Enforcement of Forum-Selection Clauses in Federal Court After Atlantic Marine

April 1, 2014

Forum-selection clauses are important agreements that limit exposure to risk of litigation in an undesired locale. The enforcement of forum-selection clauses in the U.S. federal court system was not always certain, but today, such agreements are broadly considered enforceable. Courts, however, are split as to whether such clauses are governed by state or federal law and as to the proper procedural mechanism for enforcement. Recently, in Atlantic Marine Construction Co. v. U.S. District Court, the U.S. Supreme Court made strides toward resolving these disagreements among lower courts.

This Note explores the history of enforcement of forum-selection clauses in federal court and articulates the legal complexities that remain in the wake of Atlantic Marine. It argues that Atlantic Marine implicitly resolved the choice-of-law split in favor of applying state substantive law to determine a forum clause’s validity and federal procedural law to determine its enforceability. To effectuate this implicit resolution, this Note proposes that courts engage in a two-step analysis in evaluating motions to enforce forum-selection clauses and that litigants bring such motions under Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), 12(c), or 56.

April 2014

No. 5