Utilipath, LLC v. Baxter McLindon Hayes, Jr., C.A. No. 9922-VCP (Del. Ch., Apr. 14, 2015), is a short Chancery opinion notable for a few short reasons:
- In light of a non-exclusive forum selection clause pursuant to which the parties agreed to litigate their dispute in Delaware, the court declined to apply the first-filed rule, known as the McWane doctrine, and denied a motion to dismiss. But the greater import of this case lies in its potential application on a larger stage.
- One reasonable application of this Court of Chancery opinion is that: when parties have irrevocably consented to Delaware courts as a non-exclusive forum, even if a first-filed suit has been filed elsewhere involving similar parties and similar claims, the McWane doctrine may not require that the Delaware action be stayed in deference to the pending action in another forum.
- This decision may have relevance to the pending legislation in Delaware described on these pages, that would require forum selection clauses that are included in bylaws to provide for the selection of Delaware courts in addition to any other state. In other words, when a forum selection clause is included in a bylaw to cover intra-corporate disputes, any state in the country can be selected as the forum–as long as Delaware is also included as one of those two fora. Stated another way, if the legislation is passed, when forum selection clauses are included in bylaws for stockholder disputes, Delaware must be either (i) the exclusive forum; or (ii) if another forum is selected, Delaware must be included as an additional forum.
- Also notable is footnote 29 of the opinion which described a conversation that the author of this Chancery opinion had with the federal judge overseeing the related first-filed case in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, in which both jurists invited cooperation to the extent that there may be some overlap between the two cases.
Roman forum (an ancient forum selection) image above provided by Flikr’s Creative Commons by Benson Kua.