Defining Forum and Venue in the American Court System

This blog post is part of an ongoing series examining how a seastead might limit being sued in the court system of the United States of America. I am Robert Mongole, a Juris Doctor and Doctor of Civil Law candidate at the Louisiana State University Paul M. Hebert Law Center, and I am conducting this investigation in conjunction with The Seasteading Institute.

Forum and venue selection clauses may or may not apply under different laws, but before examining this, an understanding of what each of these terms mean is required. The pair of terms are often confused by the lower courts. Contractual devices limiting the places where suits are brought are often referred to as “forum selection clauses” regardless if it limits forum, venue or both.

According to Black’s Law Dictionary, forum is a “court or other judicial body; a place of jurisdiction,” while venue is “[t]he territory, such as a country or other political subdivision, over which a trial court has jurisdiction.” Put into plain English, this means a forum selection clause chooses the court the trial will occur in and a venue selection clause chooses the geographic location of the trial.

Early seasteads will likely fly flags of convenience. Panama, Liberia, the Bahamas, Bermuda, Cyprus, and the Marshall Islands have all been listed as possibilities. It makes sense that a seastead might want to force all claims against it to be heard in the country of the flag it flies. It might further limit the geographic area within one of the countries so it is not defending itself in multiple geographic areas within the country. A contractual clause that limits suit to one of these countries or a geographic area within one of these countries is a venue selection clause.

It also makes sense that a seastead might want to limit its suit to a federal court within one of these nations to avoid having different local laws applied to multiple suits. This is properly considered a forum selection clause. A seastead might want to combine the two of these and limit suits. For example, a clause stating a claimant must bring his suit in the First Circuit in the Province of Panama is both a forum and venue selection clause, because it limits the claimant’s choice of both geographic location and adjudicative body.

Leave a comment below, or read on to part 3.


3 thoughts on “Defining Forum and Venue in the American Court System”

  1. I am just curious, considering the case of Sealand, just off the coast of England and its apparent sovereignty when it went to court after a kidnapping from Germans. England recognized it as independent, so what is the nature of needing a flag of convenience when it’s a simple matter of hiring someone to make a flag for any particular group or individual? Or am I wrong? Here in South Louisiana all of the resources are readily available for seastead construction and could be a simple matter of one platform construction away from reality from any number of builders who are, for lack of a better word, starving after the moratorium imposed by President Obama.

  2. Joseph, you raise a few interesting points and Sealand is a fascinating read which I haven’t quite had the time to look through all the information available on it. Hopefully my answer will be adequate,

    Regarding the case of Sealand, England hasn’t actually recognized it as independent (nor has any other nation to my knowledge), only that it sits in international waters and was outside the reach of English courts. Since the old ruling on Sealand, England has extended its nautical territory to include Sealand, but no case has challenged the two sides conflicting views.

    In regards to flag making, if it were that simple there would be no need for my research. Sure anyone could make a flag for a group or individual, but there is no legal power behind the flag. A flag is a symbol of a country. (I am not an expert on this by any means) But flying the flag is submitting to that country’s laws and telling other nations what law and authority that ship falls under. I would analogize making ones own flag as to a ship flying two or more flags, changing it for convenience. American courts will simply pretend it flies no flag and are going to apply whatever law it believes applies to the ship.

    Finally, as far as south Louisiana goes (Go Tigers!), certainly the Gulf has great conditions for building offshore platforms. Building in the Gulf if going to fall within American jurisdiction almost no matter what. (I am not looking at a map when I write this.) The US claims to have an exclusive economic zone of everything up to 100 miles offshore. I am fairly certain anything built in the Gulf would fall into this zone or that of another country located in the Gulf. Anything built here, would most certainly be forced to defend itself in American courts.

  3. @Robert: Regarding the last paragraph on the EEZ – as far as UNCLOS is concerned, the EEZ applies only to the exploitation of natural resources. The laws of the coastal state cease to apply after the 12 nautical mile boundary, per Article 33, quoted below:

    In a zone contiguous to its territorial sea, described as the contiguous zone, the coastal State may exercise the control necessary to: (a) prevent infringement of its customs, fiscal, immigration or sanitary laws and regulations within its territory or territorial sea; (b) punish infringement of the above laws and regulations committed within its territory or territorial sea.

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