Supreme Court Upholds Forum Selection Clause Against Kuwaiti Company

National Industries Group (Holding) v. Carlyle  Investment Management LLC, Del. Supr., No. 596, 2012 (May, 29, 2013).

Issues Addressed: Enforceability of a forum selection clause, and the prerequisites to vacate a judgment under Court of Chancery Rule 60(b)(6).

Brief Background

This case involved a dispute between two sophisticated entities. One was based in Kuwait and one in the U.S. The parties’ forum selection clause required disputes to be litigated exclusively in the courts of Delaware. When the Kuwaiti company sued the U.S. company, Carlyle Investment Management, in Kuwait, Carlyle sued in the Delaware Court of Chancery seeking an injunction to bar the suit in Kuwait. The strange part of this case is that the Kuwaiti company ignored the Delaware proceedings, based on its position that there was no jurisdiction over it, and allowed a default judgment to be entered against it. Then, a year later, the Kuwaiti company tried to have the judgment against it vacated. After it sought to vacate the judgment, it admitted that it was aware of the proceedings in Delaware. Bad strategy.

The Supreme Court upheld the default judgment.  The Court of Chancery opinion was highlighted on these pages at this link.

Key Takeaway: Forum selection clauses in an agreement between sophisticated parties will be upheld in Delaware, as a general principle. Although, there still must be equitable jurisdiction for the Court of Chancery to hear a case, because the parties cannot confer that by contract. Nonetheless, Delaware’s high court found that there was equitable jurisdiction in this matter.

As a practice tip, in order to avoid the issue of equitable jurisdiction, a forum selection clause should allow for any court in Delaware to be the forum for disputes, as compared to naming a particular court. There are many other nuances about a forum selection clause issue in this decision, as well as an exploration of the deep roots on which the court’s reasoning is based, including U.S. Supreme Court opinions. This decision is must reading for those who need to know the latest Delaware law on forum selection clauses.

As an added bonus, Delaware’s high court discusses the requirements for vacating a default judgment under Court of Chancery Rule 60(b)(6). Hint: Not a good idea to ignore the proceedings and then wait a year before seeking to vacate.

Supplement: Frank Reynolds of Thomson Reuters provides helpful commentary about the case at this link.