(CN) – Mexican citizens injured in car accidents involving Ford sport utility vehicles and Firestone tires should litigate their claims in Mexican courts instead of U.S. courts, the 5th Circuit ruled.
Several Mexicans filed suit in a Texas state court, but the case wound up in Indiana federal court, along with more than 700 similar cases against Ford and Firestone.
At the same time, the Indiana court also absorbed a second case, Manez, involving Mexican citizens.
Ford and Firestone, also the defendants in Manez, asked the Indiana district court to transfer the case to Mexican courts, and the federal judge agreed.
On appeal, the 7th Circuit called the decision “quite reasonable,” but noted that two Mexican court decisions added a “wrinkle” to an otherwise straightforward ruling.
It remanded for the Indiana district court to “thoroughly explore the circumstances” surrounding the Mexicans decisions.
The Indiana court concluded that the plaintiffs’ attorneys had tried to manipulate the forum, citing emails between attorneys discussing how one Mexican judge “confirmed that she would throw out the suit according to what we planned.”
Based on this finding, the Indiana court dismissed the case.
The plaintiffs urged the court to consider several dismissal orders, obtained without the defendants’ participation, which allegedly ruled that foreign defendants can’t be sued in Mexico for tort cases.
The multidistrict litigation panel returned the case to a district court in Texas, where Ford and Firestone again moved to transfer the case to Mexico. They claimed the Mexican dismissal orders had been fraudulently obtained.
U.S. District Judge Harry Hudspeth denied the motion, saying he believed the defendants only wanted to delay the trial.
Ford and Firestone asked the 5th Circuit to grant a writ of mandamus forcing Hudspeth to reconsider the Indiana court’s pretrial decision, an issue of first impression for the New Orleans-based appeals court.
The three-judge panel said caselaw clearly establishes that tort cases against foreign defendants can be tried in Mexico.
“Petitioners submitted to jurisdiction in Mexico,” Judge Jerry Smith wrote, “and our caselaw plainly holds that Mexico is an available forum.”
The Texas judge should not have accepted the Indiana court’s decision, which ignored the earlier binding decisions, Smith concluded.
The circuit court granted Ford and Firestone’s writ of mandamus.