Federal Court Dismisses Melamine-Tainted Milk Litigation Filed by Chinese Citizens
A federal court in Maryland has determined that it is not a convenient forum for the pursuit of claims by Chinese citizens seeking millions in compensation for the injuries allegedly caused by their children’s consumption of powdered milk formula and similar products tainted with melamine. Tang v. Synutra Int’l, Inc., No. 09-0088 (D. Md., decided March 29, 2010). The scandal led to a global recall of powdered milk products and resulted in the execution of several milk company officials found responsible for adding melamine to the products, purportedly to increase their protein content. The melamine allegedly caused the deaths of six infants and caused kidney stones and related injury to thousands of others. The government established a compensation program for affected families, but some sought increased damages in Chinese courts.
The defendants filed a motion to dismiss on the ground of forum non conveniens, and the court discussed at length whether Chinese courts were adequate to adjudicate the claims. The plaintiffs contended that the courts had been unwilling to accept their complaints and pressured their lawyers to withdraw from representing them, while the defendants countered that at least a handful of the cases have been accepted. The court concluded that the defendants had met their burden of showing that China is an adequate forum. But even if it were not, the court said that the plaintiffs have another remedy available to them, that is, the compensation program. This circumstance also persuaded the court to grant the dismissal without conditions, which can be imposed “as a safeguard against the uncertainty that the alternative forum will exercise jurisdiction over the claims.”