By Kevin L. Connors, Esquire
Okay, so we are a few months behind in reporting on an important Decision by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, effectively widening the discretion a Trial Court has, in granting a transfer of venue, applying the forum non-conveniens doctrine when key witnesses reside in distant counties.
Bratic was decided by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, about two months before the porno e-mail debacle, resulting in the sudden, but anticipated and embarrassing resignation of one Supreme Court Justice.
In Bratic, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court has reaffirmed the forum non-conveniens standards set forth in its earlier ruling in Cheeseman vs. Lethal Exterminator, 701 A.2d 162 (Pa. 1997), in the course of which it chastised the Pennsylvania Superior Court for its ruling requiring a “showing of oppression needed for a Judge to exercise discretion in favor of granting a forum non-conveniens motion.”
Holding that “mere inconvenience remains insufficient, but that there is no burden to show near-draconian consequences”, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court in Bratic affirmed the Trial Court’s Decision to transfer venue from Philadelphia to Dauphin County, where 8 key witnesses were located in Dauphin County.
Before the Pennsylvania Superior Court, the Court had held that the Defendant had not provided enough information to properly demonstrate that the original venue, selected by the Plaintiff, for reasons clear to all, was, in fact, oppressive.
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s Opinion, authored by Justice Eakin, held that the standard for showing that a Plaintiff’s choice of venue is “vexatious and oppressive”, as had been outlined in the Supreme Court’s earlier ruling in the Cheeseman, should not be read to require that Defendants provide specific details about how the venue change would impact the parties, with Justice Eakin writing that “the witnesses need not detail what clients or tasks will be postponed or opportunities lost in order for the Judge to exercise common sense in evaluating their worth; indeed, no one can foretell such detail.”
Affirming the Trial Court’s granting of the Defendant’s forum non-conveniens motion, the Supreme Court, in its Opinion, indicated that it was “unsure what extra detail must be enumerated”, but that “interference with one’s business and personal life caused by the participatory demands of a distant lawsuit is patent.”
In so holding, it is clear that the distance that parties or witnesses might have to travel, in order to participate in litigation in a distant county, has been deemed by the Bratic Court to be an important consideration in its analysis.
This Decision also illustrates that a Plaintiff’s forum selection need not necessarily outweigh the hardship and inconvenience imposed upon critical participants in the litigation.
The Bratic ruling was issued by the Supreme Court on August 18, 2014.
In Lee v. Bower Lewis Thrower, et al., the Pennsylvania Superior Court affirmed the granting of a forum non-conveniens transfer motion, transferring a motor vehicle liability accident case from Philadelphia County to Centre County, in reliance upon the motor vehicle accident in question having occurred in State College, Pennsylvania, on Penn State University’s campus, with an Additional Defendant contending that the Plaintiff’s choice of forum, Philadelphia County, was oppressive and vexatious in reliance upon prior forum non-conveniens precedential Decisions, including Cheeseman and other rulings of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, to include Scola v. AC & S, Inc., 657 A.2d 1234 (Pa. 1995); Okkerse v. Howe, 556 A.2d 827 (Pa. 1989); Plum v. Tampax, Inc., 160 A.2d 549 (Pa. 1960).
The Trial Court granted the Petition to Transfer, with the Plaintiff appealing the Trial Court’s granting of the Motion, in the course of which the Plaintiff argued that the Trial Court lacked sufficient detailed information to support the contention that the Plaintiff’s chosen forum was not merely inconvenient, but was also oppressive and vexatious.
Citing to prior forum non-conveniens decisions in Cheeseman and in Bratic, to support transfer venue motions, the Superior Court held that the requirement of providing detailed information merely requires the moving party to present a “sufficient factual basis for the Petition, and the Trial Court retains the discretion to determine whether a particular form of proof is sufficient.”
Under Cheeseman and Pennsylvania Rule of Civil Procedure 1006(d), there is no requirement for any particular form of proof to support a move transfer.
While mere inconvenience remains insufficient, “there is no burden to show near-draconian consequences”, in reliance upon Bratic, a ruling by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court that obviously post-dated the Trial Court’s underlying ruling in Lee.
Holding that the 7 witness Affidavits that were presented to the Trial Court in Lee, were sufficient to establish the necessary factual basis for transferring the case from Philadelphia to Centre County, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court granted the forum non-conveniens transfer motion, holding that there was insufficient evidence or argument to disturb the Trial Court’s Decision to grant the transfer motion.
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