District Court in Pennsylvania Concludes that CASPA Prompt Payment Act Does Not Override Unambiguous Forum Selection Clause

by Pepper Hamilton LLP
Contact

KNL Construction, Inc. v. Killian Construction Co., Inc., 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 58269 (M.D. Pa. Apr. 28, 2014)

This action arose out of the construction of the Mohegan Sun Hotel in Luzerene County, Pennsylvania.  General contractor Killian Construction Co., Inc. (“Killian”) retained KNL Construction, Inc. (“KNL”) as a subcontractor to perform certain work on the project.  The parties executed a subcontract which contained a forum selection clause mandating that disputes thereunder be litigated in Greene County Missouri, or if federal jurisdiction is applicable, in the District Court for the Western District of Missouri.

A dispute arose over KNL’s performance under the subcontract, eventually leading to its termination.  In response, KNL brought suit in Pennsylvania state court for breach of contract and related claims premised on payments allegedly owed by Killian, including a claim under Pennsylvania’s Contractor and Subcontractor Payment Act (“CASPA”).  Killian removed the case to the Middle District of Pennsylvania on diversity grounds and filed a motion to dismiss for improper venue, or, in the alternative, transfer for forum non conveniens.  In support of its motion, Killian argued that the clear language of the forum selection clause designates Missouri as the exclusive venue for litigation.

In opposition, KNL argued that, clear as the forum selection clause may be, it is nonetheless unenforceable because CASPA categorically renders invalid all forum selection clauses.  And, because the subcontract was for work on a Pennsylvania construction project CASPA was applicable.  KNL principally relied on Section 514 of CASPA, which provides that “making a contract subject to the laws of another state or requiring that any litigation…on the contract occur in another state, shall be unenforceable.”

Thus, the narrow issue before the court was whether the forum selection clause was enforceable.  The court held that it was.  The court began its analysis by stating the general rule that a forum selection clause agreed to by parties in an arms-length negotiation is entitled to controlling weight in all but the most exceptional cases.  Turning to the language of the forum selection clause at issue, the court agreed with Killian that it unambiguously mandated a Missouri forum and was therefore valid and presumptively enforceable.

The court rejected KNL’s argument that CASPA necessarily trumps an unambiguous forum selection clause.  The court reasoned that the question of proper venue in the context of a forum selection clause is a procedural question determined by federal law.  And, under federal law, an unambiguous forum selection clause may be annulled only when compelling public-interest considerations are present.  Further, because KNL defied the parties’ subcontract by filing in a non-chosen forum, the court determined that KNL carried the burden of showing that public-interest factors overwhelmingly disfavor a transfer.

To decide whether CASPA’s blanket preclusion of forum selection clauses constitutes a compelling public interest, the court considered other decisions that speak to the nature and substantiality of Pennsylvania’s interest in negating contractual provisions that require Pennsylvania litigants to litigate claims in foreign venues.  The court found most persuasive a decision by the District Court for the District of Maryland, Whiting-Turner Contracting Co. v. Westchester Fire Ins. Co.  That case involved a situation in which a Pennsylvania litigant argued that a forum selection clause mandating litigation be conducted in Maryland violated Pennsylvania’s public policy as expressed in CASPA and sought to transfer the action to Pennsylvania.  The Maryland District Court concluded that, because Pennsylvania courts routinely enforce forum selection clauses that require litigation in Pennsylvania it is illogical to argue that Pennsylvania has a compelling public interest in negating those forum selection clauses that require litigation elsewhere.

Adopting the reasoning of the Maryland District Court, the court held that the policies underlying CASPA do not represent a compelling public policy interest of Pennsylvania.  Accordingly, the court concluded that KNL failed to carry its burden to demonstrate that public-interest factors overwhelming favor the annulment of the forum selection clause in the parties’ subcontract.  The court granted Killian’s motion and transferred the action to federal court in Missouri.

To view the full text of this decision, courtesy of Lexis ®, click here .

