consumer - floating forum selection clause
Susquehanna Patriot Commcl. Leasing Co. v. Holper Industries, Inc. - Super. Ct. - June 12, 2007
A "floating" forum selection clause (FFSC) in contracts concerning equipment leases was held to be enforceable under Pennsylvania law., under the general principles set out in Patriot Commcl. Leasing Co. v. Kremer Restaurant, 915 A2d 647 (Pa. Super. 2006) http://www.courts.state.pa.us/OpPosting/Superior/out/A24012_06.pdf posted and discussed in the PLAN Updates in January 2007.
The equipment was advertised by the lessor, NorVergence, as providing 30%-60% savings to the lessees, through the use of a specific device. In fact, the device was not capable of providing any reduced savings and was worth a fraction of its selling price. Immediately after the lease-contracts were consummated, NorVergence assigned them to 3rd party finance companies, including appellant. The original lease said that the money on the rental agreements was owed regardless of whether NorVergence provided the promised services. After collecting millions on the assignments, NorVergence declared bankruptcy. The lessees stopped making payments to the assignees, who then sued in Pennsylvania on leases executed by small business entities in New Jersey and Maryland.
After setting out the split of authority regarding the enforceability of the FFSC and the difficulty in disassociating the "obvious and egregious fraud" used to procure these leases from the analysis of whether to uphold the FFSC, the court upheld them in these cases, noting the "in the interest of judicial uniformity, all cases must be analyzed in accordance with overriding principles of law that cannot depend upon facts not implicated in the application on those principles. We must confine ourselves accordingly."
The court in Patriot Commercial Leasing held that where the parties have freely agreed to a forum selection clause, which was not unreasonable at the time, it will only be held unreasonable where its enforcement, under all of the circumstances, would seriously impair a party's ability to pursue its case. Here, the defendants are in states which border Pennsylvania; and many of them have the same attorney; many of their claims can be heard in the same proceeding.
There has been "nationwide litigation, including litigation by various state attorneys general and the FTC about this issue, concerning leases negotiated by NorVergence, which assigned various leases for telecommunications equipment to Appellant Susquehanna PCL. See, http://www.attorneygeneral.gov/consumers.aspx? and http://www.ftc.gov/opa/2005/07/norvergence.shtm