United States District Court, E.D. Wisconsin
JAMES WARNER, II, GARNET WARNER, and JAMES WARNER, III, Plaintiffs,
ST. JOHN'S NORTHWESTERN MILITARY ACADEMY INC., ALEX FORSTROM, JOHN FORSTROM, and ABC INSURANCE COMPANY, Defendants.
Stadtmueller U.S. District Judge
case involves allegations of sexual assault involving two
adolescent boys attending a summer camp at St. John's
Northwestern Military Academy (“St. John's”)
in Delafield, Wisconsin. The plaintiffs are James Warner, III
(“Warner”) and his parents, James Warner II and
Garnet Warner (collectively, “Warner's
parents”). They allege that defendant Alex Forstrom
(“Forstrom”) sexually assaulted Warner in the
summer of 2012 in a dorm room at St. John's while both
were cadets at the school's summer camp. At the time of
the alleged assault, Warner was twelve years old and Forstrom
brings a federal claim against St. John's under Title IX
of the Education Amendments of 1972, 20 U.S.C. § 1681
et seq. (“Title IX”), and state law
claims for negligence and false imprisonment. He also brings
state law claims against Forstrom for battery, assault, and
intentional infliction of emotional distress, and against
Forstrom's father, John Forstom, for negligence.
Warner's parents bring state law claims against St.
John's for fraudulent and negligent misrepresentation.
John's moved to dismiss the claims brought against it
pursuant to the doctrine of forum non conveniens,
arguing that the forum-selection clause in the Enrollment
Agreement governing Warner's attendance at the camp
mandates that the claims in this case be litigated in the
circuit court of Waukesha County, Wisconsin. (Docket #19).
Forstom and his father moved to dismiss Warner's claims
against them for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. (Docket
#24). Both motions are now fully briefed and
ripe for adjudication.
reasons explained below, St. John's motion to dismiss for
forum non conveniens will be granted, meaning that
all claims against St. John's, including the only federal
claim in this case, will be dismissed. In light of that
dismissal, the Court will grant the Forstroms' motion to
dismiss to the extent it implores the Court to decline to
exercise its supplemental jurisdiction over the remaining
claims against them, all of which arise under Wisconsin law.
The entire action, then, will be dismissed without prejudice,
leaving the plaintiffs free to re-file the case in Waukesha
County if they so desire.
John's is an all-male boarding school in Delafield,
Wisconsin. Every summer, St. John's operates a five-week
summer camp for boys entering seventh through twelfth grades.
2012, James and Garnet Warner decided to enroll their son
James in summer camp at St. John's. Warner's parents
entered into an Enrollment Agreement with St. John's (the
“Enrollment Agreement”) that contained, among
other provisions, a waiver of certain claims that Warner or
his parents might accrue stemming from Warner's time at
St. John's, a choice-of-law provision selecting Wisconsin
law, and a forum-selection clause selecting the circuit court
of Waukesha County, Wisconsin for resolution of any
litigation arising from the agreement or Warner's
enrollment at St. John's. (Docket #21 at
The forum-selection clause is the only provision of the
agreement that appears in all capital letters, and it reads,
in full, as follows:
ANY LITIGATION ARISING OUT OF THIS CONTRACT AND/OR THE
ENROLLMENT OF MY (OUR) SON/WARD AT THE ACADEMY, INCLUDING ANY
PERSONAL INJURY OR OTHER TORT ACTION, SHALL BE SUBJECT TO THE
EXCLUSIVE JURISDICTION AND VENUE IN THE CIRCUIT COURT FOR
WAUKESHA COUNTY, WISCONSIN.
Enrollment Agreement is signed by both of Warner's
parents, but not Warner himself. Id.
his substantive claims, Warner alleges that on the night of
July 30, 2012, Forstrom, who shared a room with Warner
despite a school policy that disfavored rooming cadets of
different ages together, confronted Warner and asked him if
he “know what a rapist was.” (Docket #1 at 8).
Warner responded that he didn't and Forstrom
“violently threw [Warner] against a dorm room wall and
whispered into his ear ‘this is what robbers and
rapists do.'” Id. Forstrom then pushed
Warner onto a bed in the room and sexually assaulted him.
Id. A campus security officer conducting a
regularly-scheduled bed check saw the assault in progress and
stepped in, demanding an explanation. Forstrom claimed he was
teaching Warner “pressure points.” Id.
10, 2018, some six years later, Warner and his parents filed
doctrine of forum non conveniens permits a court, in
its discretion, to dismiss an action over which it has proper
jurisdiction when there is an adequate alternative forum in
which the case may be more conveniently heard. Kamel v.
Hill-Rom Co., Inc., 108 F.3d 799, 802 (7th Cir. 1997). A
forum non conveniens analysis typically requires the
court to evaluate and weigh the private interests of the
litigants and the public interests of the forum to determine
whether litigating the case in the alternative forum would
serve the convenience of parties and witnesses and otherwise
promote the interests of justice. See id.; see
also Atl. Marine Const. Co. v. U.S. Dist. Court for W. Dist.
of Texas, 571 U.S. 49, 62-63 (2013).
forum non conveniens analysis changes, however, when
the parties' contract contains a valid forum-selection
clause, because the clause represents the parties'
agreement as to the proper forum and thus its enforcement
“protects [the parties'] legitimate expectations
and furthers vital interests of the justice system.”
Atl. Marine Const. Co., 571 U.S. at 63 (quotation
omitted). Importantly, under those circumstances, the
plaintiff's choice of forum merits no weight. Instead,
“as the party defying the forum-selection clause, the
plaintiff bears the burden of establishing that transfer to
the forum for which the parties bargained is
unwarranted.” Id. Further, the court must not
consider arguments about the parties' private interests,
and instead must deem those interests to weigh entirely in
favor of the preselected forum. Id. at 64.
Therefore, the court may only consider arguments about the
public interest, which may include factors such as the
administrative difficulties flowing from court congestion,
local interest in having localized controversies decided at
home, and the interest in having a trial in a forum that is
at home with the law. Id. at 62 n.6. And
because public interest factors will “rarely
defeat” a forum non conveniens motion,
“the practical result is that forum-selection clauses
should control except in unusual cases.” Id.
raises three objections to the presumption that the
forum-selection clause controls the location of this suit
(only one of which arguably touches on public interest
factors): (1) the clause cannot bind Warner, a non-signatory
to the Enrollment Agreement, so his claims must remain here;
(2) the forum-selection clause is ambiguous and should
therefore be construed against St. John's; and (3) the
Enrollment Agreement is void under Wisconsin law because it
violates public policy and therefore its forum-selection