Transfer of Litigation Act Summary

Much litigation in the United States arises from interstate conduct. People do business across state lines. Because Americans travel, they may be injured in states that are not their domiciles or residences, and those who cause injury do not necessarily do so in their domiciles or residences. The result is that lawsuits can be and are frequently brought in more than one jurisdiction. Also, sometimes a lawsuit filed only in one jurisdiction might be better adjudicated in another.

There are doctrines that allow a court in one state to decline to take jurisdiction in favor of the courts of another jurisdiction. A court may decline to take jurisdiction because the forum is inconvenient for the particular litigation, for example. But no state court, generally, has the authority to transfer litigation to a court in another state, or to a federal court. No state court, generally, has the authority to accept litigation transferred by a court of another state, or a federal court.

There is no inherent reason, based in the U.S. Constitution, for state courts to be deprived of such authority. And there are very great arguments rooted in notions of fairness and efficiency for state courts to have these authorities. Litigation that sprawls across state lines is frequently messy and expensive enough that any ability to consolidate litigation in one place would be an improvement over multiple litigation. And courts can better serve the interests—be fairer to—litigants if they have the ability to cooperate in consolidating litigation in the place where the facts and evidence can best be presented. If we can reduce costs and more fairly serve litigants, we probably ought to take the necessary steps to do so.

Fortunately, the solution is not difficult to obtain. All that is required is adoption in every state of the Uniform Transfer of Litigation Act (UTLA), promulgated by the Uniform Law Commissioners in 1991.

UTLA provides the appropriate court (normally the trial level court) with the dual authority, first, to transfer litigation to a court in another state (or a federal court) and, second, to receive litigation transferred to it from a court in another state (or a federal court). UTLA allows a court to transfer litigation, whether or not it has jurisdiction over the person or the subject matter of the litigation. It can accomplish the transfer only if the court in the other jurisdiction consents to the transfer and if the court of the other jurisdiction can exercise that jurisdiction. A court, under UTLA, may accept litigation from a court in another jurisdiction only if it can exercise jurisdiction over the person and subject matter.

No court is forced either to transfer litigation to the court of another jurisdiction or to accept litigation that the court of another jurisdiction wants to transfer. To transfer or receive are matters for the discretion of the court. A transfer may be made if it serves "the fair, effective, and efficient administration of justice and the convenience of the parties and witnesses." This is the only limitation upon the discretion of the court in deciding whether to transfer or not to transfer specific litigation. A court may refuse to accept litigation from the court of another state on any grounds. It is required, only, to state the grounds for refusal when it does refuse.

These are the fundamental principles that UTLA serves. The Act provides, also, for all necessary orders to make and receive transfers and for the necessary record keeping by these courts. The objective is to simplify that which is otherwise more complicated, expensive, and difficult for litigants. Fairness and efficiency are the dual purposes that UTLA serves.

Although UTLA permits transfer to and receipt of litigation by a state court from a federal court, there is no authority, currently, for federal courts to make such a transfer. Thus, the federal component of these rules will not be effective until Congress adopts similar rules for the relevant federal courts.