agreed that the claims against GE could not be brought in Japan because Japanese law channels all liability from this disaster to the Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO). However, there were three avenues for compensation in Japan: (1) direct claims filed with TEPCO; (2) claims against TEPCO through anternative Dispute Resolution Center; and (3) damages lawsuits against TEPCO. The court found that the fact that over two million claimants had filed for compensation directly with TEPCO and almost twenty-five thousand had done so through the ADR Center demonstrated that the process in Japan was not too complex for class members to secure an adequate remedy.

Moreover, the balance of private and public interest factors strongly favored resolving these claims in Japan. The private interest factors weighed in favor of dismissal because of the difficulty of accessing relevant evidence and the court’s inability to compel production of important Japanese documents and testimony from Japanese witnesses and to implead potentially liable third parties. Also, there was a much stronger interest in this litigation in Japan than in Massachusetts.

The case is No. 17-12278-PBS.

Attorneys: Bonnie L. Dixon (Atsumi & Sakai) for Shinya Imamura. John B. Koss (Mintz, Levin, Cohn, Ferris, Glovsky and Popeo, PC) and Sally Pei (Arnold & Porter Kaye Scholer) for General Electric Co.

Companies: General Electric Co.

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