Damages for Breach of a Forum Selection Clause

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When a party breaches a forum selection clause, a court will normally dismiss the action, therefore forcing the breaching party to re-file in the appropriate forum, or the court will transfer the proceedings to the chosen court. Either way, the nonbreaching party appears to have gotten what he wanted: litigation to proceed before the designated court. However, to get there, the nonbreaching party had to outlay significant expenditures in the form of attorneys' fees. Are these attorneys' fees recoverable as damages? Should they be?

This Article argues that attorneys' fees associated with remedying a breach of a forum selection clause should be recoverable as damages flowing from the breach. Without the prospect of having to pay damages, the breaching party would be permitted to breach a forum selection clause with impunity. In other words, there is no downside to breaching a forum selection clause. Best case scenario, the non-designated court retains jurisdiction; worst case scenario, the breaching party is “sent” to the contractually-designated forum.

Awarding attorneys' fees for breach of a forum selection clause does not run afoul of the American Rule, which requires each side to bear their own costs and attorneys' fees. This is because attorneys' fees for breach of a forum selection clause are a measure of direct damages—and not consequential damages—and therefore do not implicate the American Rule.

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American Business Law Journal

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