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Newman v. Camp Towanda

SOM-L-632-03 (N.J. Super. Law Div. 2003) (Unpublished)

CONTRACTS; FORUM SELECTION—A contract requiring all disputes to be heard in a particular jurisdiction may require that a personal injury action be brought in that jurisdiction.

A parent was injured while visiting her daughter at a summer camp in Pennsylvania. The parent sued in New Jersey. The camp moved to dismiss the complaint based on a clause in the enrollment agreement that required all disputes to be resolved in Pennsylvania. The parent argued that the clause was ambiguous and applied only to disputes regarding the payment of fees. The parent also argued that it was unfairly disadvantageous to her because of the statute of limitations in Pennsylvania. The Court disagreed. The language of the clause read as follows: “We submit to the jurisdiction of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania with respect to any disputes regarding this contract and/or the camp.” The Court found that the inclusion of the words “the camp” indicated that the forum selection clause was not limited to fee disputes. In addition, the personal injury claim was covered under the forum selection clause based on the inclusion of the word “any” before the word “dispute” in the enrollment agreement. With respect to the statute of limitations argument, the Court noted that the parent waited until the eve of the expiration of the statute of limitations at her own risk and this did not constitute sufficient grounds for not enforcing the forum selection clause. It also noted that New Jersey will enforce a forum selection clause unless: (1) the clause is the result of fraud or “overweening” bargaining power; (2) enforcing the clause would violate public policy; or (3) enforcement would seriously inconvenience trial. The burden for proof rests with the person seeking to avoid the forum selection clause, and in this case the parent did not meet that burden.

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