Written by:

Pepper Hamilton LLP
Contact
more
less

Pepper Hamilton LLP on:

Readers' Choice 2017
Reporters on Deadline

"My best business intelligence, in one easy email…"

Your first step to building a free, personalized, morning email brief covering pertinent authors and topics on JD Supra:
Sign up using*

Already signed up? Log in here

*By using the service, you signify your acceptance of JD Supra's Privacy Policy.
Privacy Policy (Updated: October 8, 2015):
hide

JD Supra provides users with access to its legal industry publishing services (the "Service") through its website (the "Website") as well as through other sources. Our policies with regard to data collection and use of personal information of users of the Service, regardless of the manner in which users access the Service, and visitors to the Website are set forth in this statement ("Policy"). By using the Service, you signify your acceptance of this Policy.

Information Collection and Use by JD Supra

JD Supra collects users' names, companies, titles, e-mail address and industry. JD Supra also tracks the pages that users visit, logs IP addresses and aggregates non-personally identifiable user data and browser type. This data is gathered using cookies and other technologies.

The information and data collected is used to authenticate users and to send notifications relating to the Service, including email alerts to which users have subscribed; to manage the Service and Website, to improve the Service and to customize the user's experience. This information is also provided to the authors of the content to give them insight into their readership and help them to improve their content, so that it is most useful for our users.

JD Supra does not sell, rent or otherwise provide your details to third parties, other than to the authors of the content on JD Supra.

If you prefer not to enable cookies, you may change your browser settings to disable cookies; however, please note that rejecting cookies while visiting the Website may result in certain parts of the Website not operating correctly or as efficiently as if cookies were allowed.

Email Choice/Opt-out

Users who opt in to receive emails may choose to no longer receive e-mail updates and newsletters by selecting the "opt-out of future email" option in the email they receive from JD Supra or in their JD Supra account management screen.

Security

JD Supra takes reasonable precautions to insure that user information is kept private. We restrict access to user information to those individuals who reasonably need access to perform their job functions, such as our third party email service, customer service personnel and technical staff. However, please note that no method of transmitting or storing data is completely secure and we cannot guarantee the security of user information. Unauthorized entry or use, hardware or software failure, and other factors may compromise the security of user information at any time.

If you have reason to believe that your interaction with us is no longer secure, you must immediately notify us of the problem by contacting us at info@jdsupra.com. In the unlikely event that we believe that the security of your user information in our possession or control may have been compromised, we may seek to notify you of that development and, if so, will endeavor to do so as promptly as practicable under the circumstances.

Sharing and Disclosure of Information JD Supra Collects

Except as otherwise described in this privacy statement, JD Supra will not disclose personal information to any third party unless we believe that disclosure is necessary to: (1) comply with applicable laws; (2) respond to governmental inquiries or requests; (3) comply with valid legal process; (4) protect the rights, privacy, safety or property of JD Supra, users of the Service, Website visitors or the public; (5) permit us to pursue available remedies or limit the damages that we may sustain; and (6) enforce our Terms & Conditions of Use.

In the event there is a change in the corporate structure of JD Supra such as, but not limited to, merger, consolidation, sale, liquidation or transfer of substantial assets, JD Supra may, in its sole discretion, transfer, sell or assign information collected on and through the Service to one or more affiliated or unaffiliated third parties.

Links to Other Websites

This Website and the Service may contain links to other websites. The operator of such other websites may collect information about you, including through cookies or other technologies. If you are using the Service through the Website and link to another site, you will leave the Website and this Policy will not apply to your use of and activity on those other sites. We encourage you to read the legal notices posted on those sites, including their privacy policies. We shall have no responsibility or liability for your visitation to, and the data collection and use practices of, such other sites. This Policy applies solely to the information collected in connection with your use of this Website and does not apply to any practices conducted offline or in connection with any other websites.

Changes in Our Privacy Policy

We reserve the right to change this Policy at any time. Please refer to the date at the top of this page to determine when this Policy was last revised. Any changes to our privacy policy will become effective upon posting of the revised policy on the Website. By continuing to use the Service or Website following such changes, you will be deemed to have agreed to such changes. If you do not agree with the terms of this Policy, as it may be amended from time to time, in whole or part, please do not continue using the Service or the Website.

Contacting JD Supra

If you have any questions about this privacy statement, the practices of this site, your dealings with this Web site, or if you would like to change any of the information you have provided to us, please contact us at: info@jdsupra.com.

- hide
*With LinkedIn, you don't need to create a separate login to manage your free JD Supra account, and we can make suggestions based on your needs and interests. We will not post anything on LinkedIn in your name. Or, sign up using your email address.