Smart Communications Collier v. Pope County Sheriff’s Office

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United States Court of Appeals For the Eighth Circuit ___________________________ No. 20-2496 ___________________________ Smart Communications Collier Inc. lllllllllllllllllllllPlaintiff – Appellant v. Pope County Sheriff’s Office; Shane Jones lllllllllllllllllllllDefendants – Appellees ____________ Appeal from United States District Court for the Eastern District of Arkansas – Central ____________ Submitted: April 14, 2021 Filed: July 20, 2021 ____________ Before SMITH, Chief Judge, COLLOTON and ERICKSON, Circuit Judges. ____________ SMITH, Chief Judge. Smart Communications Collier, Inc., (“Smart”) and Pope County (“County”) had a contract dispute. Smart sued the County in federal district court.1 The County moved to dismiss the case based on a forum-selection clause in the contract. The 1 The Honorable D.P. Marshall Jr., Chief Judge, United States District Court for the Eastern District of Arkansas. district court agreed with the County’s interpretation of the clause and dismissed the case. Smart appeals. We affirm the district court. I. Background In 2016, the County contracted with Smart to provide an electronic messaging system for inmates at the Pope County Detention Center. The contract included a forum-selection clause and an anti-removal provision: The parties mutually agree that any litigation arising hereunder shall be brought and completed in Pope County, Arkansas and other pertinent Arkansas courts and further that neither party shall seek to remove such litigation from Circuit Courts or Appellate Courts of the State of Arkansas by application of conflict of laws or any other removal process to any Federal Court or court not in Arkansas. Appellant’s Addendum at 10. About four years later, a dispute about the messaging system arose between the parties. The County sued Smart in the Circuit Court of Pope County, Arkansas. Then, Smart sued the County in federal district court in the Eastern District of Arkansas. The County moved to dismiss Smart’s case based on the contract’s forum-selection clause. The district court determined that the clause precluded Smart from suing the County in federal court and dismissed the case. Smart appeals the district court’s dismissal. II. Discussion We review the district court’s interpretation of a forum-selection clause de novo. Dunne v. Libbra, 330 F.3d 1062, 1063 (8th Cir. 2003). Both parties urge that -2- Arkansas law applies to the interpretation of this forum-selection clause, so we will apply Arkansas law here.2 “When the parties express their intention in a contract in clear and unambiguous language, we must construe the written agreement according to its plain meaning.” Jorja Trading, Inc. v. Willis, 598 S.W.3d 1, 7 (Ark. 2020). And when the 2 Normally, state law applies to interpretations of contracts in diversity actions. In re Fitzgerald Marine & Repair, Inc., 619 F.3d 851, 858 (8th Cir. 2010). Some of our sister circuits apply this general principle to the interpretation of forum-selection clauses, while others apply federal common law. Compare Collins v. Mary Kay, Inc., 874 F.3d 176, 183 (3d Cir. 2017) (“find[ing] no reason . . . to apply federal common law to interpret . . . forum selection clauses”), and Barnett v. DynCorp Int’l, L.L.C., 831 F.3d 296, 301 …

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