Any disputes arising from or related to the subject matter of this agreement shall be heard in an appropriate court of PG County, Maryland and the parties hereby consent to the personal jurisdiction and venue of these courts.
After ruling that Allied Fire was untimely in challenging personal jurisdiction, the court noted that the purported forum selection clause, stating that disputes “shall be heard in an appropriate court of PG County, Maryland,” does not vest exclusive jurisdiction in the state courts.
The court first noted that the “Contracts Clause” applies only to the states, not to the federal government.
The court then addressed the “choice of law section,” citing Mims v. Arrow Fin. Servs., LLC, 565 U.S. 368, 374, 380 (2012), a Supreme Court case construing a statutory provision that “a person or entity may, if otherwise permitted by the laws or rules of court of a State, bring a private action in an appropriate court of that State” concluded that “nothing in that permissive language makes state-court jurisdiction exclusive.” Id.
Next the court looked to IntraComm, Inc. v. Bajaj, 492 F.3d 285, 290 (4th Cir. 2007), stating that under federal law, “a general maxim in interpreting forum-selection clauses is that ‘an agreement conferring jurisdiction in one forum will not be interpreted as excluding jurisdiction elsewhere unless it contains specific language of exclusion.'”
Therefore, the court held that it had jurisdiction to hear the case since the court was located in Prince George’s County.
Takeaway: If you want to limit the court venue options in your contracts, you must input specific language of exclusion. Here, the contract language limiting the venue to “an appropriate court of Prince George’s County” was construed to include the Federal Court in Prince George’s County and was not limited to state courts in the County.