Forum Selection in Online Terms
Let’s say you’re a Canadian company doing business with a US supplier – which law should govern the contract? ‘Forum selection’ and ‘governing law’ refer to the practice of choosing the applicable law and venue for resolving disputes in a contract.
Software vendors and cloud service providers often include these clauses in their standard-form contracts as a means of ensuring that they enjoy home-turf advantage in the event of disputes. This is very common in consumer-facing contracts, such as Facebook’s Terms of Service. That contract says: “e laws of the State of California will govern this Statement, as well as any claim that might arise between you and us, without regard to conflict of law provisions.”
In our earlier post (Two Privacy Class Actions: Facebook and Apple), we looked at a BC decision which reviewed the question of whether the Facebook terms (which apply California law) should be enforced in Canada or whether they should give way to local law. The lower court accepted that, on its face, the Terms of Service were valid, clear and enforceable and the lower court went on to decide that Facebook’s Forum Selection Clause should be set aside in this case, and the claim should proceed in a B.C. court.
Facebook appealed that decision: Douez v. Facebook, Inc., 2015 BCCA 279 (CanLII), (See this link to the Court of Appeal decision). The appeal court reversed and decided that the Forum Selection Clause should be enforced.
Interestingly, the court said, “As a matter of B.C. law, no state (including B.C.) may unilaterally arrogate exclusive adjudicative jurisdiction for itself by purporting to apply its jurisdictional rules extraterritorially.” (See the debate regarding the Google and Equustek decision for a different perspective on the extraterritorial reach of B.C. courts.)
The Douez decision was fundamentally a class-action breach of privacy claim, and that claim was stopped through the Forum Selection Clause.